This story, on CBC News, caught my eye. It explains that “According to Toronto’s ‘Use of City Resources During an Election Period Policy,‘ city facilities and infrastructure can’t be used for any election-related purpose by a candidate, registered third-party advertiser or political party. It also prohibits signs from being “erected or displayed” on or beside a city park or facility run by the city … [and] … According to the policy, city “facilities” include any space managed or operated by the city, including city hall, civic centres and civic squares including Nathan Phillips Square … The regulations were passed in February 2018 … [and although] … Aimed primarily at municipal and school board campaigns, the policy also applies to provincial and federal election periods in order “to preserve the public trust and integrity in the elections process.”” That seems petty clear and even reasonable. I guess that many cities have similar prohibitions covering at least some “facilities and infrastructure.”
Then along comes Justin Trudeau, on Sunday, last, and, the article says, “Trudeau met with campaign volunteers gathered at Nathan Phillips Square … [and] … dozens of Liberal volunteers and supporters gathered in Nathan Phillips Square, many carrying campaign signs for local Toronto and area candidates … [and then] … Trudeau arrived, wearing a bomber jacket with the Liberal logo, he stood atop a small podium, made brief remarks, then worked his way through a crowd of people lining up to take selfies with the Liberal leader. The crowd swelled as passersby appeared to join the group.“
The Liberal Party has an explanation. “Liberal Party campaign spokesperson Joe Pickerill said an “informal meet and greet” with Trudeau was planned for a venue opposite the Nathan Phillips Square on Queen Street West … [the article says, but] … “That opportunity swelled in numbers and moved organically across the street. The leader dropped by, spent 15 minutes with them and left,” he said in an email.” I expect that is going to be sufficient for the City of Toronto to ignore this fairly obvious breach of the rules. I also suspect that Elections Canada will, similarly, ignore an even more obvious violation in Montreal when, according to CBC News, again “A volunteer helping out with the re-election campaign of Quebec Liberal Anthony Housefather was caught disposing of Conservative literature out on the campaign trail.” Mr Housefather, you may remember, was the Liberal chair of the Parliamentary committee on which the Liberal majority decided (in March 2019) that Canadians had heard enough about SNC-Lavalin. he was “in the room” when the matter of “disposing” of CPC campaign material was discussed. But he’ll get away with it.
Conservative Senator Linda Frum, on social media, said that we have:
Which begs the question: Why?
Dennis Matthews, who is a conservative strategist and commentator and is also a vice-president at the national communications firm Enterprise Canada and who was as an advertising and marketing advisor to former prime minister Stephen Harper, offers an explanation in an insightful opinion piece in the Globe and Mail. “Justin Trudeau’s opponents,” he explains “have never quite figured him out. His fast rise, his ability to inspire legions of followers and his gift for withstanding controversy – most recently, a blackface and brownface scandal that would have delivered a body blow to any other politician – simply defy tradition … [and, while] … It would be easy to chalk this up to his famous last name … that would cheapen the sustained effort that went into building a Canadian brand that’s up there with canoes and beavers – one carefully built for his millions of social-media followers. Just last week, he even paddled up to a campaign announcement for a camping subsidy – a made-for-Instagram moment … [thus, he suggests] … politics may not be the best lens through which to see Mr. Trudeau. In a way, that’s merely what he does for a living. Instead, he is a celebrity – Canada’s first Brand Prime Minister.“
He explains what “branding” is and how Prime Minister Trudeau has, very carefully, step-by-step, crafted his “brand” for the information age.
“Celebrities,” Mr Matthews suggests, “simply occupy a different space in our culture, and they can survive almost anything. Robert Downey Jr. didn’t let a jail sentence stop him being one of the highest-grossing actors in the world … [and] … Even the other Canadian Justin kept his career on track after an N-word-laced video from Mr. Bieber’s youth emerged.” And, as with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s blackface photos, “While we scratch our heads how he’s still standing, even after the latest revelations seemed to undermine the core of his self-presentation, it’s that same brand that’s giving him a fighting chance. As is the case with celebrities, people know – or think they know – more about Mr. Trudeau than expressed by a single incident, or even a demonstrated pattern of behaviour. The mocking by late-night hosts and political commentators is just part of show business.“
That is, he says is “why we shouldn’t compare Mr. Trudeau to base and mortal politicians. The closest approximation, in spirit if not politics, is the celebrity-in-chief next door. Donald Trump, the former reality-TV star, summed up his imperviousness thusly: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any votes” … [and while] … Mr. Trudeau may not be explicitly articulating this, but he is exemplifying it. His celebrity affords him a cadre of diehard fans who treat him like family, and like other celebrities, he benefits from the hangers-on whose incomes and stature benefit from sharing the spotlight … [thus] … Even at his lowest moment in public life … [when the blackface photos are revreakled] … he was surrounded by fans and an entourage that stayed as true as the concert promoters who want the next tour, no matter what [Justin Beiber] did,” because, we may presume, they are all “invested” in Justin Trudeau: either because they are career Liberal political operators or because, having drunk the Trudeau Kool-Aid, so to speak, they cannot imagine not sticking with him.
Dennis Matthews concludes that “It’s too soon to know if the blackface scandal will be different than how he removed two talented women from cabinet or how he dressed in India. But elections are increasingly won or lost on emotions; voters base their decisions based on how they feel about the brands, rather than the policy specifics … [but] … It’s a perfect situation for Brand Trudeau.“
I suspect Mr Matthews is correct. There wasn’t much in Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2015 campaign that should have persuaded most voters to support him ~ legalizing marijuana (a promise he kept) and changing the voting system (a promise he broke) being notable exceptions. Most Canadians weren’t really opposed to what Stephen Harper was doing as the national leader but they had never “liked” him, at any level, and they were, simply, tired of him. Mr Trudeau, with his carefully crafted, social-media ready “brand” or image, was just what young voters wanted, and, to Mr Trudeau’s credit, he created the kind of political excitement that increased voter turnout by 7%+, reversing a long tradition of declining participation in Canadian elections.
Is that enough to allow him to wade through the Kokanee Grope, “cash for access,” an improper vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island, the India fiasco, broken borders, the entire SNC-Lavalin scandal, including expelling Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould from the caucus, the overt anti-Semitism of some of his MPs, telling veterans they are asking for too much, $10.5 million for Omar Khadr, and, now, the blackface issue? My personal guess is that his celebrity “brand” might just be enough to allow him to squeak out a very narrow minority government, dependent, vote-by-vote on the NDP, and the Bloc Québecois and the Green Party, even if the Conservatives actually win more seats. If he does it will not be because Canadians forgive him any of his trespasses, nor because he has offered anything like a reasonable platform in 2019. It will be mostly because he is a celebrity and, therefore, in 2019, he will win on that status, alone … and Andrew Scheer may be a political footnote: the youngest ever Speaker of the House of Commons but, sadly, the man who could not a defeat an intellectual featherweight who wore blackface. There’s one set of rules for Justin Trudeau (and for Justin Beiber and Donald Trump, too) and another set for the rest of us. But, really, that says more about us than him, doesn’t it?