Political scandals are at the forefront of some students’ minds for the upcoming federal election. While political party leaders try to put the past behind them by apologizing for their actions or acknowledging them, students at St. Thomas University aren’t quick to forgive.
Sidney Trites, a first-year student, said she was shocked to see the photo of Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau in brownface.
“I know it was a while back, but even then we should know that’s not something you should be doing,” Trites said.
“Especially when his dad was involved in politics beforehand. So you think [Trudeau would] be a little more careful of what he was putting out there.”
On Sept. 18, Time magazine published a photo of Trudeau in brownface, surrounded by four female colleagues at an Aladdin themed gala. The picture came from the 2001 West Point Grey Academy yearbook, a private school where Trudeau taught.
Trudeau apologized for the incident and also apologized for wearing blackface at his high school’s talent show, where he sang Harry Belefonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day O),” on Sept. 19. The day after Trudeau apologized for the first two photos, Global News released another picture of Trudeau in racist makeup from the ’90s and showed the Liberal leader laughing, face and arms covered in black makeup.
Katie Price, a first-year student, said Trudeau’s apology was better than nothing and differentiated himself from the Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer.
On Aug. 22, public safety minister Ralph Goodale released a video of Scheer where he opposes legalizing same-sex marriage. In the 2005 video, Scheer said even if same-sex couples were to marry, it wouldn’t be a real marriage because they wouldn’t be able to have children of their own. Scheer acknowledged the video but has not apologized for it.
“The key difference is the fact that [Trudeau] apologized for racist makeup and is willing to accept his mistake and move on, whereas Scheer really won’t apologize,” Price said.
“He acknowledged what he said but he won’t realize the way it’s making other people feel.”
Thomas Bateman, a political science professor, said scandals can make or break an election.
In the early 2000s, the Liberal government faced a scandal focused on the misuse and misdirection of funds disbursed through the 1990s sponsorship program. Bateman said the scandal caused former Liberal leader, Jean Chrétien, to lose the party’s majority government. Chrétien resigned as prime minister in December 2003.
Still Bateman wonders if the timing of the release of images and video of Trudeau in racist makeup was helpful for the party. By releasing the photos in September, Bateman said Trudeau has time to backpedal and mitigate the damage.
“If someone else had access to these photos and wanted to damage Trudeau, they would wait until closer to the election and make it extremely difficult for the prime minister to react to the problem,” Bateman said.
Hailey Johnson, a first-year criminology student, said she believes young voters need to pay attention to political scandals and speak up when they need to.
“Our generation speaks up a lot more about certain issues and I find that we don’t let go as easily as people did before,” Johnson said.
“We tend to want more justice for things and we don’t just sweep it under the rug.”