Political double standard emerges in Canadian election

November 21, 2019 — by Anouk Yeh

On Sept. 19, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made international headlines when TIME Magazine published a photo of him donning blackface at a 2001 “Arabian Nights”-themed Halloween party.

Soon after the first photo was published, other images of Trudeau in blackface surfaced on the internet. In total, Trudeau was documented wearing blackface on three separate occasions. 

The news of the questionable behavior sparked many feelings of shock and outrage. Trudeau was met with angry protestors and bombarded with many people globally calling for him to resign. 

At around the same time the Trudeau scandal broke, Republican Alabama governor Kay Ivey was also exposed for wearing blackface while participating in a racist skit in high school. Although Ivey did receive similar criticism, none of the media coverage on her blackface scandal was as scathing as Trudeau’s. 

For instance, most articles covering Ivey’s blackface scandal focused on her apologizing for her actions, whereas for the Trudeau scandal, the same news outlets mainly focused on his character and how the scandal contradicts his policies and character (e.g., the Washington Post and The New York Times).

This disparity between the media portrayals and reactions of the public and press is an alarming one — but certainly not unexpected. Politicians who strive for higher standards of social reform are often placed under more intense scrutiny and are usually followed by a more “politically correct” audience. 

Ever since being elected in 2013, Trudeau has been proudly progressive, often talking about protecting and prioritizing Canada’s racial and gender diversity. Therefore, his blackface scandal was not only highly offensive, but also an unwelcome hint that his entire political agenda based on diversity might have been little more than a facade.

This in turn angered many who previously supported him for his seemingly genuine interest in promoting diversity and equity. Many Canadians ended up feeling cheated by Trudeau’s dual persona. 

Even on a macrocosmic scale, Trudeau’s actions were alarmingly hypocritical. Many have long idealized Canada as a haven of a country that’s free of prejudices and strife. 

For instance, during the 2016 U.S. elections, the internet became flooded with memes of U.S. citizens planning to immigrate to Canada if Donald Trump were elected, treating Canada like it was fully exempt from racism.

With Trudeau being Canada’s figurehead, his actions not only clashed with his own self-proclaimed tenets, but also with the world’s generalized perception of Canada.

Governor Ivey, on the other hand, is a different story. In her eight years as state governor, Ivey has been staunchly conservative and at times an opponent of diversity. 

In 2017, Ivey signed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, an act that required local governments to obtain state permission before removing or renaming historical monuments or statues. 

Although her signing legislation that would preserve racist monuments can’t and shouldn’t be used as the sole indicator of her personal agenda or beliefs, it shows where her priorities lie. Her overt actions, however, didn’t seem as much of a surprise or act of hypocrisy as Trudeau’s.

Another reason for the disparity in media attention and backlash is the simple fact that Trudeau is the figurehead of an entire country, while Ivey only leads a state. With a higher title, there is always more susceptibility to backlash. In other words, the higher up one is, the farther down one can fall. 

This double standard narrative is not anything unique. In fact, it’s something that has been long embedded in partisan American politics and a possible factor as to why progressive candidates are more susceptible to resignation.

Take former Minnesota Senator Al Franken, for example. Franken resigned in 2017 amid accusations of sexual harassment. Just recently, democratic California congresswoman Katie Hill also resigned over allegations of her having an affair with a staffer on her congressional campaign.

Compare these quick resignations to the almost nonexistent ones  from the Republican party. In early May of this year, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam admitted to being one of the men donning blackface in a racist photograph from around 35 years ago. Despite protests and global calls for resignation, Northam stayed put, and the scandal is now all but forgotten. 

This difference in partisan resignation probability is damaging to the Democratic party. A party soft in the face of scandal is a fragile one. 

Even though there seems to be justification for the double standards that Trudeau faced after his scandal, this should not be the case. All public servants should be held to a similar level of accountability — basic human decency. 

Although double standards have been long ingrained in politics (race, gender, political affiliation), we can begin to dispel this phenomenon by realizing that there is no social hierarchy to public service. Only then, can we hold every politician equally accountable for  their actions — whether conservative or liberal.

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