Is Justin Trudeau still the poster boy for leadership success?

Is Justin Trudeau still the poster boy for leadership success?

When Canada elected Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister in 2015 a cheshire grin fell upon the faces of progressives world-wide. Here was a young, dynamic, humanitarian leader ready to make his mark.

His easy appeal for everyone to identify with the word “feminist” sent Twitter into a tailspin and secured his persona as a modern leader. “It shouldn’t be something that creates a reaction” he said. “It simply is saying, I believe in the equality between men and women.” His words were backed up, when he appointed Canada’s first-ever gender balanced Cabinet. A team of young, ethnically diverse leaders in the making.

Trudeau was a man who represented the future, even if the world wasn’t entirely ready for it yet.

Then came Trump, America’s new unlikely President and seemingly the polar opposite of his Canadian counterpart. When Trump moved to ban travellers from a range of Muslim countries from entering the US, even the staunchest conservatives rose eyebrows. Trudeau was quick to emphasise that though America shares borders with Canada, their leaders’ positions were starkly different.

He posted a tweet welcoming asylum seekers and condemning America in the process.


But though the sentiment was strong, the reality of Trudeau’s social media promise was deeply problematic. Within weeks, hundreds of Haitian refugees, fearing visa termination, had crossed borders illegally from the US to Québec. Trudeau’s ministers began to hastily backtrack, explaining there were no open invitations, rules must be adhered to, and  free tickets into Canada were not available.  “You will not be at an advantage if you choose to enter Canada irregularly,” Trudeau implored. “You must follow the rules and there are many.”

A far cry from his initial invitation.

Trudeau and his Government have also been accused of hypocrisy when it comes to action on climate change. At face value, all the right things are being said. A carbon tax was proposed, a gutsy commitment to the Paris Climate Accord was made, but still Trudeau continues to push for new pipelines in Canada. As Bill McKibben from the Guardian recently reported, those independent goals are “meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn.” And Trudeau shows little sign of slowing down.

Indeed, in recent months the initial fanfare over Justin Trudeau has seemed to wane dramatically with critics positing that the PM is more concerned about the way he looks, the way he’s perceived than anything more substantial.

Just this week, he was accused of pandering to identity politics when he rebuked a woman during a press conference for her use of the word ‘mankind.’ “—We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily mankind, because it’s more inclusive,” he told her. Trudeau claimed his reply was a case of a ‘dumb joke’ gone wrong, but skeptics weren’t so sure.

While political opponents and commentators continue to debate whether Trudeau is all PC smoke and mirrors, there’s still much hope to hold onto.

Trudeau’s MO is not to appeal to everyone. His recent support of a bill to change the lyrics of Canada’s national anthem, was met by sharp conservative criticism, but with a simple tweak, the words were made gender neutral. The offending line — “in all thy sons command” — was switched to “in all of us command”– a symbolic achievement, but definitely not a hollow one.

And in truth, Trudeau’s gained more than just symbolic achievements during his time as leader.

In less than three years, he’s managed to legislate lower tax brackets for the working class, put an end to Canadian airstrikes on ISIS, contribute $100 million to the UN High Commission of Refugees and create a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

There is no halo circling Trudeau’s head, and perhaps that’s what we’re coming to terms with. But his ideals are solid, his convictions are strong, and we’re still keeping his poster pinned up for now.


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