The bloom is off the rose

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - KIRK LA­POINTE

If there is a vis­ceral Lib­eral fear in this elec­tion cam­paign, it re­sem­bles the Con­ser­va­tive slo­gan about the prime min­is­ter: Not As Ad­ver­tised. The Con­ser­va­tives believe they can per­suade Cana­di­ans that the prime min­is­ter is du­plic­i­tous or at least hyp­o­crit­i­cal about fem­i­nism, fam­i­lies and First Na­tions. What they didn’t bank on was his sud­den vul­ner­a­bil­ity on race and that they needn’t lift a fin­ger to ef­fect it.

The pub­li­ca­tion by Time mag­a­zine of a re­pug­nant 2001 photo from Justin Trudeau’s time as a teacher at West Point Grey Academy in Van­cou­ver – him grin­ning in brown­face and tur­ban, hand slung over a woman’s chest – im­plodes a global po­lit­i­cal trade­mark that in many ways had made Canada proud. In the hours since, other ev­i­dence sur­faced of im­mense con­cern.

On a par­ti­san level, if Cana­di­ans in even small num­bers – say, three to five per­cent­age points – swing to the Tories from the Grits, there is no sec­ond Trudeau term. The Lib­er­als are the Trudeau brand. The party can­not be elected on the ba­sis of the sup­port­ing cast. It came to power, and it would depart, on the sin­gu­lar force, or its diminu­tion, of Trudeau’s per­sona.

On a broader level, this episode stands to lay bare our pre­ten­sions about our power dy­nam­ics in a mul­ti­cul­tural mi­lieu and our place on the in­ter­na­tional stage. If our prime min­is­ter can­not be trusted to say who he is, how can our coun­try lay any claim to say what it is?

The most for­mi­da­ble elec­tion cam­paign dilemma in mem­ory brings us into un­charted Cana­dian ter­ri­tory, and it would be pre­ma­ture to guess its im­pact. It surely won’t ever be lemonade made from lemons.

What is clear is that the prime min­is­ter will try what he can – which is not a whole lot – to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for his stu­pid­ity. He will need to be more dif­fi­cult on him­self and less dif­fi­cult on oth­ers if he be­lieves that what he did is for­giv­able. Trou­ble is, his po­si­tion­ing as a pub­lic fig­ure has been premised on a high road we now can see was not his path trav­elled.

It’s not that this rev­e­la­tion – and oth­ers that have popped up, in­clud­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary video – would ever have been news to him. What he had to know, well be­fore he tried to ex­plain away his mis­take, was that this would crush his cur­rency and cred­i­bil­ity. This must just be to­tally into his craw.

I re­call that we were gob­s­macked as Bri­tish Columbians when, as BC NDP leader, Adrian Dix said in his elec­tion de­bate with Christy Clark that he was “young” when he doc­tored a gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment – young, mean­ing 35 at the time. Well, Trudeau was 29, not ex­actly a pup, ei­ther. He was a pro­fes­sion­ally trained teacher, pre­sum­ably sen­si­tized in mat­ters of race and gen­der – and yes, be­ing a role model for young peo­ple.

If we can get past our ini­tial skep­ti­cism and ac­cept he did not rec­og­nize his racism in ear­lier times, he might have rec­og­nized later how th­ese er­rors wait­ing in the wings would dis­qual­ify him from con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics. Know­ing what he knew was out there, one might as­sume it would have at least tem­pered his in­ces­sant sanc­ti­mony. And if he was this thirsty for power and wanted to pro­ceed into pub­lic life, he might have rec­og­nized the wis­dom of proac­tively ad­mit­ting his fool­har­di­ness.

But no, he stayed silent as episodes lin­gered. It stag­gers the mind that some­one might think they would never sur­face, but there you have our prime min­is­ter. There, too, you have the Con­ser­va­tives and their aw­fully on-the-nose slo­gan.

That be­ing said, as a 2014 may­oralty can­di­date I ex­pe­ri­enced the ex­tra­or­di­nary im­pact of apol­ogy. With his cam­paign slip­ping in the fi­nal week be­fore the vote, the mayor of­fered a wide-rang­ing apol­ogy. Overnight, we watched polls shift. Many cred­ited his con­tri­tion with his re­tained of­fice.

Trudeau is­sues apolo­gies more of­ten than Canada Post is­sues stamps, and he has no choice but to hope this one sticks. But there is a dif­fer­ent dy­namic here, in that it rat­tles his truest be­liev­ers – his sup­port­ers, his cau­cus, his cab­i­net, even his in­ter­na­tional ad­mir­ers – and dis­abuses his pub­lic and global iden­tity. The door will be open to a lead­er­ship chal­lenge.

The re­vealed Trudeau now must ac­cept we will never again see him the way he would wish. The leader who pledged to do pol­i­tics dif­fer­ently now must pivot to find a path to sur­vival.

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