Perhaps Ralph Northam should head north of the border when his term as Virginia governor is up. Canadian voters are rather indulgent of leaders who occasionally don blackface, apparently.
That’s just one lesson we can draw from the news that Justin Trudeau has been re-elected to a second term as Canada’s prime minister. Mr. Trudeau faced numerous political headwinds, and his ruling Liberal Party lost seats. Indeed, the prime minister will this term head a minority government in the Parliament in Ottawa. But given the pitfalls he faced — many of his own making — Mr. Trudeau’s victory was an impressive feat.
Begin with the blackface. Young, telegenic, liberal and wildly privileged (his father, Pierre, was a long-running Canadian prime minister), the younger Mr. Trudeau has turned “virtue signaling” into an art form — indeed, something approaching a governing ideology. When early in his term U.S. President Donald Trump began a clampdown on immigration, the Canadian leader took pains to point out just how different he was, outdoing even German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his showy support for immigrants, refugees and sundry other newcomers.
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” he tweeted in early 2017. “Diversity is our strength.” He later posted a photo of a Syrian refugee with the hash-tag “#WelcomeToCanada.” Before that, Mr. Trudeau had even gone to the airport to meet refugees as they arrived in Canada.
But like the governor of the commonwealth, it later emerged that Justin Trudeau has a penchant for blackface. Just last month, photos of three separate incidents of Mr. Trudeau wearing blackface as a younger man emerged. The prime minister, apologetic, nonetheless admitted there might be more. “I apologize profoundly. I didn’t think it was racist at the time, but now I see, it was a racist thing to do,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau had earlier suffered another blow, this one to another central aspect of his public persona — that he is squeaky clean. Earlier this year, Canada’s newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, published a bombshell. The prime minister’s office, it was revealed, had pressured Canada’s top law enforcement official to help a Quebec-based construction company avoid corruption charges regarding its work in Libya. Mr. Trudeau hails from the Francophone province, and it appeared that he had used his official to improperly help a prominent local employer. Mr. Trudeau denied any knowledge of the affair, but his chief of staff and attorney general both resigned over it.
In Bloomberg News’ estimation, with his victory on Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau “[displayed] once again a remarkable ability to overcome scandal and controversy to remain in power. Trudeau’s Liberal Party won 157 of Canada’s 338 electoral districts, losing his majority in parliament and the popular vote, but gaining enough seats to secure a stable government with support from smaller parties. The most likely partner for Trudeau would be the pro-labor New Democratic Party, which won 24 seats, giving the two parties a combined 181.” The opposition conservatives increased their seats by roughly a quarter. In fact, the conservatives actually got more votes than Mr. Trudeau’s liberals — it turns out the United States isn’t the only country where the party that loses the popular vote sometimes nevertheless takes power.
In his second term, Mr. Trudeau is expected to continue pursuing his liberal agenda, albeit with less latitude given his shrunken coalition. The re-elected prime minister will continue to spend heavily on social programs (running up heavy deficits, as he already has), and promoting an environmentalist outlook. The latter, though, is a tricky act for any Canadian leader to pull off, given that country’s reliance on fossil fuel exports as a major industry. Though, as the blackface and corruption scandals demonstrate, Justin Trudeau has a way of getting himself out of tricky situations.
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