If you are to believe the current polling analysis, the fact that Justin Trudeau was exposed as a serial blackfacer has had no impact on Canadian voters. The numbers have not moved, they say. Things are exactly the same, they say.
Except they aren’t, of course.
Voting intentions are only one part of the equation. They don’t usually change radically or quickly over one event or another, although sometimes they do. But other indicators can show that indeed, voters are being influenced by the images revealing Justin Trudeau wearing blackface not once, not twice, but on at least three different occasions.
His reputation has suffered because of it. His campaign was derailed because of it. The whole thing has helped Jagmeet Singh shine as a political leader. And the whole thing fed right into the political narrative being set for a week now by the opposition parties. Justin Trudeau is “not as advertised”, say the Conservatives. “Justin Trudeau is not who he pretended to be”, say the New Democrats.
These lines were used before Trudeau’s makeup habits became an international embarrassment. They were not used by coincidence: you can be sure that both parties found that Trudeau had been a disappointment with soft liberal voters and that this line of arguments worked to shake them loose.
And loose they have been shaken by the Trudeau blackface storyline. Perhaps not to the point of abandoning him in droves yet. But a few, certainly, have gone elsewhere. And with a tight race like the one unfolding before our eyes, a point or two can make the difference between a minority and a majority of one colour or another.
The campaign began with Justin Trudeau’s approval ratings being below those of Donald Trump, which is kind of incredible when you think about it. Which perhaps explains why Liberal supporters were reacting exactly as Trump supporters when their own Dear Leader is caught doing bad things: “It’s not as bad as it looks, and the other side would be much worse!”
The Liberal campaign has been trying to change the channel, to talk about the “real issues” (as if racism and the Prime Minister’s racist actions were not real!), improvising announcements about guns, cell phones and the environment with little or even no details.
Details do not matter to Liberal strategists, you see: they would rather have a debate about details (or lack thereof) of their plan to fight climate change than discuss what exactly was Justin Trudeau dressed as when wearing blackface and an Afro wig on a white-water rafting trip a few years ago. What is on that t-shirt exactly, is that a toucan or bananas? And did you put something down your pants or were you just happy to see the camera?
Those questions remain unanswered, despite being asked repeatedly on the campaign trail. It has become a battle of the wills: on one side, reporters trying to figure out who was that 3rd blackface character, after Aladdin and Harry Belafonte. On the other side, Justin Trudeau refusing to answer, repeating “I have been open with Canadians, I will continue to be open with Canadians.” Open? Of course he wasn’t, until somebody opened the box for all of us to see.
A box that Justin Trudeau doesn’t want to be stuck in alone, as he made clear in his initial response to the story: “This is part of the reflections we all have to have on how we judge the mistakes that we’ve made in the past, how we take responsibility for them and mostly, how we keep moving forward as a society recognizing that we do need to do more to fight anti-black racism, systemic discrimination, unconscious bias.”
We all learned a lot.
Indeed, Canadians now see Justin Trudeau under a different light. Everything that he now says or does is said or done after his blackface costumes have been revealed. Which means that the prism through which voters are seeing it has darkened. The sunny ways are long gone.
Photo Credit: The Guardian
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