We all know the old adage that “Campaigns Matter” in Canadian politics. Time and again this has found a way to be true, and it only seemed like a matter of time before something would happen to prove hat to be true again. Well that night was tonight, and wow, there are hardly words to describe how bad this is:
The release of this Time story is the kind of event that leaders fear will someday happen to them and it’s also a reason why campaigns always matter. This story and the photo attached to it is simply devastating for the Liberals, especially for Justin Trudeau himself. He’s built his entire political career and leadership around a narrative of diversity being Canada’s strength and of being the Champion of Progressive Values. That picture and this story, all by itself, has the power to completely undo that.
Some people will be asking if the timing of when this photo was taken will matter, but to that I’ll just respond with this. I was in teachers’ college at Lakehead University in 2001 when that picture was taken. When I was there, we were taught about professional ethics and the professional expectations of teachers. Even in 2001 a teacher who did that would be fired on the spot, no question at all. If that is the standard that we have for teachers, surely the standard must at least be the same for the potential Prime Minister of the country, right? The fact is that he was 29 when he did this for the second time, as he admitted the first time he did it was in high school. To simply say “I should have known better” and “I’m pissed at myself” doesn’t cut it.
That being said, I really don’t know what Trudeau could say to make up for this. His apology from the plane in Halifax doesn’t seem to be it. “I should have known better” doesn’t feel like it cuts it. This is indefensible and I can’t point to a progressive politician in North America who has survived such a thing. Over the first week of this campaign we’ve seen the Liberal opposition research team be on top of their game, bringing many bad things forward about Conservative candidates, forcing the Blue Team to defend them or toss them. With this news, what moral authority does Justin Trudeau now have to criticize anyone else’s candidates from here on out? Furthermore, given that Trudeau himself has already removed candidates for their violations, how can Trudeau then stay and have everything be alright? This news manages to completely cut the legs right out from under the him and leaves him incapable of being able to point a finger at anyone else.
Going forward though we’ll see what affect this has on the electorate. This news is so off brand for Trudeau and the Liberals that it could destroy any thoughts of trying to push progressive voters to vote strategically to stop the Conservatives. It has been clear for months that trying to make this a “Blue Door/Red Door” campaign and convince/scare NDP and Green voters to vote Red to stop Andrew Scheer in his tracks. That is a strategy that has a long track record of success, and progressive voters have overlooked a lot in the past when voting strategically. That’s how Dalton McGuinty got multiple terms doing this, and he had more than a few scandals out there that could have sunk him.
But this? Can progressive voters really overlook this, an act that Trudeau himself is saying tonight was racist? I don’t know, but this could easily be a bridge way too far for too many and could break the hold Trudeau has had on this segment of the electorate for years now. The next few days will be crucial to finding out if this is the case or not. Campaigns matter my friends, and this story shows why. We’ll know soon enough just how much this story will matter in who forms our next government.