Since arriving at McGill, I have gotten to know many American students. When speaking with them, it is not unusual for our conversation to quickly move into the realm of politics. We talk, laugh, and cry about US President Donald Trump, and then they say, “Well, you guys are lucky. At least you have Trudeau.” As a Canadian, this statement makes me incredibly uncomfortable. The mindset that we should not criticize Prime Minister Justin Trudeau because he is not Trump may do great harm to how Canada functions as a nation.
It is important for a government to have an open dialogue with its people to ensure that it addresses its shortcomings and implements progressive policies and reforms in a timely, efficient manner. It is not enough to simply be more left-leaning than Trump. Trudeau must work harder to pass legislation in the areas of electoral reform, environmental protection, and protection for minorities, before he can be truly praised.
Ever since the contentious 2016 American presidential election, Canadians and Americans have paid much attention to Trump’s daily buffoonery on Twitter and in press conferences. From withdrawing from the Paris Accords, to the Muslim travel ban, to barring trans-gender individuals from serving in the military, there seems to be a new controversy in Washington, D.C. every day. Trump lacks charisma—and quite possibly his sanity. At this point, most politicians are looking better than he is.
Since his election in 2015, Trudeau and the Liberal government have passed only half of the bills that Harper’s government did within the same timeframe. Most news stories about the Canadian prime minister revolve around his publicity stunts. These include photobombing a group of students, kayaking, marching in the Toronto Pride Parade, and—only this past week—meeting students on McTavish while at the McGill Faculty Club. These fun and often exciting events have fueled his public image as a young, intelligent, charismatic leader who actively seeks to relate to his people. He is the opposite of Trump in this sense, and, for many, that is enough. However, his public image will not help him run a country unless he can continue to back it up with concrete action.
One major issue garnering criticism from the NDP and the Green Party is Trudeau’s record on environmental issues. When the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement in June, Trudeau immediately took to Twitter to berate Trump and reaffirm Canada’s commitment to fight climate change. He carefully expressed his disappointment with Trump’s decision without stirring up conflict. However, while many citizens took to social media and the streets to criticize the American government on its actions, very few people took the opportunity to point out the Liberal party’s approval of several major pipelines, most notably the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline System. According to scientists, the completion of these projects will mean that Canada will not be able to fulfill the requirements of the Paris Accords anyway.
Canadians need to do a better job of addressing the shortcomings of their own government and pressuring it to quickly and effectively implement policies and reforms. We cannot accept Trudeau’s over-reliance on publicity stunts and lack of meaningful policies because ‘at least he’s not Trump.’ Canada voted Trudeau in not only because of his charismatic persona, but because of his appealing campaign promises, such as those related to Indigenous rights, environmental protection, electoral reform, and marijuana legalization. He and his government must be evaluated on those promises, regardless of what politics look like south of the border.
When Trump makes an offensive comment or signs a controversial bill, it is not enough for Trudeau to calmly wiggle his finger at him on Twitter like a lazy father to his five year-old boy. Canadians cannot take pressure off him or excuse his shortcomings, faults, and inaction just because he takes a cute photo shoot with a group of excited students.