Trudeau’s last gamble?

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The 2021 Canadian snap-election was hailed as a canny political move taken by an opportunistic politician, bolstered by his country’s high vaccination rates and composure throughout the pandemic. The leader of the Conservative party, Erin O’Toole, was justified in his assertion that the election was a ‘quick power grab’ designed to capitalise on the goodwill of a country in crisis. It was a $600 million gamble that did not deliver a decisive result, or perhaps more accurately, an overly expensive ‘vanity project’, which has exposed Prime minister Justin Trudeau’s political warts. The eagerness of Canada’s most powerful figure to use the pandemic as the stage to set an unscheduled election has ironically created a more challenging environment in which the liberal government will attempt to pass increasingly progressive legislation. Speaking to AP news, political sciences professor Daniel Béland observed, “Trudeau lost his gamble to get a majority… this is a bittersweet victory for him.” While the Liberal party will tolerate this obstacle to passing their agenda, undoubtedly with the help of the 25 New Democrat party members, Trudeau’s peculiar position as the author of his own political pain begs the question, how much longer will he survive as Prime minister?

Since 2013, Trudeau has been the leader of the Liberal party, and for 6 years, he has served as Canada’s 23rd Prime minister. On its own, Prime minister Trudeau’s latest gamble would not be especially significant to the future of his political career, judging from the Liberal party’s convincing retention of 158 seats. However, when coupled with the frequent scandals of his premiership, his prospects seems to be in greater jeopardy than might have been thought.

Speaking to the Guardian, Shachi Kurl of the polling firm, the Angus Reid Institute, said: “Trudeau has been at the centre of a few high-profile scandals, and people’s affection for him is no longer what it was – although he still has a loyal support base.” Perhaps Trudeau’s early vitality has been impeded by the scandals which have featured in his Presidency?

Accusations of receiving unsavoury gifts were founded in the Prime minister’s vacation on an island in 2016, owned by Aga Kahn. The same Aga Kahn of the Kahn foundation, which was supposedly lobbying Trudeau. Although the ethics committee did not take any significant action, it was only the beginning of Trudeau’s premiership, and already his image was marred.

In 2019, this pattern was repeated when the Canadian Ethics watchdog, led by Mario Dion, deemed Trudeau to have breached rules when his team tried to undermine a legal decision to put a large construction company, which employed 9000 Canadians, on trial. The incident led to the resignations of several of Trudeau’s cabinet colleagues, including Jody Wilson-Raybould, Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick. The episode was one of the major blows against Trudeau’s leadership, as his integrity was brought into question. Wilson-Raybould, who was exiled from the Liberal caucus, spoke out against Trudeau in a thinly veiled attack on the Prime minister, “in a country as great as Canada, essential values and principles… should be actively upheld by all, especially those in positions of public trust.”

Most infamous of all were the revelations of photographs which revealed Trudeau wearing make-up to appear to be a black person at a party. The Prime minister was widely condemned for the moment, but he has weathered the political storm to stay in power.

Trudeau is a clear political talent: charismatic, calm and still youthful enough to inspire excitement. It is clear that he had the edge over Erin O’Toole, but it is difficult to say how much of the election result can be attributed to the Canadian conservative party’s turbulent form, with 4 leaders in 5 years, than O’Toole himself. As the election in 2019 showed, and now with more evidence in 2021 though, Trudeau’s natural political proclivity is waining.

As Grant Wyeth noted in the Interpreter, “Justin Trudeau’s leadership was able to rocket the Liberal Party back to a majority government in 2015. Yet this image came with expectations that rubbed unfavourably against the harsh realities of governing.” Much like his North American neighbour and former political partner, Barack Obama, Trudeau’s image of youth and optimism has since been eroded by the difficulties of a cynical or disobedient political system, depending on your political persuasion. Trudeau can not run as a candidate outside of the political system; as an alternative. He has been engulfed by politics, and this narrow election triumph surely marks the beginning of the end for one of Canada’s most formerly heralded Prime minsters.