While scrolling through Twitter, flipping through news channels, or partaking in conversations, the topic of Donald Trump is one that appears to permeate all aspects of vocation and vacation. Evidently, there are a whole host of reasons why his behaviours, policies, and positions pique the interest of the public; he is an absurd man with an absurd amount of power. However, as Canadians, focusing on the 24-hour circus put on by our closest neighbours often pulls us away from engaging critically with our own government representatives.
Since his appointment in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has dazzled Canadians and foreigners alike with his good looks and refreshing political stances. In the early days of his tenure as Prime Minister, memes pertaining to Trudeau’s attractiveness and virility flooded the internet, with BuzzFeed documenting a few of the more salacious posts. When he responded to inquiries about his gender-balanced cabinet with, “Because it’s 2015,” the world took pause to revel in the majesty of such a forward-thinking leader, and even Emma Watson tapped out a tweet in support of the Prime Minister and his nation. Though his reputation is occasionally dented by controversies such as ‘nannygate,’ ‘elbowgate,’ or his recent ‘peoplekind’ faux-pas, in the eyes of many, Trudeau gets out of most scandals without any permanent damage.
Naturally, I found myself curious as to just how Justin Trudeau is managing such a routine: he appears to be skating past severe, career-shaping criticism at every turn by wooing the world. On a quest for answers, I spoke with three students about the Prime Minister and gathered their thoughts on his performance as the leader of our country so far.
The students each had a particular point of criticism for Trudeau. Ayesha Tak, a fourth-year Sociology student, critiqued the Prime Minister’s statement on World Mental Health Day last year that called for mental health support, pointing out that he has yet to address the suicide epidemic among Indigenous communities in the north. Zeahaa Rehman, a third-year Linguistics and Professional Writing and Communication student, cited the Prime Minister’s #WelcomeToCanada tweet posted in response to President Trump’s travel ban last year, mentioning that it made little sense in the wake of the refugee cap taking effect in Canada at the time. Tak and Rehman’s concerns highlight Trudeau’s tendency to speak loudly about the things he believes in while doing little to uphold or enforce those values in a real way.
Concerns about the ethics of the Prime Minister’s actions were also raised. Natalie Petra, a fourth-year student studying Ethics, Society and Law; Peace, Conflict and Justice; and Equity Studies, and the President of the York-Simcoe NDP Riding Association, commented on what she perceived as the deeply disturbing nature of Trudeau’s trip to the Aga Khan’s island on a private plane, arguing that this decision put the public in an uncomfortable place because no one will ever know what deals were or were not made during that trip.
These flaws in the Prime Minister’s image often get overlooked or buried due to a couple of complementary factors: negative press for Donald Trump and positive press for Trudeau. Tak believes Trump’s presidency has largely contributed to Trudeau’s infallible status in the political sphere. “We do give him a pass because of Trump,” suggested Tak. “We compare a lot of politicians to Trump, and we go, ‘Oh at least they’re not Trump,’ which is setting the bar very low.”
Petra, on the other hand, perceives Trudeau’s popularity to be more reflective of the strong relationship Liberals and Trudeau himself have with the media. “If you’ve ever gotten to hear the Prime Minister speak at a live event or talk to him face-to-face — which I have done both — he’s very unwilling to commit to a position,” explained Petra. “When you’re a little bit wishy-washy on a position, it’s really easy to get that positive PR. And that positive PR helps get the Prime Minister more traction and more popularity with Canadians at the end of the day.”
In my view, a combination of those two factors has led to the current situation where many Canadians are willing to forgive our Prime Minister for anything. However, like any great rhetorical tactic, a standardized noncommittal stance only works as long as nobody catches you. The public reaction to recent mishaps like ‘peoplekind’ show that the ‘Justin Trudeau, selfie prince’ veneer is rapidly chipping. And though Trudeau’s public image has certainly benefited from superficial tweets and curated photographs, people are now expecting him to show more consistency between press and policy.
Petra critiqued Trudeau’s claims of feminism by juxtaposing them with his many instances of non-feminist behaviour. For all the positive press around Trudeau’s gender-balanced cabinet, for instance, it was revealed that five females were being paid less than their male counterparts. Moreover, during the ‘nannygate’ controversy, when it became clear that Canadians would be footing the bill for the two Trudeau nannies, the Prime Minister’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, received a lot of gendered abuse as a mother who appeared to be taking advantage of taxpayers. Petra argues that despite his claims of feminism, Trudeau never thought to clarify that the nannies provided just as much support for him as for his wife.
“It’s difficult to consider yourself a feminist when you’re not willing to put the substantive action into it,” said Petra. “It’s a lot more than just standing up and saying, ‘Because it’s 2015’ or going to the UN and saying, ‘I am a feminist.’”
Rehman summed up the disconnect between Trudeau’s words and actions very simply: “A lot of what he does isn’t in tune with what he says.”
The time has come to focus on what our nation needs from our Prime Minister, and to stop marvelling at the madness going on beneath us. We should continue to analyze what Trudeau says, and ensure that it matches his actions. We should not rely on ignorant power players south of the border as the benchmark for our Prime Minister’s success, or on fluffy articles focusing exclusively on our Prime Minister’s looks and charisma. Students, with their breadth of knowledge on internet and social media sensationalism, have the power to challenge superficiality and demand something real.
Jenisse Minott is a third-year student at UTM studying Communications, Culture, Information, and Technology and Professional Writing and Communication. She is The Varsity’s Associate Comment Editor.