Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau owes his country more than a good meme

For the rest of the world, Canada’s Prime Minister might seem like the perfect ‘bae’, but at home, Canadians need to hold their ‘swoon-worthy’ leader accountable

Chantal da Silva
Thursday 16 February 2017 18:30
Justin Trudeau celebrated Canada’s trade deal with the European Union on Thursday
Justin Trudeau celebrated Canada’s trade deal with the European Union on Thursday

As Canada’s Prime Minister celebrated his country’s controversial trade deal with the European Union on Thursday, starstruck MEPs seemed to be more concerned with getting the perfect shot of Prince Charming look-a-like Justin Trudeau.

Politicians whipped out their mobile phones to capture the moment, as the Prime Minister hailed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) deal as a “blueprint” for future negotiations, promising that it would create jobs and boost the middle class on either side of the Atlantic.

Nevermind the hundreds of protesters who marched outside the European Parliament to oppose the deal, which critics have warned will “worsen inequality and increase social tensions across the continent”.

Of course, elected members of the European Parliament wouldn't be the first to get caught basking in the glow of the Prime Minister’s “sunny ways”. Memes abounded when pictures of Ivanka Trump supposedly “swooning” over Trudeau during his visit to the White House earlier this week, surfaced. “Get you someone that looks at you the way Ivanka Trump looks at Justin Trudeau,” one Twitter user quipped.

Those memes dominated the news cycle, overshadowing the fact that the photos were ironically captured at a roundtable discussion about women and equality in the workforce. The roundtable itself was seen as an opportunity for the Trump team to leverage Canada’s self-proclaimed feminist Prime Minister’s presence to improve the US administration’s dreadful optics when it comes to women’s issues.There are very few politicians – living or dead – who can hold a flame to Canada’s Prime Minister. Justin Trudeau has, at least for the time being, mastered the power of symbolic politics.

From the very beginning, he set the tone, making history as the first Canadian Prime Minister to name a diverse cabinet made up of equal parts men and women. The phrase, "because it’s 2015” – Trudeau’s simple, yet striking response when asked to explain his push for gender parity – became a meme in and of itself.

But as much as Trudeau’s admirable aesthetics and shrewd symbolism might be a tonic against right-wing populism, as a Canadian, it’s hard to forget that Trudeau owes his country more than a good meme. We must not lose sight of our responsibility to hold him accountable when he fails to deliver on his vow to defend human rights at home and abroad.

Despite lofty promises to prioritise the Canadian government’s relationship with the country’s Indigenous peoples, an internal report card from the country’s Privy Council Office gave the Trudeau administration a failing grade for meeting its objectives on Indigenous and northern affairs, the National Post has reported.

Of course, now that Donald Trump has resurrected plans for the Keystone XL pipeline, a cross-border project that Trudeau has championed himself for years, the Canadian Prime Minister risks further diminishing his government’s already rocky relations with indigenous communities that will be affected by the pipeline.

Keystone’s construction will also draw into question Trudeau’s position as a climate leader. The Obama administration blocked the project in a bid to protect the environment – and the Prime Minister’s refusal to do the same will shine a light on where his priorities truly lie.

Trudeau will also have to own the legacy of seeing Canada become the second largest exporter of arms to the Middle East, after his government upheld a C$15bn deal inherited from the previous government to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Last month, a bid launched by members of a Montreal university law faculty lost a court bid to block the arms deal, CBC News reported. The group rightfully argued that Canada has no business entering an arms deal with a country with such a poor human rights record.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed watching my country’s Prime Minister masterfully trump the US President at his own game of handshake power plays as much as the next Canuck. But where the leader will draw the line on other promises, including his commitment to fighting climate change and recognising the rights of Indigenous communities, remains to be seen. And Donald Trump will surely be the one to put both of those vows to the test. But ultimately, it will be up to Trudeau to prove his politics are more than symbolic.

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