After nine years of a conservative government, it was of little surprise that Justin Trudeau’s 2015 prime ministerial campaign ended in a landslide victory. It was also no surprise that following the election, Trudeau’s smoldering good looks, relative youth, and outspoken liberalism earned him something of a cult following. Even now, nearly two years later, the honeymoon period is still in full swing. For all intents and purposes, Trudeau is proof that progressives can still triumph in an international stage increasingly dominated by far-right figures. But despite all the covert family photos, raven tattoos, feminist quips and viral Buzzfeed articles about his boxing days, Trudeau is far from the left’s golden boy. It only takes a little investigating to understand that the face he presents to the public is a carefully cultivated façade.
The first obvious point of dissonance is Trudeau’s recent support for the development of Site C, a hydroelectric dam in north-east British Colombia [BC]. The project would flood 5,000 hectares of indigenous land, a place that the First Nations people in BC still use for hunting, farming, and conducting ceremonies. This decision comes after Trudeau’s approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion late last year, another violation of First Nation territory. The government, having already doubled its predicted deficit, has prioritized revenue over the protection and conservation of indigenous land.
Equally concerning is that the legislation has gone largely ignored. Where is the outrage? Where is the international condemnation and grassroots activism that surfaced in Standing Rock? The truth is that Trudeau has broken his promises both to environmental activists, and to the First Nations, in a country that already has a deeply fraught relationship with its colonial past. If it were Turnbull or Trump that had disrespected and violated agreements with Native Americans or Indigenous Australians, it would be splashed all over a Facebook seething with outrage. Why does Trudeau get a free pass?
It’s not just domestic issues that should be scrutinized, either. For all the joy that Trump’s thwarted handshake brought the internet, Trudeau isn’t exactly taking a stand against him and the policies he represents. For one, he has unequivocally supported Canada’s 2014 $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – which has brought widespread condemnation, and in January began approving export permits. Evidence has also surfaced that Canada also sold vehicles to the Sudanese military, as well as Algeria and China – allegations neatly dodged by the government. Trudeau can go to as many Pride rallies as he likes, but these aren’t the actions of an activist.
Neither is his refusal to recognize ISIL’s actions against the Kurdish Yazidis as genocide, even as the death toll climbs to 5,000. Only when other member countries of the UN began condemning ISIL’s actions in Iraq did Trudeau speak out. The only electoral promise he has fulfilled is the termination of Canadian airstrikes in Syria, and even that has been accompanied by increased surveillance and training. The country is still, effectively, committed to war. In fact, there’s been little change in foreign policy since the Conservatives were in power, right down to the shared emissions target. It’s the same plan presented by someone with a better haircut, so why is Trudeau being praised for his radical progression?
It might all come back to nepotism. Trudeau has a lot to live up to, as the son of famous Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau, who passed Canada’s charter of rights in 1982. Justin grew up surrounded by elite and wealthy people. Richard Nixon jokingly called him Canada’s future prime minister during a toast in 1972. Members of Parliament bet on his due date. He once debated Ted Cruz at university. It was a small leap from politician’s son to politician after Pierre’s death, and Trudeau utilized his connections expertly. It’s not that this is a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just that everyone seems to treat him as if he’d clawed his way up from the worst streets of Toronto.
It’s important to recognize the ease and privilege that Trudeau had in launching and succeeding in his political career. He’s eloquent, charismatic, and intelligent, yes, but he is also his father’s son. It’s the same principle as Trump appointing his son in law to senior adviser. The only difference is that Trudeau gets away with it quietly, by shaking Prince George’s hand and smiling at a camera.
I don’t want to diminish the good that Trudeau has achieved, because there’s been a lot of it. From strengthened abortion rights, to Senate reform and the commitment to refugee housing, his government has been working to improve the country. In truth, I’m proud of what Canada has done in the face of increasing far-right pressure, and I’m proud to call myself Canadian. But to reduce Canada down to a utopia with an admittedly gorgeous head of state does a disservice to a place that has a lot of issues to work on.
Justin Trudeau doesn’t deserve blind praise, or a social media following, or photo-shopped flower crowns. As an elected representative of the people, what he deserves is to be scrutinized and held to account. It remains to be seen what kind of Prime Minister he’ll be, but don’t let those baby blue eyes fool you; Trudeau is a politician, and politicians are always oriented around the acquisition and maintenance of power.
Words by Ella Fox-Martens.
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 3 SOAP.