Canada’s 43rd federal election took place on Monday, October, 21, in which the incumbent prime minister, Justin Trudeau, managed to win just 157 out of 338 seats in Parliament while losing the popular vote to the country’s Conservative Party. He still retains his position as prime minister and will govern Canada via a minority government for the next four years. As political analysts sit down to predict what that would look like, it is important to also have a look back at how this happened.
Trudeau’s first election win in 2015 marked the end of a decade of Conservative rule in Canada. On the global stage, it was seen as historic. The international media’s post-election coverage only worked to reinstate the perception of Trudeau as the liberal hero the world had been waiting for. As J. J. McCullough, a Canadian political commentator, once put it, “There are two kinds of Canadian Prime Ministers — the ones no one has ever heard of and Justin Trudeau.”
What the World Had Been Waiting For?
Inundating social media with Instagram photos of himself doing yoga, wearing goofy Halloween costumes, appearing in the pages of Vogue, GQ and Rolling Stone, Trudeau represented a new brand of politics in Canada that stood in stark contrast to the previous prime minister, Stephen Harper.
The promises he made were equally as vibrant. The 2015 Liberal Party platform consisted of a whopping 353 pre-electoral commitments — nearly double of what Harper promised in his 2006 campaign. These included economic security for the middle class, electoral reform, affordable housing, welcoming more Syrian refugees, climate action, engagement with indigenous communities and legalizing marijuana.
The world happily drew comparisons of him and Hugh Grant’s character in “Love Actually.” He was adulated in the international press as the physical embodiment of all things left and progressive at a time when the rest of the world was experiencing a radical-rightward shift. But back home, he was always met with a fair amount of skepticism and seen largely as a politically naive, wealthy son of a former prime minister who rose to the top owing to his last name. His attention-demanding antics and failed publicity stunts over four years in office only served to solidify that perception.
In February 2018, the prime minister took an eight-day trip to India that quickly turned into a colossal political disaster. Besides donning needlessly elaborate outfits, learning to make rotis with a celebrity chef at the Golden Temple and being ignored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi through most of the trip, Trudeau also managed to dine in the company of a convicted attempted murderer. The only reassuring thing to happen during this trip was its end.
But this was neither Trudeau’s first nor last fiasco in office. As columnist Crawford Kilian puts it, “He seemed to be too eager to please too many people and ended up pleasing very few.” This was perhaps best illustrated by his decision in June 2019 to declare a climate emergency on Monday and announce the expansion of a massive oil pipeline on Tuesday.
You Only Have Yourself to Blame
But even more amusing than his ability to deliver one political debacle after another was doing it fairly unscathed. It is strange how a political career built entirely on Trudeau’s reputation as a woke, progressive, inclusive, racially-sensitized feminist survived damning accusations of groping and racist behavior that have proven career-ending for others. But this just speaks to how good he is at the PR antics that define his brand today.
Months before the election, Trudeau stood accused of yet another malfeasance: pressuring former minister Jody Wilson-Raybould into helping the engineering giant SNC Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on fraud and bribery charges. The ethics commissioner found the prime minister guilty of violating the Conflict of Interest Act, and his popularity took a nosedive. With an approval rating below that of US President Donald Trump at the time, the Liberal Party leader dissolved the Canadian Parliament in September and announced elections for October 21.
Seven days into campaigning, the outrage around SNC Lavalin seemed to be dying out in what political analysts described as “scandal fatigue.” Trudeau, appearing more confident, resumed taking questions from the press, which he had suspended. Conducting one successful rally after another, with heckles dying out in the loud crowds, things were looking up for Trudeau. It was all rainbows, butterflies and selfies at the Liberal camp before the storm hit when photos of a 29-year-old Trudeau dressed in racist blackface make-up were published by Time magazine.
The next day, The Independent read: “And so, the progressive prince might actually be a frog.” The New York Times described it as “The Downfall of Canada’s Dreamy Boyfriend.” Local media also echoed the outrage as more photos emerged. Apologies were made. And then, within mere days of the news breaking, the outrage started to die down. Scandal fatigue seemed to be very kind to the Liberal leader.
A few other relatively minor controversies followed. But even with Trudeau’s plummeting popularity and the questions raised about his ability to run the country with such public displays of poor judgement, it was hard to picture either of his major opponents, Andrew Scheer or Jagmeet Singh, as prime minister. The two ran relatively meek campaigns with little sparks along the way that failed to ignite a fire.
Election Day kicked off with CBC News describing the Liberal camp as being “cautiously optimistic.” But as the results started pouring in, it became clear that no party would succeed in winning a majority. After what CNN termed a “humiliating night” for Trudeau, he stood at Montreal Convention Center and promised to fight for all Canadians regardless of whether they voted for him or not.
But no matter what this means for the prime minister’s political future, one thing is evident: Somewhere between the Vogue photo shoots, Halloween costumes and yoga poses, the luster rubbed off. And the only person to hold responsible for Justin Trudeau’s eventual undoing is Justin Trudeau himself.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.