Let’s talk about Trudeau
By Iyan Velji, Contributor
On Feb. 28, 1984, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau went for a contemplative walk in the snowy streets of Ottawa before announcing he would step down as leader of the Liberal Party.
Now, nearly 40 years later, there are growing calls from all sides of the political aisle for Pierre’s son, Justin Trudeau, to do the same.
The question now is: will Trudeau follow in his father’s footsteps and step down as Liberal leader, or will he attempt to run for a fourth term?
One major reason the elder Trudeau made the difficult decision to retire was declining poll numbers.
In 1983, newly appointed Conservative leader, Brian Mulroney, had gained 55 per cent support from decided voters while Pierre Trudeau had hit a low of 27 per cent, according to United Press International. In August of that year, not long before his resignation, Trudeau decided to reshuffle his cabinet, replacing five of his ministers, in an attempt to reverse the numbers.
Fast-forward to 2023, and the younger Trudeau’s situation displays numerous parallels.
An Abacus Data poll from 2023 painted a frightening picture for Trudeau with 81 per cent of Canadians saying that it is time for a change in government. Meanwhile, polling from 338Canada has estimated an 99 per cent chance of the Liberal Party losing to a majority Conservative government if an election were held today.
Duane Bratt, a political science professor at MRU, summarized the situation saying, “Anytime you see a party in the 20’s, that’s not good for them.”
Trudeau’s declining popularity has been felt beyond the realms of polling data.
During his opening remarks at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games, Trudeau was met with an initial chorus of boos as he greeted the crowd. Eventually, the Liberal leader was able to regain the crowd’s favour after reiterating his commitment to Truth and Reconciliation. More recently, a hundred Vancouver police officers had to be sent to a restaurant so that Trudeau could escape a crowd of pro-Palestine protestors shouting at him.
In response to the growing discontentment of his administration, Trudeau took a page out of his father’s playbook this summer dropping seven of his cabinet ministers and tasking more than a dozen ministers with new roles, according to the CBC. However, a Nanos Research poll for The Globe and Mail revealed his major cabinet shuffle did not have a positive impact on 70 per cent of Canadian voters.
Beyond falling poll numbers, Justin Trudeau’s policies towards students have generated controversy.
In some ways, the Trudeau administration’s policies have been beneficial to post-secondary students with initiatives to waive interest on Canada Student Loans during the pandemic and offer better mental health support on campuses.
However, some of Trudeau’s decisions have also sparked backlash casting doubt on his administration’s ability to effectively address student education.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, the Trudeau government came under fire after awarding WE Charity the sole contract to administer the $912 million Canada Student Service Grant program aimed at paying students for volunteer hours. Despite claiming the opposite, WE Charity had paid Trudeau’s ex-wife, mother, and brother to appear at events, according to the Toronto Sun. Eventually, the controversy led to the resignation of Trudeau’s finance minister Bill Morneau and the end of the WE Charity’s operations in Canada.
Then, in October of this year, Trudeau’s administration introduced new measures making it more difficult for foreign students to obtain visas in response to the national housing crisis. These changes have been criticized as harmful to international students who pursue university admission in the hopes of obtaining permanent citizenship. Critics have also pointed to the potential repercussions on the Canadian economy where international education contributes $22 billion annually. Furthermore, the moves seem contradictory to Trudeau’s stated position that different factors over multiple decades have contributed to the housing crisis and that international students should not be blamed.
On campuses, there has also been growing discontentment from students recently regarding Trudeau’s stance on the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
A third year Policy Studies student, who chose to remain unnamed, stated that Trudeau should step down or call for an unequivocal ceasefire in Palestine, going as far as to call him a “wimp”.
She added that she was unsure if any political candidate would be “worth being put up on” the pedestal of Prime Minister.
Unlike his father’s nearly scandal-free tenure, Justin Trudeau has also had numerous personal challenges during his time in office compounding his tumultuous period of leadership.
In 2016, Trudeau was criticized for charging Chinese-Canadian businessmen up to $1,525 CAD to meet with him, visiting their private homes in what became known as the “cash-for-access” scandal.
A year later, in 2017, Trudeau was found guilty of violating four sections of the Federal Conflict of Interest Act after accepting gifts and a vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan.
In 2018, Trudeau publicly apologized after inviting Jaspal Atwal, a member of the now-banned International Sikh Youth Federation and a convicted attempted murderer, to dine with him in India.
The next year, in 2019, Justin Trudeau was again found guilty of violating the Conflict of Interest Act, this time for attempting to influence his justice minister to overrule a harmful decision affecting Quebec company SNC-Lavalin.
Later that same year, at least three photos and one video were released showing Trudeau wearing blackface makeup. The Prime Minister apologized for the incidents stating “I should have known better.”
These scandals were so damaging to Trudeau that Bratt believes they contributed to the reduction of Trudeau’s government to a minority and its eventual confidence and supply agreement with the NDP.
In 2021, Justin Trudeau issued an apology after scheduling a holiday to Tofino, British Columbia on the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, despite invitations to join the Tk’emlúps First Nation community.
In 2022, as tensions from the pandemic continued to rise, the Prime Minister was criticized for invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time to quell the “Freedom Convoy” protest. According to Reuters, this move allowed Trudeau’s government to arrest protesters, freeze bank accounts, and utilize tow trucks to remove blockades.
This year, in April 2023, the former President of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation admitted the organization had misled the public by falsely claiming a donation made by two Chinese businessmen qualified as Canadian. This eventually led to the resignation of the entire volunteer Board of Directors, as well as the President and CEO of the foundation.
Most recently, Liberal House Speaker Anthony Rota was forced to resign after taking responsibility for inviting a Ukrainian who had served in a Nazi unit into parliament to be honoured. CPC leader, Pierre Poilievre, criticized Trudeau for waiting five days before apologizing on behalf of all Parliamentarians for the incident, stating “The Prime Minister is seen as a clown on the world stage”.
Like his father, Trudeau has made landmark moves during his time as Prime Minister. The Trudeau government legalized marijuana, formed Canada’s first gender-neutral cabinet, established National Truth and Reconciliation Day, and has supported AI research in Canada.
Yet, despite these accomplishments, Trudeau faces a precarious future.
Bratt said “the sheen is off of Trudeau” and his chances of winning re-election could be very difficult.
Regarding replacements for Trudeau, Bratt suggested Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and former head of the Bank of Canada Mark Carney.
With declining poll numbers, contentious policies towards students, and a mounting list of scandals, the common thread seems to be a desire for the younger Trudeau to take his own walk in the snow.