That’s an understatement. Trudeau, who apologized for his behavior and told reporters he “should have known better,” has long used his preening moral superiority as rationale for political leadership. He had been in politics less than five years when he became Liberal Party leader in April 2013. Without his veneer of being a champion for racial and gender equality, he would have been nothing more than what conservatives claimed he was: an untested, immature man whose only rationale for power was the fact he was the son of a former Liberal prime minister.
His gender-equality bona fides were hammered earlier this year in a scandal involving two female cabinet members. Then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, the daughter of a prominent First Nations tribal leader, alleged that Trudeau and his aides tried to push her to drop a criminal investigation into an important Quebec company accused of breaking federal law against bribing foreign officials. (Trudeau has denied wrongdoing.) Wilson-Raybould and another female cabinet member, Jane Philpott, resigned from the cabinet over this affair, and their continuing criticism led to Trudeau expelling them from the Liberal Party altogether.
It took Trudeau months to rebuild his party’s standing in the polls after that. With election day only four weeks away, he is again revealed as a charlatan and a poseur.
The battle to remove race and gender discrimination from society has taken decades to wage, and there are still battles to fight. The leaders in that fight need not be perfect; no human being is. But what they cannot be is hypocritical on these issues. With respect to gender and now race, Trudeau has shown a mind-blowing degree of hypocrisy.
As a conservative, I always hope the Conservative Party of Canada wins elections. It may be that this revelation pushes the Tories into the lead and perhaps restores them to government. But progressive Canadians do not have to choose between a party they don’t want and a leader they don’t respect. Their multiparty system gives them choices that Americans, in our two-party system, lack.
Canada’s social-democratic New Democratic Party runs third in the polls and is led by Jagmeet Singh, a Canadian of Sikh heritage. He condemned Trudeau on Wednesday, recalling the racism he has personally experienced. Progressives can vote for the NDP knowing they will get a true champion for racial and social justice.
The Green Party, which runs fourth in the polls and was on track to win as many as seven seats in the 338-member House of Commons before these disclosures, is also an option for disenchanted Liberals. Its leader, Elizabeth May, is also a consistent champion for gender and racial equality. Voting Green would also allow progressives to keep their principles while not throwing away their votes.
Deserting Trudeau might give victory to the Conservatives, but it might also force the Liberals into relying on NDP and Green votes to stay in government. Those parties could then force Trudeau’s resignation as the price for their support, sending a clear message that puerile and facile moral preening is as unacceptable for advocates of racial and gender equality as for their opponents.
That, more than party victory, is the message Canadians need to send. Partisan use of race and gender as dividing wedge issues is poisonous to modern democracies whether used by left, center or right. That is not to say there are no legitimate issues to discuss that touch upon those matters, such as the type and scale of legal immigration or religious liberty. But commitment to racial, ethnic, sexual and gender equality is fundamental to modern society. That commitment is undermined when cynical leaders get a pass from their supporters for acts they would condemn if performed by their opponents.
When asked Wednesday if more brownface or blackface photos could emerge, Trudeau replied there might be, saying he has “been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate.” Trudeau’s public display of racial and gender equality has now been shown to be yet another fancy costume. Canadians must have the courage to stand up and say it’s unacceptable.