New Liberal cabinet includes U of T law professor, University–Rosedale MP

New additions and old positions: Anita Anand, Chrystia Freeland round out Trudeau’s ministers

New Liberal cabinet includes U of T law professor, University–Rosedale MP

On November 20, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his new cabinet, welcomed a U of T law professor into the ministerial ranks, and resurrected the title of Deputy Prime Minister for University–Rosedale MP Chrystia Freeland. Freeland, whose riding includes UTSG, is also charged with the office of the minister of intergovernmental affairs. Newly elected Oakville MP and U of T law professor Anita Anand was also named the minister of public services and procurement.

Freeland and Anand are among the 18 women who make up half of Trudeau’s cabinet, in continuation of the prime minister’s 2015 commitment to gender parity; Trudeau himself tips the balance with 19 men.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Freeland is the first to serve as deputy prime minister since Anne McLellan under former Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2006. The title was first used in Canada by Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in 1977.

While the role comes with no formal duties, deputy prime ministers have historically answered questions on behalf of the prime minister during Question Period, and almost all deputy prime ministers have held other ministerial positions.

How much power Freeland will hold and where that power will lie will depend on Trudeau’s vision for the role, which will not be clear until her mandate letters are released. Freeland did affirm in an interview with CTV News that she “did not take on this job to be a spokesmodel.”

Unlike vice presidents in the United States, deputy prime ministers do not automatically become the head of the government in the event that the prime minister dies or resigns. However, in the cabinet’s order of precedent for succession, Freeland is now second, outranked only by the prime minister.

Freeland, who previously held the foreign affairs portfolio, has also been named Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. This role will have her overseeing the federal government’s relations with the 13 provincial and territorial governments of Canada.

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Anand is not only new to cabinet, but also to parliament. Her political career began this past October after she was elected federal MP for the riding of Oakville. Anand’s new role as minister of public services and procurement will have her overseeing the internal administration of the federal government as its principal banker, including oversight of the controversial Phoenix pay system which processes payroll for federal employees.

Minister Anand is a U of T Faculty of Law professor and is cross-appointed to the Rotman School of Management and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. She is currently on leave from the university to attend to her new positions.

For the past two decades, Anand has been a legal academic specializing in capital market regulation, corporate governance, and the rights of investors. Besides being an award-winning scholar, Anand has also provided expert consultation to the Ontario government through a number of committees.

She is the first Hindu person to be appointed as a Canadian minister.

Cabinet by the numbers

While gender parity remains a constant from 2015, this cabinet sees the largest share of Ontario and Québec ministers, at 78 per cent, since 1965, according to CBC News. 17 ministers hail from Ontario ridings — including Freeland and Anand — and 11 from Québec, for a combined total of 28 out of 36 ministers coming from just two provinces. While Ontario and Québec are the most populous of the provinces and territories, their share only makes up just over 61 per cent of Canada’s overall population, meaning that they are overrepresented in cabinet.

14 cabinet ministers from 2015 have notably not maintained their positions in the new 2019 cabinet. Among them, six ministers resigned, four were removed, two lost their ridings, and two were moved to different appointments within the government.

Has Justin Trudeau mastered the art of the apology?

Canadians have been quick to forgive and forget Liberal controversies

Has Justin Trudeau mastered the art of the apology?

When pictures and videos of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau in brownface and blackface surfaced last month, the nation’s collective jaw dropped. Many Canadians were left feeling betrayed by a leader who has branded himself as an ally of marginalized people and a champion of diversity. It also seemed like the relatively tame campaign season was about to be turned on its head.

In the wake of Trudeau’s scandal, it may come as a surprise that support for the Liberal Party of Canada has remained relatively unchanged. The Liberal Party did not suffer any substantial loss of support in the polls, nor did any other party see meaningful gains following the publication of the images.

Our attention seems to have instead shifted rather quickly toward other aspects of the election. The lack of a substantial dip in Liberal support in the polls and the willingness of Canadians to forgive this issue leads to unanswered questions. Chiefly, why were we so quick to move on?

A possible explanation exists in a very simple concept: an apology. More specifically, the fact that Trudeau actually gave one. Although it is a rather low bar to set, we rarely hear politicians actually apologize for the things they do wrong, and this election is no exception.

Back in August, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer came under fire for refusing to apologize for a speech he gave in 2005 regarding his stance on same-sex marriage. We have become accustomed to watching leaders pivot their way out of apologizing instead of facing issues head on.

Enter Trudeau, who apologized the same night the initial image surfaced, and again the next day after additional images were brought to light. His apology, for all intents and purposes, was well-executed.

He pointed to his own privilege as a “massive blind spot,” acknowledged that the behaviour was unacceptable, and reinforced how sorry he was. Once again, a low bar. But the quick reaction gave the scandal little room to breathe and forced voters to make a snap decision about whether they believed him to be sincere.

Judging by the almost unmoving nature of the polls, perhaps Trudeau’s affinity for apologies has paid off. But it would be unwise to give any politician too much credit. There are many factors that contribute to party support in the lead-up to an election: party loyalty, the quality of local representation, inaccurate or unreliable polling data, et cetera.

The unchanging nature of the polls speaks not only to the effects of Trudeau’s apology but also to the already close nature of this race. It may have stopped the Liberals from hemorrhaging, but it cannot account for the entirety of the campaign.

While it may not account for the direction of the campaign as a whole, the Liberal leader’s apology does stand out, especially when compared to other kinds of leadership impacting the lives of students. Students don’t often see their own leaders apologize in such a straightforward manner. An adequate apology and acknowledgement of failure does not remedy what Trudeau did, but it does create the opportunity to engage with the issues of privilege that he pointed to. Leaders at U of T should take note of Trudeau’s conduct. Without acknowledgement of problems and causes, issues cannot even begin to be adequately addressed.

October 21 will reveal whether Trudeau and his party have done enough. U of T accounts for a large, diverse mass of potential voters, many of whom are living in a riding currently held by the Liberal Party’s Chrystia Freeland. If this issue remains at the top of the list for students, they will make it known on election day.

Julia Hookong-Taylor is a fifth-year Political Science student at St. Michael’s College.

Justin Trudeau announces full, costed Liberal platform at UTM Town Hall

Plan includes tax cuts, increased student grants

Justin Trudeau announces full, costed Liberal platform at UTM Town Hall

Liberal Party leader and incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his party’s full platform at a town hall event held this Sunday at UTM. In it, he set out a “real plan for the middle class.” The platform is set to increase spending on student grants, child benefits, and the environment by billions of dollars, at the expense of the wealthiest one per cent of Canadians. He also took questions from students, community members, and the press.

Restructuring of student grants

In introducing his plan to support students, Trudeau brought up Premier Doug Ford’s changes to education in Ontario.

“Doug Ford slashes education funding and makes it near impossible to pay for tuition.”

Under a Liberal government, Trudeau vowed to increase the Canada Student Grants by another 40 per cent, a move he claims will provide students with an additional $1,200 per year for tuition, books, and rent. The maximum Canada Student Grant will be raised to $4,200, up from $3,000.

He will also institute a two-year interest-free grace period with a minimum $35,000 income requirement, which is an increase from the previous six-month grace period. This means that even after the two-year grace period elapses, students will not have to start their student loan repayments until they are making at least $35,000 a year. Parents with student debt will also have the option to freeze their loan payments until their child reaches the age of five.

When asked about her thoughts on Trudeau’s plan for students, UTM student Maha Taieldien said in an interview with The Varsity, “I think it’s a step in the right direction. There’s obviously a lot more that they can do, but it’s baby steps.”

Tax cuts for the middle class

Trudeau kicked off the event with a scathing criticism of conservative politics, both federal and provincial.

“When he was campaigning, Doug Ford said that not a single person would lose their job to pay for his massive cuts. Well, tell that to the 10,000 Ontario teachers who are losing their jobs. Andrew Scheer is asking you to double down on Conservatives. That’s twice the handouts for big polluters and the wealthy, and twice the cuts for you and your family.”

In response, he promised to make Canadian lives more affordable. He plans to achieve this with tax cuts for the middle class — cuts that he claims will save the average family $600 a year and lift 38,000 Canadians out of poverty.

In addition, the platform, which was titled “Forward: A Real Plan for the Middle Class,” aims to cut phone bills by 25 per cent, provide interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for families who wish to retrofit their homes, and boost the Canada Child Benefit so that families with newborns will receive up to $1,000 more in payments.

On climate action

Trudeau said that Canada will reach net zero emissions by 2050 under his government, and that fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out by 2025.

“In the process, we’ll become world leaders in clean technology.”

He also defended his Liberal government’s move to greenlight the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, promising that profits from the pipeline will go directly back to funding clean energy projects and an initiative to plant two billion trees in the next decade.

“I’m glad that they’re doing something about it but I just feel like 2050 is very far into the future,” noted Taieldien.

Emphasizing the point of her fellow classmate, UTM student Amanda Hammad said, “especially based on how much limited time we have, I agree, it’s something that needs to be done sooner.”

Media response

When taking questions from the press, Trudeau faced multiple queries regarding how he plans to fund his tax cuts and benefits for students and the middle class, while continuing to work toward a balanced budget.

His answers often repeated the same sentiment that increased investment in the middle class would result in greater economic output. These answers weren’t well received by journalists who were looking for specific plans on when and how Trudeau might curb his spending.

Trudeau also faced scrutiny for continuously mentioning Doug Ford, a provincial politician. One journalist asked if Trudeau was attempting to associate Ford with Scheer. In response, Trudeau noted that, “Mr. Scheer is the person who has associated himself with Doug Ford.”

What are the greatest issues facing students in the upcoming Canadian federal election?

Comment contributors weigh in on the climate crisis, affordable postsecondary education, rising tuition costs, and access to voter information

What are the greatest issues facing students  in the upcoming Canadian federal election?

In light of the upcoming federal election on October 21, four students weigh in on the greatest issues facing students today.

Turning around our voter turnout

The greatest issue facing students in the upcoming elections is a lack of education on how the federal election actually works. Young voters — citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 — make up the largest eligible voting demographic in Canada. This gives young people a lot of power. However, a lack of knowledge seems to take that power away.

Despite voter apathy, the stereotype that today’s youth don’t care about politics is not necessarily true. Today’s young people seem to be more politically involved than past generations. Students are aware of the effects of political decisions in our everyday lives, from transportation and housing costs to cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Young people do care, and they have power in numbers. However, there is a need to better inform young people so that they may channel their concerns into political action.

Many young people are not informed on how to register, vote, or on how their vote can impact their nation. Compared to older voters who have been politically engaged for years, youth lack experience and understanding of Canadian politics. This is amplified when considering the understandable lack of faith there is in the system, and the fact that the available candidates and parties do not sufficiently represent their needs and interests.

A common sentiment among youth is that the system is too flawed, or that no matter who you vote for, things never end up changing for the better. If people are not well informed on how to get politically involved, and if the options they have seem like a choice between bad and worse, it could be discouraging for those who are new to voting or not politically engaged.

Voting is a right, but being an informed citizen is a responsibility. Getting educated about how elections in Canada work and what your role and impact are as a citizen is actually quite easy. Canada has made voting considerably accessible, and the tools needed to understand the political system are only an internet search away.

While many challenges still exist for young people to politically engage in this country, this education barrier is one that young people can overcome. And when we do, our influence will be large enough to create massive change in our country.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

Tuition costs

As our political parties ramp up their campaigns, voters are eagerly waiting for detailed platforms in order to decide which candidate they will be supporting. For many postsecondary students across Canada, there is one universal issue that they can all relate to — the rising costs of tuition.

According to Statistics Canada, the average undergraduate student in Canada during the 2011–2012 school year paid $5,366, compared to $6,571 in 2017–2018.

As costs of living can exceed thousands of dollars for an eight-month academic period — at the University of Toronto, for example — students heavily rely on student loans to survive.

According to Statistics Canada, 40 per cent of graduates from the 20092010 class had to take out a loan for their postsecondary education, with 50 per cent of undergraduate students having a loan, compared to 41 per cent of doctoral students. Moreover, according to the Government of Canada, from August 1, 2015, to July 31, 2016, 490,000 full-time students took on $2.7 billion  in loans, with an average of $5,507 per student. At the time of graduation of the same fiscal period, graduates on average had a debt of $13,306 from student loans.

In sum, when students head to their local voting centre this October, they should inform themselves well and vote for the candidate they believe in the most that will reduce the cost of tuition, in order to keep postsecondary education accessible to all Canadians.

Angad Deol is a first-year Life Sciences student in St. Michael’s College.

Affordable postsecondary education

Premier Doug Ford’s cuts to OSAP are in full swing. In addition to gutting the free tuition program for low-income students, the new program significantly changes the ratio of grants to loans and eliminates the six-month grace period on loan interest. All of these measures have made it difficult for students to find their way back on campus this year. Making postsecondary education affordable is of the utmost concern for students, one that most major parties have already addressed.

Recently, both the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party have offered proposals to make postsecondary education more affordable for students. Green Party leader Elizabeth May is proposing to eliminate student debt altogether, while NDP leader Jagmeet Singh wants to eliminate interest rates on student loans.

On top of this, Singh recently tweeted that his plan does not stop at eliminating interest, as he believes that “young people should be able to go from kindergarten to post-secondary education, barrier-free.” However, both the NDP and the Green Party have not released any substantial plans on how they would make these proposals sustainable.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have introduced a six-month grace period on interest for student loans after graduation.

The Conservatives have yet to offer any proposal. Though, based on the changes that the Progressive Conservatives have made in Ontario, it is safe to assume that the federal party is likely to make more cuts.

In the next few weeks, other parties will spend a considerable time painting Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer with the same brush: one of contempt, distrust, and disregard for students.

As the election starts to gear up, the NDP, the Green Party and the Liberals have all offered some sort of solution to the affordability of postsecondary education. As long as Andrew Scheer stays silent on the subject, one can assume that the Conservatives hold a similar position on postsecondary education as Doug Ford — and that is not a good look for Andrew Scheer.

Aiman Akmal is a third-year International Relations student at Trinity College.

The climate crisis

The climate crisis is a major issue for voters this federal election. This comes with an ever-increasing awareness and demand for action as communities in Canada and around the world already experienced its detrimental effects. The federal government has followed the lead of countless municipalities across the country by declaring a climate emergency. Voters and activists are demanding a leaders’ election debate solely on the climate crisis.

Voting is a right, but becoming an informed citizen is a responsibility

The incumbent Liberal government’s environmental record has been criticized from both sides of the political spectrum. The Conservatives say they can meaningfully reduce emissions without a carbon tax, instead focusing on big polluters, who will be forced to spend money investing in clean technology if they exceed emissions limits. Their plan has been dismissed by Mark Jaccard, a member of the United Nations (UN)’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as so insufficient that emissions would actually rise. The NDP’s plan builds on the Liberals’ carbon tax and intertwines action on  the climate crisis with settler-Indigenous reconciliation and job creation, in a plan that it says will cost $15 billion and reduce emissions by 38 per cent by 2030.

The Green Party, however, has dismissed all of the above as inadequate. Its ambitious plan calls for an all-party “war cabinet” to address the crisis, as well as a pledge to stop importing oil and instead only use Canadian energy, and double the country’s emissions reductions target from 30 per cent to 60 per cent by 2030 and reach 100 per cent by 2050.

Voters will have the opportunity to evaluate each party’s plan during the campaign. Young people, in particular, should pay close attention. While no one will escape the consequences of the climate crisis, it is we who will be most impacted by it.

The UN recently announced that we only have until 2030 to take drastic action on climate change. Some scientists warn the situation is even more dire, and that the deadline for action is as soon as next year. Therefore, this election may be the last chance to elect a government that will take the necessary steps to solve the climate crisis. Once the world’s temperature rises, there is no turning back.

Oliver Zhao is a second-year Criminology & Sociolegal Studies and International Relations student at Woodsworth College.

Because it’s 2019

Selfies aren’t cutting it anymore — why youth voters are abandoning Trudeau

Because it’s 2019

Justin Trudeau was the perfect millennial magnet. He promised “real change,” navigated Instagram with ease, and knew some killer party tricks. The Liberals branded Trudeau as a rebellious reformer: the fiery underdog who would reignite Ottawa and bounce the boring, stale Conservatives from office.

But by packaging Trudeau as such, the Liberals have gradually alienated the party’s youth base — and fallen into the same trap US President Barack Obama did seven years ago.

In 2015, Trudeau’s charisma made young Canadians swoon. According to Abacus Data, 45 per cent of Canadians aged 18-25 voted Liberal. In the aftermath of his victory, Trudeau’s popularity continued to climb. One month after the election, Nanos reported that over half of young voters, defined as 18- 29, preferred Trudeau as prime minister.

The selfies, smiles, and promises kept gushing, and over the next year, Trudeau’s support remained consistent and strong, peaking at 61 per cent. The prime minister even appointed himself as Minister of Youth, formalizing his relationship with young people.

But three years later, almost one-third of young voters have abandoned him. Now, only 28 per cent choose Trudeau as their prime minister of choice.

Trudeau’s downfall was inevitable. As Obama’s trajectory illustrates, any reformer with a platform anchored in hope and change can garner votes the first time around, but once they go up for re-election, the rhetoric doesn’t click. Voters are jaded and popularity slides.

Take Obama: after record-setting engagement in the 2008 election, the number of voters aged 18-29 — a solid, loyal base for the president — declined by 1.8 million in 2012. Obama’s young, energetic supporters were tired of it all.

During the campaign, university officials reported “muted atmospheres” on campus. Paul Ryan, Republican Vice-President nominee for the opposing ticket, quipped that “college graduates [were] staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can get going with life.”

Obama couldn’t stir young people like he did in 2008; his inspiration had dried up. And now, Trudeau has stumbled into the same predicament: the selfies and smiles aren’t connecting as solidly as they did four years ago.

Instead of inspiring change, the prime minister may be cultivating apathy. This ranges from issues of Indigenous rights to climate change. For instance, although Trudeau removed Canada’s “objector status” to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould asserted that the government cannot implement the declaration “word for word.” In a fitting display, two Dalhousie University students recently confronted Trudeau about this issue midway through a selfie.

Trudeau also broke his promise to reform the electoral system, maintaining the first-past-the-post system that favours big parties like the Liberals. He’s also balked on his pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies in the medium-term.

The list goes on. This summer, Trudeau ignored calls from his Youth Council to suspend the government’s buyout of Kinder Morgan. Current and former members of the council declared Trudeau’s decision an “immense disappointment,” and urged the prime minister to reconsider.

The Office of the Prime Minister responded — with more than a splash of condescension — by stating that “it is heartening to see young Canadians engage on political issues that affect them and become involved in the democratic process.” When this cheap, preloaded duckspeak acts as the default response, Trudeau’s fall from grace starts to make a lot more sense.  

The literature on voting behaviour could have predicted the declines of both Trudeau and Obama. Dr. Heather Bastedo, president of Public Square Research, writes that “older voters are moved by the capacity of leaders to represent their interests, whereas younger voters care about what those same leaders symbolize or stand for.”

For young people, values matter more. Big fiscal decisions concerning taxes, health care, or child benefits don’t matter as much. As such, young voters tend to prioritize post-material values and flock to progressive, inspiring leaders.

In Why Youth Vote: Identity, Inspirational Leaders and Independence, Dr. Bobbi Gentry writes that candidates like Obama and Trudeau are “more likely to turn out youth voters based on the characteristic of inspiration.” Gentry goes on to say that “by offering hope, creating new politics, and acting against the status quo, an inspirational candidate [can] create higher turnout among 18- to 24- year-olds.”

This was the case with Trudeau’s initial bid: 58 per cent of newly-eligible voters came out to vote in 2015, an increase of 17.7 points over 2011. It’s no wonder: certain buzzwords and messages, like “feelings of hope, and promises of change” tend to resonate with these sorts of young voters. The Liberal Party’s platform was aptly entitled “real change,” and as Obama himself said of Trudeau during a joint press conference, Trudeau “campaigned on a platform of hope and of change.”

Obama’s assessment was on-brand four years ago and dovetailed with Trudeau’s image. However, Trudeau is now inside the tent: weathered by the demands of incumbency, and the day-to-day drudgery of actually running the country, most of Trudeau’s appeal has been snuffed out. Over two-thirds of young voters would agree. Trudeau has to reorient himself, ditch the hollow rhetoric, and start fulfilling promises if he wants to lure back his base.

The next federal election will occur in 2019, this year. Millennials constitute the biggest chunk of eligible voters, numbering 9.5 million countrywide, and withering interest among young voters could jeopardize Trudeau’s run for another term. It’s up to the Liberals to acknowledge and correct this before Trudeau begins to symbolize the very opposite of what he stood for in 2015.

Ted Fraser is a third-year International Relations student at Victoria College.

Federal budget’s $3.2 billion investment is a win for science

More research funding means more student research opportunities

Federal budget’s $3.2 billion investment is a win for science

On February 27, the Liberal government announced the federal budget, which includes a $3.2 billion investment in scientific research over the next five years.

A fund of $1.7 billion will go toward research granting councils — the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council — and $1.3 billion will be used to fund overhead expenses like research infrastructure, laboratories, and supplies.

Additionally, the budget proposes the formation of a new tri-council fund that will spearhead research that is internationally and interdisciplinarily based.

This large investment was driven considerably by the Naylor Report, Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, led by U of T President Emeritus David Naylor and commissioned by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan in 2016. The Naylor Report outlined 35 recommendations for the government to implement in order to better support scientific endeavors, including a $1.3 billion increase for research granting councils by 2022.

Though Budget 2018 does not meet all criteria outlined by the Naylor Report, it is evident that the government listened to scientists and took note of the Support the Report campaign led by U of T last year.

“The government did send a very positive signal to the scientific community, and provided for increased and longer-term stability to research funding going forward,” said Bryan Stewart, Vice-Principal of Research at UTM. “This is very welcome news.”

According to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, this investment is the single largest in investigator-led fundamental research in Canadian history. Morneau also said that the investment will help spur new industries and careers in Canada.

“Federal research grants have a huge impact on any individual researcher’s ability to supervise and train students of all levels,” said Stewart. “Any uptick in research funding will allow for more student research opportunities, and unfortunately, any downturn in research funding has the opposite effect.”

Additionally, the government plans to invest $210 million over five years in the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program. This CRC investment also aims to support talented early-career researchers and diversify its nominees to include more female researchers and researchers from underrepresented groups.

Only 28 per cent of Research Chairs at major universities are women, and they are typically at the bottom of CRC’s funding tiers. The budget aims to address federal sector gender pay inequity through proactive legislation. On average, a woman earns $0.87 for every dollar a man earns.

The budget also addresses inclusivity: $25 million has been allotted to support Indigenous research and researchers from minority groups so that they are better represented.

“Fundamental research explores the basis for why things are, and applied research tends to focus on how to use fundamental knowledge to make things work,” explained Ulrich Krull, the Principal of UTM. “Economic impact is largely tied to success in making things work, but this has no traction unless there is understanding of what needs to be done and there are skilled people available to creatively solve problems.”

While the reaction to the scientific funding allocation of this budget has been overwhelmingly positive, some have criticized the government’s inattention to the slow return on investment correlated with fundamental research, calling the investment an unwise way to spend tax dollars.

Funding for the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program has not been renewed and will end this year. This lack of funding will halt progress on research in the Arctic.

Despite concerns and a few gaps, Canada’s scientific community has rejoiced over the budget and that the government listened to the community’s concerns over lagging research and funding for investigator-led fundamental research.

“Overall, this budget sends a clear signal that the federal government understands that universities have a unique positioning to drive social, economic and cultural growth,” said Krull.

Challenging the power of Trudeau’s positive press

In conversation with students, The Varsity’s Associate Comment Editor sheds light on the Prime Minister’s many inconsistencies

Challenging the power of Trudeau’s positive press

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.

A prime minister for progress

Reflections on Trudeau’s promises to science

A prime minister for progress

It was already dark out on October 19, 2015 when Justin Trudeau took to the stage amid thunderous adulation in the Liberal Party headquarters. With the eyes of millions of Canadians on the newly-minted Prime Minister, he promised that, in Canada, “better is always possible.”

Since that night, numerous groups have debated whether a better Canada has indeed become our reality. For the scientific community, the election of Trudeau, following nearly a decade of silencing and suppression under the Harper administration, was the dawn of a brighter era. It is undoubtable now at the halfway point of his mandate that Trudeau has been a far better friend to scientists than Stephen Harper ever was.

Trudeau’s support for the scientific method and those who practice it is no recent development either. In the announcement of his intention to run for Liberal leadership in 2012, he stated that “the only ideology that must guide us is evidence. Hard, scientific facts and data. It may seem revolutionary in today’s Ottawa, but instead of inventing the facts to justify the policies, we will create policy based on facts.”

As an aspiring scientist, it is easy for me to praise Trudeau as a progressive champion for science in light of Harper’s clampdown, but what has Trudeau accomplished in cold, hard fact?

Acknowledging Trudeau as a breath of fresh air for scientists is not simply a hyperbolic partisan claim. Of utmost importance to scientists was Trudeau’s immediate reversal of the Harper government’s policy forbidding federally-funded scientists and other government officials from speaking to the press and public without legal hoops to jump through and permissions to obtain. There was also the restoration of the mandatory long-form census, to the hearty approval of social scientists everywhere.

However, the lack of suppression is not quite the same thing as progression. What precisely has Trudeau done beyond simply not hampering the efforts of scientists?

Most obvious and appreciable are the appointments made under Trudeau’s administration. As promised, the federal government created the non-partisan position of Chief Science Advisor and filled it with University of Ottawa’s Dr. Mona Nemer this past September. This was followed by the installation of Julie Payette this October — astronaut, engineer, and businesswoman — as Canada’s 29th Governor General.

The inclusion of scientists and other high-achieving people in government, however powerful their roles may actually be, demonstrates that the government is not simply paying lip-service to those who want experts contributing to the decision-making process.

Similar appreciation should be shown for the series of investments made by the federal government into research and green technology. With the $800-million-promise to a new Innovation Agenda fulfilled, the Liberal government has made it clear that they value the expansion of Canadian industries supported by science. Likewise, a number of environmentally-friendly decisions like the cancellation of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the restoration of federal funding into ocean and freshwater research demonstrate a commitment to evidence-based policies.

From the above, it is clear that the realms of science and innovation were not mistaken to place their trust in Trudeau. But, in the spirit of empirical science, it is important to judge the administration not only on its successes, but on its failures as well.

There are several decisions and policies that I would call technical failures, where Trudeau made promises for science innovations but did not fully carry through with these promises. An example is the $50 million dollars given to the Industrial Research Assistance Program when $100 million was promised. Others, like the incomplete repeal of the ban on blood donation for LGBTQ men, appear only to be negotiated variants of original promises.

With all of this in mind, I find it is easy to conclude only one thing about the Prime Minister with certainty. Although Trudeau is a vast improvement on Harper with regard to science, he is not the torch-bearing messiah of science that some had hoped him to be, and that perhaps was implied during his campaign.

Yet total pessimism is undue. In the past two years Trudeau has clearly delineated his position as a supporter of scientific progress in Canada, with only the degree to which he is dedicated in question. In a world where anti-intellectualism is becoming increasingly prevalent in democratic governments, scientists — and the public alike — should be thankful for the leadership we have, despite its flaws.