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The Carletonian

The Prince Charming-ization of Justin Trudeau

<uld to like begin this article by making it clear that I support Justin Trudeau as a politician. I would probably vote for him if I could. I do not intend for this article to be read as an absolute criticism of Prime Minister Trudeau. Instead, I am offering this piece as a critique of blind support for Mr. Trudeau. I myself blindly supported Trudeau, until one day my dad, who is Canadian, texted me a link to a Canadian political podcast that talked about Trudeau in an anything-but-glowing way. I am not going to talk about that particular podcast in this article, but instead would like to examine Trudeau in the context of his policies and his climb to the summit of Canadian politics.

Trudeau became prime minister in 2015 after the party he led, the Liberal Party, won a plurality in the Canadian Parliament. Trudeau succeeded Conservative party member Stephen Harper, who led Canada for just under a decade. Justin Trudeau is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a liberal politician who led the country from 1968 to 1975. Similar to his father, Justin Trudeau rode a wave of personal popularity to 24 Sussex (Canada’s residential equivalent to 1600 Pennsylvania). For many Canadians who were tired of Harper’s dull persona and right-leaning policies, Trudeau was the charismatic and progressive answer. Oh, and if you don’t believe me when I say that Harper was painfully dull, then take the time to relate the following quote. As a means to connect with voters, Harper put out a video talking about his hobbies. He said, “Something you might not know about me is that I love movies and TV shows. One of my all-time favorites is Breaking Bad. It’s even available on some online streaming services if you have never seen it.” Now, transcribing the quote does not do it justice. The original video clip really helps underscore Harper’s near complete lack of charisma. Now, I am not saying that a politician needs to be the suavest person in the room, but when they lack the ability to connect with their constituents, there is a problem.

A cult of personality which blinds people to the policies of politicians can be dangerous. Thankfully, the majority of Trudeau’s progressive policies are beneficial to the Canadian population. Under Trudeau, Canada has been a leader in welcoming Syrian refugees, and his tax plan aims to reduce the ability of big corporations to take advantage of loopholes while reducing taxes on the middle and lower class. Trudeau brands himself as a staunch supporter of reproductive rights, too, pledging that the Canadian government would spend $650 million on reproductive health domestically and internationally. Trudeau also assumes the role as a staunch defender of the environment and aims to better relations between the Canadian government and many indigenous communities. I would like to spend a bit of time with Trudeau’s environmentalism.

Crude petroleum exports make up 10% of all Canadian exports, while refined petroleum and petroleum gas constitute another 4%. As you might have guessed, Canada has lots of petroleum reserves. In fact, Canada has the world’s third largest petroleum reserve. Tar sands mining, which produces bitumen that can be refined into oil, is a principal contributor to Canada’s high quantities of fossil fuel exports. And the pipelines that transport bitumen from Canadian tar sands are integral to the export process. So, however much Trudeau claims to be a friend to the environment, one could argue that he his policies are, to a degree, bound by the economic realities of Canadian industry. Nevertheless, the Canadian government has made a public commitment to decommissioning the vast majority of Canadian coal-fired power plants by 2030, a move that, in terms of CO2 emissions, is equivalent to removing 1.3 million cars from the road.

Still, this political reality and Trudeau’s commitment to reducing CO2 should not excuse Trudeau’s overwhelming lack of consequential action surrounding pipelines. Acclaimed environmental journalist Bill McKibben has said that “when it comes to climate, [Trudeau] is a brother to the old organ guy in D.C.” Though I would not use such coarse language, there certainly is validity to McKibben’s point. Trudeau recently supported Trump’s controversial decision to continue building the Keystone XL pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline, when completed, will stretch from Alberta to Texas. And the pipeline will be especially harmful to indigenous communities, including those located in Alberta. Francois Paulette, an elder and environmental activist from the Smith’s Landing First Nation in Alberta, has gone on the record to say that the Keystone XL pipeline will pollute the air and water, and many argue that the oil industry will continue to destroy the ways of life of many Albertan First Nations people. And the high risk of pipeline leakage only increases the impending harm to the Albertan environment. This reality makes Trudeau’s recent apology on behalf of Canada to indigenous people at the UN seem hollow and his lamentation of Canada’s historical “humiliation, neglect and abuse” of indigenous peoples seem disingenuous.

Justin Trudeau talks the talk. He says all the things that should appeal to the left-leaning ears, and for the most part, he walks the walk. Yet I think we all need to remember that even though a politician has good hair, speaks well, makes good jokes, wears quirky socks, has a bromance with Obama, and has a chiseled jawline, it does not mean we should excuse him for his missteps and make exceptions for policies that we do not like. I am here arguing against the Prince Charming-ization of Justin Trudeau. We should not collectively romanticize him as the perfect politician, but instead ground our opinions of him in his policies and actions, not just his words and hair.

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