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26 Jan, 2021 18:31

Those outside Canada may not realise it, but golden boy Trudeau has suffered many a scandal, and they’re fast catching him up

Those outside Canada may not realise it, but golden boy Trudeau has suffered many a scandal, and they’re fast catching him up

The Canadian premier is knee-deep in the kind of colored snow you never eat and staring down the barrel of a potential general election. Will he remain leader of the Great White North after it wakes from Covid-induced hibernation?

Last Thursday, Canada’s Governor-General resigned. Technically speaking, the holder of that office is the head of state of Canada – the representative of Queen Elizabeth there. Sure, GGs come and go every five years or so, but the manner of Julie Payette’s departure from Rideau Hall – the official residence in Ottawa where they make their nest – has fired a rocket through the sleepy Canadian capital and the minority Liberal government of Trudeau.

Payette is no stranger to rockets. Before she was hand-picked by Trudeau for the mostly ceremonial job of cutting ribbons, shaking hands and signing the occasional piece of federal government legislation, Payette was an astronaut. She’s flown on shuttles and helped build the International Space Station on her two missions there. Back on Earth, however, it turns out she was more than a little spacey, and far too happy to fire off her payload on the minions around her at Rideau Hall. She treated the people like dirt and went so far as to build a separate private staircase so she wouldn’t have to be in the same orbit as the staff who labored under her, often at the point of tears, thanks to her tantrums.

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A government-ordered review into her behavior found her badly wanting, and she hit the escape pod as soon as the scathing report landed with a thud on Trudeau’s desk. The 49-year-old PM had fawned over bilingual Payette as soon as her name was mentioned in 2017, and championed her meteoric rise. Her ignoble departure has dimmed his star further – another embarrassing lapse of personal judgement or just pure ethical error from a scion who has never quite reached the heights of his late prime ministerial father, Pierre. And while he’s at it, he’ll have to figure out how to explain to Covid-cash-strapped Canadians why Payette can draw down an annual pension of just under CA$150,000 (US$118,000) for life.

Timing is everything in politics and, putting it plainly, that sucks for Trudeau. Just the week before, Justin was doing as Justin does best, promoting brand Trudeau on a Montreal radio station, and opined that there could very well be another federal election in 2021 – possibly as early as the spring.

Canadians last voted in a general election just 15 months ago and punished Trudeau and his Liberals by handing them just 154 seats out of the 338 in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Since then, the chastened leader with the celebrity cult and Instagram bent has managed to govern with the help of the left-leaning New Democrats. Ironically, recent opinion polls have shown the Liberals with a growing lead over rookie Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole and his Progressive Conservatives – enough of a lead that made Trudeau look once more at calling a snap general election.

But then the Payette scandal happened – and more too. No sooner had President Joe Biden adjusted his seat at the Resolute desk than he put pen to paper, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline. That cross-border project would have sent more than 800,000 barrels of crude from Alberta’s oil fields south to Nebraska and on to US refineries. If Trudeau was unpopular in Calgary and Edmonton before, his Liberals are now unelectable there, lessening the prospect of that elusive majority come ballot-box time.

And on Monday, Trudeau lost one of his precious Members of Parliament, when the party whip was withdrawn from an Indian-origin member who spoke to a Punjabi newspaper about Sikh extremism in the Liberals’ ranks. Busting an MP is one thing, but busting out the Bhangra moves is another. Trudeau did so on a 2015 trip to India, in one of his more forgettable cringeworthy moments. He and his wife, Sophie, and their children have donned traditional Indian attire on a number of occasions, including on their 2018 tour of the sub-continent, all of them straight from the blooper reels of Bollywood.

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Trudeau likes to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, if it bolsters his image as a youthful and playful political leader on the world stage. But there was a serious side to an event in Delhi, at which he was guest of honor, as news emerged of a Canadian Sikh invited (and then uninvited) to the dinner who had been convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister, and charged but not convicted of a near-fatal attack on an opponent of the Sikh separatist movement who later became premier of British Columbia.

No sooner had the Instagram clicks stopped on that clip than Trudeau landed himself in hot water with the ethics commissioner. Canada’s First Couple had spent Christmas on a private Caribbean island owned by the Aga Khan – getting there on his private helicopter too. Too bad Trudeau forgot the Aga Khan Foundation is a beneficiary of Canadian government funds and also a registered lobbyist.

His minority win in 2019 came as he managed to overcome a scandal in the francophone province of Quebec, where SNC-Lavalin, a huge construction and cement conglomerate with strong donor ties to the Liberals, faced charges of bribery in Libya. Senior figures in the Liberal Party managed to have the affair pushed aside, but not before Trudeau’s minister for justice and attorney general resigned.

And in the middle of that difficult election campaign, along came Funny Costume Scandal II: three photographs of Trudeau in blackface makeup. One was from when he was a teenager, another when he was a young man, and a third from a 2001 school yearbook, when Trudeau was a teacher. The exuberance-of-youth excuse only goes so far.

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What was his excuse then, when, in 2018, a female reporter based in British Columbia said she was groped by the lad? He was 28 at the time. Fortunately, this was long before he became the new face of Canada’s political leadership. 

If Canadians do head to the polls soon, they might also reflect on the close ties between Trudeau and his inner circle and the WE Charity program. Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, received CA$250,000 (US$197,000) and his brother Alexandre CA$32,000 (US$25,000) for speaking events – while the charity received CA$912 million (US$718 million) in federal grants. What’s more, the daughter of Trudeau’s then finance minister worked for the charity. Oops! Federal election, anyone?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.