Trudeau’s Canada: a liberal nirvana?

Sunday 29 October, 12:0013:00, Pit TheatreEye on the World

Under Justin Trudeau, Canada’s second youngest prime minister ever, there seems to be a liberal alternative to the perceived illiberalism of Trump’s America. Famed for posing for selfies and photo bombing, the internet’s chattering classes collectively swooned upon his election in 2015. Many commentators seem to agree.

Canada recently become the second country in the world to legalise cannabis. Last year, Canada legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide. Trudeau’s phrase – ‘Because it’s 2015’ – to justify his appointment of Canada’s first gender-equal cabinet became a catchphrase to symbolise a paradise for feminism and diversity. Since then, moves to add discrimination against transgender people to hate-crimes law and apologies for LGBT people forced out of military and public service have backed up the Trudeau mythology. Canada, a land of immigrants just like its southern neighbour, seems not to suffer from the same immigration problems and is sometimes seen as a model of multiculturalism.

But Trudeau’s Canada has plenty of critics, too. Many were troubled when University of Guelph students were pressured into apologising for playing Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side – apparently because the song inappropriately labels trans people as ‘wild’ – claiming that the incident was an assault on artistic expression. Others, often on the American right, view Canada as a preachy free-rider when it comes to defence, morally bankrupt, breeding terrorism through its multiculturalism policies, and a negative example of what happens when government tries to fill the void of authority in a directionless society.

Trudeau has also come under considerable criticism from environmentalists for plans to extract 173 billion barrels of oil from Alberta’s tar sands, a seeming betrayal of his green posturing. Still others point to the deplorable conditions of aboriginal Canadians, arms sales, and betrayals of Syrian refugees as signs that Trudeau’s – and perhaps Canada’s – image belies a less liberal reality. To some, the pre-election accusations that Trudeau is ‘just a face’ are ringing true.

Is Canada the liberal nirvana the internet generation has been waiting for? Or is Trudeau little more than a cosmetic prime minister in both appearance and policy? How should we assess his record in office so far? Are comparisons to Trump’s America ever useful?  Does Canada offer a new model for the left across the Western World? Or is Trudeau just more of the same old story?