When news first broke that pictures had surfaced of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in brownface, one of the first people I thought of was Jody Wilson-Raybould. The sense of schadenfreude the former justice minister and attorney-general must have felt. But also, the sense of sadness and outrage too.
As the troubling images of Mr. Trudeau began being broadcast around the globe, Ms. Wilson-Raybould was being surrounded at a campaign event by reporters eager to hear her thoughts.
“It’s awful,” she said Wednesday evening. “When I first saw it, I didn’t think it was real.”
She went on.
“But I will say I’m incredibly proud to be an Indigenous person in this country, one that has experienced racism and discrimination. It’s completely unacceptable for anybody in a position of authority and power to do something like that.”
As fate would have it, Jane Philpott was at the same campaign event in Vancouver. The former president of the Treasury Board was just as unimpressed by the Liberal Leader’s behaviour. Both were undoubtedly struck by the rank hypocrisy of their former boss, one who refused to apologize for his regrettable conduct in the SNC-Lavalin scandal, but was quick to express regret for actions that pose an existential threat to his party’s hold on power.
But Ms. Wilson-Raybould, as not just a woman but a woman of colour, has a unique view of the crisis now unfolding, and she is likely not terribly surprised by it all. Just as the Liberal Leader demonstrated he is not quite the feminist he’s made out to be, nor has he always been the sensitive, tolerant, diversity-loving human being he portrays himself as.
Mr. Trudeau is very good at one thing: virtue-signalling – that is, attempting to convince people that he has good values simply by how he expresses himself. The Liberal Leader could have apologized for his conduct in the SNC-Lavalin matter, he could have apologized to Ms. Wilson-Raybould for what she endured upon his orders, but he did not. Instead, he kicked her and Ms. Philpott out of the caucus. To me, that said a lot about who he truly is.
Now we have this. On Thursday, a video of Mr. Trudeau in blackface surfaced, this just a day after he issued an apology for wearing black and brownface as part of costumes he donned earlier in his life. Once you can maybe explain away. Twice incites some serious questions. Three times would seem to indicate deeper and more disquieting issues.
The question to me isn’t whether Justin Trudeau will survive this storm, it’s should he. And that is a question being debated among Canadians as we speak. Without question, this contretemps will cost the Liberals votes and cost them ridings, including Vancouver Granville, where Ms. Wilson-Raybould is running as an independent.
Independents rarely win. The odds are stacked against them from the start. They often don’t have the money to compete with candidates from established parties nor the ground power (see volunteers). Yet, lawn signs in support of the former justice minister can be found throughout the riding. And she seems to have easily encouraged a large group of people to help with door-knocking and the everyday necessities of campaign life.
It has to be said that not everyone supports Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s actions in the SNC-Lavalin matter. There are some who consider her a duplicitous malcontent intent on taking down Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal government at any cost. There are those who admire her for taking a tough and principled position, but feel she overplayed her hand in a burning ambition to settle a score.
Until this week, I would have given her even odds of winning the riding on Oct. 21. Now, I have to think she’s a shoo-in.
The racist-costume controversy has fortified Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s reputation as a woman of morals and high principles who clearly was on the right side of the SNC-Lavalin imbroglio. She is now, more than ever, an important symbol of defiance, a West Coast Aboriginal woman who stood up to the antics of the Laurentian elite and the old boys’ club that has ruled this country for far too long.
At the same time, Mr. Trudeau’s latest problems reinforce a growing perception that he is a bit of a flake, a dilettante whose carefully crafted image as an enlightened champion of liberalism increasingly lies in tatters.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday night for a 2001 photograph published by Time magazine showing him in brownface at a party. In a news conference aboard his campaign aircraft, Trudeau said he should have known better, but didn't and was very sorry.
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