The end of Trudeaumania: Canadians are over PM’s image obsession, lack of substance & broken promises

By Pablo Vivanco

Whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party government wins or loses in the Canadian federal election later in October, it is clear that the honeymoon is over for voters.

By any measure, it was a remarkable meteoric rise.

Despite polling at 25 percent just three months before the 2015 election, Trudeau led the battered Liberals to a historic win that saw the party increase its percentage of the vote by close to 21 points from its showing in 2011. More importantly, the party grew from 36 seats to 184 to secure the largest increase in seats in Canadian history and a healthy majority government.

Trudeau pledged to abandon the callous policies and cynical outlook of his predecessor, Stephen Harper, in favor of a ‘progressive’ agenda based on economic growth and compassion and justice for those who were being ignored or left behind, especially Canada’s indigenous communities.

His family pedigree gave many Canadians reason to believe that he was indeed a new brand of reformer, especially for those who can trace their entry into the country to the immigration policies created by the liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justin’s father. Regarded as a maverick politician, Pierre also introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and famously deployed a foreign policy that made him no friends in Washington.

Shortly after taking the reins in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau burst onto the international scene, thanks to carefully scripted viral moments designed to highlight his intellect, liberal social views and, of course, his good looks and youthful energy.

Trudeaumania 2.0 was at its height and by 2016, his approval ratings hit as high as 65 percent.

A few short years later, however, and the lustre has largely worn off, with nearly two-thirds of Canadians disapproving of his performance and his Liberal Party facing the real possibility of losing government or at best, holding a minority government position.

Some have suggested that Trudeau’s fall from grace began during his blunder-filled trip to India in 2018, which was certainly one of the first moments that the Canadian prime minister’s obsession with image and its contrast to substance began to be debated.

There is little doubt, however, that the number of broken promises have contributed in no small part to the end of Turdeau’s honeymoon with Canadian voters.

According to the TrudeauMeter, “a non-partisan collaborative citizen initiative that tracks his performance with regards to his electoral platform,” Trudeau has broken 63 – or just over a quarter – of his 240 promises. Another exhaustive study by two dozen Canadian academics analyzed 353 Liberal pre-election promises and found Trudeau’s government had followed through on about 50 percent of them, while breaking roughly 10 percent.

Trudeau’s opponents have reminded voters that he has broken his promises to balance the books, reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions and enact electoral reform that included making the 2015 election the last to use the “first past the post” system, which Trudeau announced to thunderous applause during that campaign.

While there are other pledges that have been broken or only partially completed, there have also been some accomplishments. Among the 140 promises completed and 20 underway, as cited by Trudeameter, is the settlement of thousands of Syrian refugees and the passing of a child-benefit program that provides support to many of Canada’s poorest families.

Beyond what did or didn’t get done, however, are questions of honesty and sincerity that have loomed heavily over the second half of Trudeau’s term.

The promise to give indigenous communities a veto over natural resource development in their territories was broken a number of times by the Liberals, including for a $9 billion mega-dam project in the western province of British Columbia. The Trudeau government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline after considerable opposition and protest was not only seen as an about-face to his commitment to ‘reconciliation’ with indigenous people, but also to his supposed climate change plans.

Then, of course, there was the SNC-Lavalin scandal, when Trudeau and his top staff looked to have the Quebec-based infrastructure firm evade criminal charges for bribing Libyan officials and defrauding Libyan organizations over a 10 year period.

Trudeau initially denied that his office pressured Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and subsequently demoted her after her refusal to balk to the pressure. After Wilson-Raybould produced a recorded conversation with Trudeau’s staff, he acknowledged her account of events, but claimed he was acting to save jobs. The actions of Trudeau and his government were deemed to be a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act and are now under review.

Despite a local MP’s claim that Black Canadians ‘love’ that their head of government wore ‘blackface’, the incident was widely repudiated and viewed by many as more evidence of Trudeau’s duplicity in practically every area, even in his ‘virtue signalling’ (recall the ‘peoplekind’ debacle where Trudeau scolded an audience member at an event).

Though media outside of Canada have recently started to catch on to what people inside the country have been feeling for some time, letting go can be hard.

READ MORE: The many faces of Justin Trudeau: Canadian PM memed mercilessly after brownface debacle

On his Netflix special, US comedian Hasan Minhaj interviewed Trudeau and grilled him with questions about the SNC-Lavalin case, pipelines and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, to name just a few. Yet despite his extensive questioning of Trudeau over the gap between his progressive image and a considerable number of decisions by his government, Minhaj couldn’t help but swoon.

I’m in Wakanada, speaking to the leader of Wakanada, the son of the former leader of Wakanada,” Minhaj says, referencing the enlightened, social justice-oriented ruler/ superhero in the Marvel universe.

Which makes you… you’re White Panther!”

The remark didn’t age well after Trudeau’s blackface gaffe, which only reinforced the view of voters in ‘Wakanada’ that Trudeau is more a paper tiger than anything else.

Even if he is able to pull off more last minute heroics and salvage a minority government, Trudeaumania is officially over in Canada. The rest of the world should take note.

By Pablo Vivanco

Pablo Vivanco is a journalist and analyst specializing in politics and history in the Americas, and served as the Director of teleSUR English. Recent bylines include The Jacobin, Asia Times, The Progressive and Truthout. Follow him on Twitter@pvivancoguzman

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