November 22, 2019

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Racist images devastating to Liberal brand

Editorial

In politics, this might be referred to as "ceding the high ground."

The federal Liberal party’s re-election campaign was sent reeling in the span of less than 24 hours by the disclosure of not one, not two, but three separate images showing leader Justin Trudeau in black- or brown-face makeup. The initial report, involving Mr. Trudeau dressed in an Aladdin-like costume with his face and hands coloured brown, was made public on Wednesday when Time magazine published a 2001 yearbook picture from a school at which the Liberal leader was a teacher.

The federal Liberal party’s re-election campaign was sent reeling in the span of less than 24 hours by the disclosure of not one, not two, but three separate images showing leader Justin Trudeau in black- or brown-face makeup. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

The federal Liberal party’s re-election campaign was sent reeling in the span of less than 24 hours by the disclosure of not one, not two, but three separate images showing leader Justin Trudeau in black- or brown-face makeup. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Confronted with the information while on a campaign stop in Nova Scotia, Mr. Trudeau owned up to the picture and apologized. "I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better but I didn’t and I’m really sorry," he said, adding that he was "pissed off" at himself for having done it, and that he intends to have a conversation with his children about "taking responsibility for the mistakes you make."

When asked if there were other instances in his past involving black- or brown-face, Mr. Trudeau admitted to having performed Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) in a high school talent show "with makeup on."

A circa-1980s photo surfaced within hours, quickly followed by another undated but more recent video clip of Mr. Trudeau in blackface at a social gathering, which he had not mentioned when questioned.

Needless to say, reaction was swift and condemnatory. Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer, the target of numerous Liberal attack ads, called the Liberal leader "not fit to govern."

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh, who knows a thing or two about racism, questioned the sincerity of Mr. Trudeau’s oft-stated commitment to diversity and described the newly revealed images as part of "a pattern of behaviour."

Questions continue to swirl. Is Mr. Trudeau racist? Should he withdraw from the campaign and resign as Liberal leader? Is he unfit to serve in public office?

Only the man himself truly knows what’s in his heart and mind, and Mr. Trudeau maintains he is someone who made mistakes and is now willing to account and atone for them. But even if he’s fully sincere in his assertion that he is not racist, he would have a very hard time disputing the observation that his past behaviour suggests a life spent mostly careening blissfully through exclusive climes in a bubble of oblivious white privilege.

As he continues with the now-more-daunting task of asking for Canadians’ votes, he should know this: Mr. Trudeau, the Liberal party and its entire campaign infrastructure have forfeited the moral authority to criticize their opponents on questions of character.

Perhaps as troubling as the disclosure of the racist images is the fact Mr. Trudeau — and, perhaps, the whole of the Liberal Party machinery — chose to keep these shameful aspects of his past concealed from public view while embarking on his pursuit of the nation’s highest office. Such a failure to disclose elevates the smug sanctimony with which Mr. Trudeau often seems to comport himself to the level of outright hypocrisy.

He will not, of course, resign — an incumbent prime minister is apparently not held to the same fitness-to-run standard as a ground-level constituency candidate. But as he continues with the now-more-daunting task of asking for Canadians’ votes, he should know this: Mr. Trudeau, the Liberal party and its entire campaign infrastructure have forfeited the moral authority to criticize their opponents on questions of character.

What’s left is to plead for re-election of a Liberal government on the merits of past performance — much of which, thankfully, has not reflected Mr. Trudeau’s personal failings — and the substance of its campaign platform. Regardless of what the others are promising, that will not be an easy task.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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