Will brown­face pho­tos hurt Trudeau’s re­elec­tion bid?

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Rachel Mars­den

PARIS — Old pho­tos and a video of Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter (and for­mer drama teacher) Justin Trudeau wear­ing cos­tumes that in­cluded brown body and face paint sur­faced last week and quickly shot around the world. Trudeau was ac­cused of cul­tural and racial in­sen­si­tiv­ity, and there has been spec­u­la­tion that the con­tro­versy might hurt Trudeau’s re­elec­tion chances ahead of an Oct. 21 vote.

I’ve talked to both Amer­i­can and Cana­dian friends about the Trudeau flap, and the dif­fer­ence in the re­ac­tions spoke vol­umes. The Amer­i­can friends wanted to see a po­lit­i­cal blood­bath, glee­fully imag­in­ing that Trudeau would have to re­sign. The Cana­dian friends were con­cerned about how the Trudeau pho­tos would make Canada look to the rest of the world.

“I’m sur­prised,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said of the pho­tos, “and I was more sur­prised when I saw the num­ber of times.”

Cana­di­ans, how­ever, have grown ac­cus­tomed to Trudeau’s dress-ups.

In 2010, be­fore he be­came Lib­eral Party leader, Trudeau stirred con­tro­versy with a Christ­mas card fea­tur­ing his fam­ily dressed in match­ing coy­ote fur, which out­raged an­i­mal­rights ac­tivists. When Trudeau made an of­fi­cial visit to In­dia last year, he and his fam­ily re­peat­edly wore bright In­dian-style at­tire that looked bor­rowed from a Bol­ly­wood film stu­dio’s cos­tume de­part­ment. The out­fits didn’t go over very well, with one for­mer In­dian of­fi­cial say­ing it was “all just a bit much.”

Trudeau also took on the role (com­plete with cos­tume) of real-life sol­dier Tal­bot Mercer Pap­ineau, who was killed in the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele dur­ing World War I, for a CBC Tele­vi­sion minis­eries. About the only events for which Trudeau hasn’t dressed up are pride pa­rades.

“The fact of the mat­ter is that I’ve al­ways — and you’ll know this — been more en­thu­si­as­tic about cos­tumes than is some­times ap­pro­pri­ate,” Trudeau said dur­ing his apol­ogy af­ter the brown­face pho­tos emerged. “When I was in high school, I dressed up at a tal­ent show and sang ‘Day O’ (Harry Be­la­fonte’s “Ba­nana Boat Song”) with makeup on.”

Re­gard­less of how Trudeau’s cos­tumes are judged, Cana­di­ans aren’t just go­ing to hand his ad­ver­saries a vic­tory with­out eval­u­at­ing where each party stands on pol­icy. Nor do Cana­di­ans take kindly to neg­a­tive cam­paign­ing.

Con­ser­va­tive Party leader An­drew Scheer ad­mit­ted to re­porters that a mem­ber of his cam­paign team had ob­tained the Trudeau brown­face video from a source and sub­se­quently leaked it to the me­dia. Scheer claims that his team gave the video to the press “for ver­i­fi­ca­tion.” Se­ri­ously? Tak­ing a com­pro­mis­ing photo of a world leader to a jour­nal­ist for an au­then­tic­ity as­sess­ment is like bring­ing a kit­ten to a great white shark for a cute­ness as­sess­ment.

At­tempt­ing to de­rail the en­tire cam­paign by re­plac­ing de­bate about pol­icy with sen­sa­tion­al­ism is an in­sult to vot­ers’ in­tel­li­gence. Polls taken both be­fore and af­ter the brown­face fi­asco show a sta­tis­ti­cal tie be­tween the Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives, sug­gest­ing that the episode isn’t mak­ing much of a dent in Cana­di­ans’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Per­haps it would be dif­fer­ent if they be­lieved that Trudeau’s ac­tual poli­cies were racist — but they aren’t. In fact, it’s dif­fi­cult to think of an­other Cana­dian prime min­is­ter (or an­other a world leader) who’s gone as far out of his way as Trudeau has to virtue-sig­nal in the in­ter­ests of pro­mot­ing diversity and in­clu­sion.

Trudeau’s po­lit­i­cal man­date won’t be judged on a few old pho­tos. Rather, he’ll be largely be judged on how his diversity poli­cies have af­fected Canada. The fed­eral cam­paign pe­riod in Canada is barely more than a month long. The photo con­tro­versy has dis­tracted from mean­ing­ful de­bate about gov­ern­ment poli­cies, in­clud­ing those that have an effect on diversity and cul­ture. The Con­ser­va­tive Party should re­ally be provoking a con­ver­sa­tion about these mat­ters rather than don­ning the of­fen­sive cos­tume of po­lit­i­cal dirty-trick­sters.

Tribune Con­tent Agency

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