Another One Bites the Dust?

By the time you see this, the “Trudeau in brownface/blackface” story will have played for a few days.

Wednesday night, in the immediate aftermath, Paul Wells of Macleans offered an insightful and scathing piece (see excerpt below) that goes well beyond these incidents to look at the core of the Liberal campaign: at its “relentless” use of opposition research.

No matter your political stripe, I’d say that his whole piece is worth reading. In the spirit of John Robson’s plain-language questions:

  • Is this how we want Canadian politics to be?
  • If not, what can we do about it?

Paul Wells isn’t alone in his observations about the nature of the campaign. John Ivison, pretty non-partisan from my point of view, tweeted this above Trudeau’s statement that he was sorry but that it wasn’t reasonable to expect candidates to have been perfect every moment of their lives (see quote highlighted below):

The hypocrisy of this statement is Olympian – condemning the use of past mistakes to undermine candidates for office. Liberal black ops have ended the political careers of at least four Conservatives in the past week.

I’m not suggesting that the Conservatives haven’t been doing (or trying to do) the same thing. I’m asking where we draw the line between legitimate enquiry into a candidate’s record versus character assassination as an election strategy. Here’s Matt Gurney on that very topic — no answers yet, but clear unease.

And then there is the third angle, the issue of forgiveness and redemption. Our society is in desperate need of some sense of when an offence unforgivable by contemporary standards can be written off as either a youthful error or a product of an earlier, less enlightened era. As it stands now, all we have is a sliding scale: maximum forgiveness for those who agree with us and none at all for those who do not. That’s not going to be sustainable in the long run.


From the Macleans article:

The front for the Liberal campaign has been Trudeau making a frankly listless and uninteresting argument about good governance and affordability. The bulk of it has been a country-wide values argument from which the leader was carefully insulated, but executed on his behalf, and its message has been: These are bad people we are running against. They don’t deserve your vote.

Where does that campaign stand now? “If everyone who is going to be standing for office needs to demonstrate that they’ve been perfect every step of their lives, there’s going to be a shortage of people running for office,“ Trudeau said tonight. Yet another idea that doesn’t seem to have occurred to him until just after somebody at Time hit PUBLISH.

I’m not sure this should work the way Cold War prisoner exchanges worked — send one Trudeau across the bridge in return for a dozen or two Conservative candidates, call it a wash. That’s too easy for all concerned. I think it’s fairer to say, most of the things you ever did that sound appalling now were appalling then, and you deserve to have a terrible time living with them. But also that people change. People grow. Justin Trudeau’s career has been based on claiming that simple fact for himself and denying it to his opponents. Will that stop now? Of course not. It’s how he’s wired.


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8 Responses to Another One Bites the Dust?

  1. Tom Watson says:

    I wish we could have an honest discussion about racism than a debate over whether Trudeau is fit for office because of this so obvious error in past judgment.

    When I was young, in the 1940s, minstrel shows were held annually in my southern Ontario hometown. All the “sidesmen” were in black face. Among them was my father. Was he a racist? Far from it. People of any skin colour were welcome in our home and treated as equals.

    Would Dad still do the same now? In the 1990s? No to both. But there’s a long way between the 1940s and now.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Oh, yes, standards change in all things. Just one of the difficulties in judging past behaviour.

  2. Lorna says:

    Well said. I for one don’t want our politics to be about searching long past times for actions that could, by today’s standards, provide mud for slinging.

    And the level of hypocrisy has become intolerable.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Lorna – It would indeed be nice if we didn’t get the politicians (and the political operatives) we deserve.

  3. I appreciate Tom Watson’s comment, having attended one such minstrel show as a child. Having that experience had exactly no bearing on how I felt or behaved with actual black people when I met them. However, acting in the broadest meaning of the word is being called into question these days. I have trouble with that stance. Assuming the roles of others who are different in some way from oneself is essential to embracing “otherness.” The theater and religion necessarily participate in such role playing. The faces and costumes of Jesus of Nazareth and of the Virgin Mary are portrayed in the shapes and colors of the culture familiar to the artists without regard to historical accuracy. “Cultural appropriation ” can be the highest form of honor. The donning of costumes and masks, including face and body paint, are very ancient ways of expressing expanded consciousness and community. They may be playful, solemn, practical or fanciful, secular or religious. Gestures intended to honor those whose costuming and ceremonies may be different should be appreciated for their intent rather than turned into the occasion for misplaced and petty posturing.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I agree that acting ought to be seen as being in/from a different realm than drunken dress-up. But I hesitate to offer a definitive opinion on a subject where I incur no hurt.

  4. Jim Taylor says:

    The relevant question is not whether someone did something stupid in their youth (didn’t we all?) but whether those attitudes persist into their adulthood and maturity.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Yeah . . . And whether we’re prepared to be judged by the same standards we apply to others.

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