Liberal candidates across the country had varying reactions to Justin Trudeau’s multiple incidents of blackface – but are all standing behind him as leader.
The Globe and Mail reached out to dozens of Liberal candidates on Thursday, in the wake of revelations that the Liberal Leader has appeared in blackface multiple times. Some Liberal candidates running in the October 21 election said they were disappointed and disturbed by the images, some viewed it as an opportunity to learn about racism, and others said it wasn’t a big deal.
But no one called for Mr. Trudeau to step aside.
Gary Anandasangaree, Liberal candidate for the diverse Toronto riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park, said he was “shocked” when he saw the images of Mr. Trudeau on TV on Wednesday evening. “While deeply disappointing, it’s an important learning moment for us to really highlight the issue of racism,” he said in an interview.
“What’s clear is that responsibility has been taken," he added. Mr. Anandasangaree, a Tamil-Canadian, said he has faced racism over years – as have a lot of his volunteers and staff. “There will be ongoing conversations for us,” he said, “and we will continue those conversations at the door when we engage Canadians.”
Chandra Arya, who is Indo-Canadian and running for the Liberals in the Ottawa riding of Nepean, said he also learned about the images through the media.
“The first thing that came to my mind, and I blurted it out, is, ‘This is an unintentional mistake of a good man,’ “ he said. Mr. Arya said he participated in a Liberal conference call on Thursday morning, in which Mr. Trudeau apologized to his party’s candidates and expressed regret.
In Quebec, past blackface incidents haven’t triggered as much outrage in the francophone majority population as in other provinces. Reactions from some Quebec Liberals mirrored that attitude.
Jacques Sigouin, campaign manager for William Morales, who is running in the riding of Drummond, said the photos were “an anodyne situation.” He said Mr. Morales, who was born in Colombia, had felt no anguish about the revelations. “We even laughed about it, a bit,” Mr. Sigouin said in an interview. “We didn’t understand why there was such an uproar.”
Suburban and outlying areas are critical electoral battlegrounds in Quebec, where the majority of seats are located in predominantly white, francophone areas. Mr. Morales’s riding of Drummond is midway between Montreal and Quebec City. Its main municipality, Drummondville, has a 98-per-cent francophone population. “For us, in Drummondville, this has so little impact, so little impact,” Mr. Sigouin said.
Alberta Liberal Amarjeet Sohi, who was one of Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet ministers, said he was “disheartened and disappointed“ to see the images, which brought back painful memories of racism for him. But, he said in a tweet, “The Justin Trudeau I have come to know over the past four years is a champion of diversity and inclusion.”
Catherine McKenna, who was Mr. Trudeau’s environment minister, said the leader has promoted diversity through his recruitment of candidates and his selection of cabinet ministers. “I’m just really proud to be on a team that is [as] diverse as our team,” she said at an Ottawa campaign announcement.
Long-time Liberal John McKay, who represents Scarborough-Guildwood, said his team canvassed his riding, which has a large South Asian population, on Thursday. He said only one person brought up the photos, and she called the controversy “grossly overblown.”
He said he doesn’t think the incidents will affect diehard Liberal voters, only those who were already unsure about Mr. Trudeau.
“For those who have been having some doubts about Mr. Trudeau, it confirms some of their doubts in questioning his judgment,” he said.
With a report from Bill Curry in Ottawa
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