In light of the Donald Trump presidency, and the horrors that have come with it, it has been incredibly tempting to turn to other heads of state in the West for leadership. While America was voting for an elderly ex-TV show host with slight populist and nationalist ideals who built a campaign on fear-mongering and racism, Canadians cast their ballot for a party led by a young center-left globalist who said all the right words. Between Justin Trudeau, and other liberal world politicians, (France's Emmanuel Macron, and Germany's Angela Merkel), the world seemed to fall in love with the youngest of the three leaders- Justin.
In order to understand Canada's (and the world's!) infatuation with Justin Trudeau, it's helpful to understand the circumstances under which he came into power.
Before Trudeau, there was Prime Minister Stephen Harper (think Canada's own George W. Bush, minus the drums of the Iraq war. I don't think Canada has it's own Dick Cheney, though. Thank all that is good.) Canadians had felt as though they were losing their personal identity and that things weren't as good as they could be. The promises of economic prosperity were coming apart at the seams. Under Harper, Canada began shuffling more and more towards to the right end of the political spectrum. After 9 years and 271 days of cuts to healthcare and poorly executed justice reform, enough was enough. The man who cut money from scientific researches, and placed gag orders on Canadian scientists, was increasingly becoming more and more unfavourable.
Trudeau and Harper's ideologies were expectedly different, but so were their personalities and styles of interacting with the public. Stephen Harper was notorious for running a tight ship that seldom spoke to the media, and he was very uninterested in the "handshaking, baby kissing, ribbon cutting" aspect of politics. He consistently limited the access the public had to him. So when Canadians were offered the selfie-taking, charming, media-savvy, boy next door-esque Prime Minister as a trade in for kicking out Conservatives and their leader, well, why not?
If you are having trouble understanding the energy in which the Liberals (that's Liberal with a big "L" like Democrat) surfed into Parliament, think about the energy Barack Obama was given after the Bush era. People felt like the economy wasn't working for them, and that socially they weren't comfortable with the direction their nation was headed in. Unfortunately, sometimes people don't wish to effect change until politicians push the threshold of what's acceptable. And if a politician does push those boundaries and acts in a way that contributes to the destruction of a societies norms and values, people are looking for a hero. They'll take any leader better than the destructive one, and praise them for not behaving like their predecessor. The "you were better than the last guy so you must be infallible" mentality paired with the fact that we're living in the Trump era means that any leader even remotely aligned with the opposite is suddenly perfect. This is where my plead for criticism when discussing Justin Trudeau comes in. He is not the "woke" king coming to save you.
Aside from the almost laughable-if-it-weren't-deeply-offensive cultural appropriation that took place during his trip to India, most of what this Prime Minister says and does can seem as harmless window-dressing meant to score political points. However, it can be dangerous.
The continuous praising of this Prime Minister heightened because of Trump's hold on current politics encourages a way of thinking that excuses Canadian racism and systemic oppression of marginalized groups. With the suffering of Indigenous families, Trudeau has promised to take on their issues- missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, attaining clean water on reserves, and the incarceration of Native youth (among other things). Many of the promises made by the Trudeau Liberal government have either been broken or put on hold. It is also important to mention the drama (as there should be) surrounding the building of a pipeline in Canada's most Eastern provinces. This pipeline is being built on land owned by Indigenous tribes, and given the choice, Trudeau's government decided to go ahead with it. Now, governments loving capitalism more than the human rights of Native persons isn't a shocker. The problem is Trudeau billed himself as the Prime Minister who would have a fresh outlook on Canada's Native population's relationship with the federal government. He ran with that, and many progressives and Native persons voted for him on that basis alone. Essentially, the Indigenous Vote became the new Black Vote in Canada. One can imagine how difficult it must be for Indigenous people to watch the world fall in love with a leader who campaigned with their name, promised so much and so far, and has delivered so little.
Stopping the delegitimization of the issues faced by oppressed people in Canada by comparing it to those faced by Americans is crucial to attaining real equality in Canada. In order for that to take place, dialogue must happen. Canada has its own ugly history of colonialism and racism. Yes, colonialism and slavery have a place in Canadian history and identity, but relative to the United States, our relationship with the prongs of white supremacy is inspected differently. However, holding Canada in comparison with America is part of the problem, because it encourages a way of thinking that excuses Canadian racism, sexism, and systemic oppression of certain Canadians because it's not as bad as the plights of Americans, or happening under the same leadership as America.
Something that gets many (white liberals) to become attracted to Justin Trudeau is his "feminist" trademark. If we are being honest, it is mostly performative. He, in theory, says all the right things (and maybe genuinely believes in them too) but it is hard to escape his male entitlement and self-assurance that lacks substance. During a town hall event in Alberta, Canada, a young woman (who was sure to thank him for his gender-balanced cabinet- more on that later) asked him about his policy on volunteerism and religious organizations, going on to say ‘maternal love is the love that’s going the change the future of mankind.’ Trudeau promptly interrupted her by condescendingly waving his hand and saying we like to say people-kind, not necessarily mankind. It’s more inclusive’. Gag. Justin's feminism is mainstream and is the kind that refuses to ask the complicated questions or take the hard responsibility of failures that good progressive government requires.
To explain his feminism as simply as possible, it's the type that believes in gender-neutral traffic lights. This proved itself true in the fact that Canada's national anthem, is gender neutral. Is this cool? Kind of. Could all that time in the legislative chamber be used to fund federal investigations into Indigenous women and girls who have suffered rape, kidnappings, and murders? Yes. Absolutely.
The issue here is that there are tons of liberal men who casually use feminism for their appearance, rather than enact it into their policies. In using feminism, it cannot just be performative and exclusive. Commercial feminism actually does more harm than good because people like Trudeau use it for votes and political points. The churning out of the lowest common denominator of facts or buzzword filled quotes not only takes away from the intellect and emotional labour that feminism requires, it also inspires more performative feminism that is exclusively white, cisgendered, middle class, and ineffective. It drowns out the voices of those who should be heard. Performative wokeness lets people who identify as allies take up space. Allies should be making space.
The hesitance and sometimes outright refusal from people to discuss bias and prejudice in Canada comes from the "are we as racist as America?" paradigm, among a number of places. Calling out racism requires some level of scrutiny of the way things in society are currently carried out. The idea of introspection of a country where "diversity is our strength" (a slogan that *surprise* comes from Justin Trudeau himself) to some seems almost unpatriotic and (ironically) hateful. Another reason is that some may be hesitant to join the fight against systemic bigotry has to do with the scale of justice and power. Because people like Justin Trudeau say all the right things, his politics are very attractive because it does not require much introspection- keeping people with privilege very comfortable. Reckoning with the fact that a country like Canada has it's flawed and is capable of harbouring racism, bigotry, and sexism, of having oppressive systems is something required of all of us if we truly want to live in a country where the standards of equity and fairness are high.
If we'd like morals and values to survive in the age of Donald Trump, it is important to demand honest and legitimate progressive ideals. It would be foolish, irresponsible, and a slap in the face to marginalized and oppressed people to settle for the bare minimum liberal idealism and performative wokeness. Leaders can talk the talk, but the walk should be necessary.