Is The Honeymoon Over Between Canadian Women and Justin Trudeau?
Marking this year’s International Women’s Day, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared his support for gender equality in the form of a tweet. Attached to his tweet was a link to his full statement, which concluded, “Today, let’s celebrate the major achievements of women everywhere, and keep pushing for progress on gender equality. We all benefit when everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive—and we all have a role to play to make that a reality.” This statement seems to belie recent events that have been unfolding regarding the SNC-Lavalin controversy, which saw the demotion and resignation of former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and the resignation of President of the Treasury Board, Jane Philpott.
Canadians have been criticizing Trudeau as a self-proclaimed feminist whose actions are contrary to his pronouncements. In the midst of the SNC-Lavalin scandal—in which the Montreal-based engineering and construction company bribed dictatorial Libyan officials in order to win lucrative contracts in the country—Trudeau has lost two of his most successful female cabinet ministers. Wilson-Raybould, the third woman and first Indigenous person to hold office as Canada’s Justice Minister and Attorney General, claims that she was pressured by the Prime Minister and his office into offering SNC-Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). After refusing to offer a DPA, she was demoted to the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio, a position from which she later resigned. The evidence that Wilson-Raybould was pressured raised concerns for Philpott and fostered her uncertainty over the way the Trudeau government handled the SNC-Lavalin file.
The women’s resignations have been described as “game-changing feminist governance.” Since then, Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Conservative MP Michelle Rempel have also spoken up in light of these events. Caesar-Chavannes responded to Philpott’s resignation in a tweet asserting, “when you add women, please do not expect the status quo. Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised.” Caesar-Chavannes also disclosed that she will not be seeking re-election. Rempel has also voiced her opinion regarding the recent affairs, stating that the SNC-Lavalin scandal has exposed Trudeau as a fake feminist and that “gaslighting a strong woman… sets women back.”
Regardless of Trudeau’s strategic ability to gain small-scale approval from Quebeckers over the course of these scandalous affairs, his approval rating among women has declined. In an Ipsos poll composed of 1000 adult Canadians and conducted before Philpott’s resignation, 28% of women who intended to vote expressed their support for Trudeau and the Liberal Party. This figure trails behind the 37% of expressed female support for Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party, though maintaining its position above the 24% of female support towards Jagmeet Singh and the NDP.
Based on the responses and sentiments towards the scandal, it is obvious that former heartthrob Trudeau no longer enjoys the fresh and exciting relationship with female voters as he did in 2015. He was commonly described as “the epitome of the ideal man,” and his popularity with women peaked in 2017 when he promised to invest $650 million into reproductive health rights around the world on International Women’s Day. Some might ask: Trudeau has already advocated for feminism, is this not enough for Canadians? The Canadian tendency to rest on its laurels is a dangerous impediment to the progress of gender equality. Ignoring gender equality issues that remain to exist, leaves no room to challenge flaws nor to make improvements.
Moving forward, Canadians should acknowledge their idiosyncrasy and confront issues that are often swept under the rug. Confronting masked issues with regard to gender equality can prevent the unfolding of shocking behaviour. This includes the behaviour of a self-proclaimed feminist Prime Minister, who threatened his female Minister of Justice and Attorney General because she refused to pardon a guilty company. Masking gender equality issues with self-proclamations and victories is simply a distraction from the truth behind advocacy. This distraction, however, may not last long, and similar to Trudeau’s case, it can risk the exposure of fake pronouncements. Trudeau’s feminist mask has fallen due to the pressure he put on Wilson-Raybould, and Canadian voters recognize this. Let this be a lesson to avoid prizing self-proclaimed feminism and to focus on sincere action… “because it’s 2019!”