Opinion: The prime minister of double standards

Justin Trudeau does indeed have a blind spot. But it’s not the one he’s claimed.

It isn’t about the “privilege” of being born white or the “privilege” of being born into a family of means and prestige, such that no doors would ever be closed to him.

The “massive blind spot” to which Trudeau referred in the immediate aftermath of images showing him in blackface – or brownface, if we’re trying to place the offence on a hue spectrum of racism – is that he does not, never has, recognized the frailty of human beings.

That all of us make mistakes, exercise poor judgment, regret things we did, said, in the distant past – especially when viewed through the prism of the now – or even the recent past.

But Trudeau has carved his brand out of moral piety and virtue-signalling, a hardcore intolerance for lapses, for unproven accusations – he expelled two MPs from caucus over “serious personal misconduct” allegations, which were investigated in a bell jar, sheathed in secrecy – and equally unyielding authoritarianism when confronted by a Liberal minister of integrity, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who wouldn’t fold, despite tremendous applied pressure.

Only when scandals erupt around his own person does Trudeau reach for excuses and exculpatory reasoning. So, when an allegation of a groping incident 18 years earlier hits the headlines, the self-declared feminist prime minister said, variously, he couldn’t recall the episode, he was “confident” he’d not behaved improperly and “people can experience interactions differently … part of the lesson we need to learn in this moment of collective awakening.”

No, these aren’t our moments.

These are Trudeau’s moments.

Just as we are not the dopes who thought it perfectly OK to wear brown makeup and a turban at a 2001 party at the private Vancouver school where Trudeau was then teaching. Or going blackface at an earlier occasion in high school where he performed “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).”

This deflection would be easier to swallow if Trudeau had, even once, cut others some slack for not rising to his ostensible level of wokeness.

He has not.

He doesn’t apply such strict standards to himself.

That makes him a hypocrite.

Which may not dissuade Canadians from voting for his party in the October election – daily polling shows Trudeau’s support has remained steady amid the current swirl, just under 32 per cent.

He will benefit from the innate fairness of most Canadians. But let’s not pretend that Trudeau isn’t deeply flawed.

That’s a whitewash.

It’s a sudden discovery of his own imperfection that Trudeau is wearing at the moment, asking for forgiveness.

I believe everybody deserves a second chance, and third, and fourth, if justified.

But when has Trudeau forgiven, this politician who has debased the heft of an apology?

I don’t ascribe to tormenting individuals, ruining careers, over non-criminal incidents committed in the folly of youth. Except 2001, the date of the Arabian Nights-themed event, was not that long ago and Trudeau was no kid; he was 29 years old. Only the most culturally deaf and dumb and insulated would not have realized that.

Yet, Trudeau has taken ownership of the Vancouver affair by, stacked upon a mea culpa, simultaneously diluting the personal, the specific, and grafting his distasteful conduct onto a broader context of societal bigotry, emphasizing his government’s work to combat racism and intolerance.

“My focus is on Canadians who experience racism every day,” Trudeau said in Toronto on Friday. “Canadians who are racialized … who live with intolerance and marginalization as part of their daily experience, who I hurt. People who, in many cases, considered me to be an ally, who are deeply hurt by the terrible choices I made many years ago.

“I apologize deeply to them and I will focus on continuing what I have tried to do as a leader, which is to always stand against racism and discrimination at home and on the world stage.”

So what? We’re all responsible, bottom line, for our own behaviour. By expanding the narrative, Trudeau has been bolstered by partisan enablers, particularly among the media commentariat, who’d rather steer the debate to historical injustices, as if all Canadians are culprits by every breath we take. That’s sophistry.

Keep your eye on the ball, because this moment isn’t about refugees seeking asylum or how pipelines affect First Nations.

To diffuse the moment is to reduce it to nothingness, just a blip on the electoral radar.

Which is, of course, the objective.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been among the few to strike the right tone, speaking thoughtfully, with dignity, rather than pouncing to exploit. You are loved, you have worth, he assured those who look like him, who may dress like him, who have shared his experience of just being a visible minority.

By Friday, Singh had edged toward the political dimension of Trudeau’s turmoil. But, of course, we’re in the middle of an election campaign and Trudeau’s character – that increasingly exposed veneer of wonderfulness – is fair game.

“It’s not about Mr. Trudeau; it’s about the institution, that position,” Singh told an audience in Essex, Ont. “If someone at that level is mocking the realities of people who face challenges, who face barriers, who face physical violence, insults, can’t get the jobs they need, economic barriers, housing, challenging health-care outcomes – if someone mocks that reality, it’s no wonder that the policies also are similarly lacking in the strength to tackle the problems.”

Perhaps this week’s events will provide impetus for the NDP, render them a more attractive alternative for voters who can stomach neither Trudeau nor Andrew Scheer.

That’s the grace note, from where I’m standing.

Singh added: “I have spoken with young people who tell me if the prime minister can mock their reality, can mock their struggles, then what’s to stop other people from saying, if the prime minister can make fun of people for what they’re going through, why can’t I? … Young people who woke up to see these images of their prime minister making them feel like maybe they don’t belong in this country.”

Our prime minister is not a racist, circa 2019. I do not, for a moment, accept that.

But he is, still and yet, a callow fraud.

Rosie DiManno is a national affairs writer.

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