Trudeau tries to woo voters after blackface scandal

Canada’s prime minister makes big campaign promises, vows to create a national prescription drug plan if re-elected.

Canada''s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during an election campaign stop in Brampton, Ontario, Canada September 22, 2019
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to campaign for re-election after apologising for wearing blackface makeup in a high-school performance - and brownface makeup to a 2001 party [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

After damaging photos of him in blackface surfaced last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is playing offence as he continues his re-election campaign, pledging on Monday to create a national prescription drug plan if re-elected.

After two days of profuse apologies, Trudeau has resumed making campaign announcements as polls in Canada show his Liberal Party trailing the opposition Conservatives, led by of Andrew Scheer, ahead of the country’s federal election on October 21.

Accusing Canada’s Conservatives of planning major spending cuts, Trudeau said he would make sure all Canadians had access to a family doctor and affordable medicine.

“No one should go without the care they need because they don’t have access to a family doctor. And no one should have to give up food and heat to be able to pay for healthcare,” he told reporters in the southeastern Ontario city of Hamilton.

Trudeau also promised to expand Canada’s universal healthcare system to cover prescription drugs, but gave few details of timing or cost, aside from saying Ottawa would be working with the 10 provinces and three northern territories.

Federal-provincial talks about funding can be acrimonious and lengthy, and there is no guarantee the new system could be set up as outlined.

The ruling Liberals were knocked off course by old photos of Trudeau in brownface and blackface that emerged last week. The images were at odds with his often-stated position that he wants to improve the lives of minorities in Canada, and they prompted international ridicule.

Trudeau took more questions about the offensive photos on Monday, five days after Time, the US weekly newsmagazine, released the first picture.

“I am continuing to be open with Canadians about the mistake I made … I should have known better but didn’t,” he said. “I will continue to work every day to fight racism.”

The healthcare pledge was his fourth major campaign announcement since last Friday, when he vowed to ban military-style assault weapons. On Sunday, he pledged to eliminate some taxes and slash mobile phone bills by a quarter.

Pollster Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates said his polling, which he has yet to publish in detail, shows a shift toward Conservative Party leader Scheer and away from Trudeau nationally over the past four days.

“It’s a body blow,” Graves said in an interview, referring to the blackface scandal. “Will the Liberals be able to recover? Who knows? There’s no way of putting lipstick on a pig and making this go away.”

Conservatives would win 34.3 percent of the national vote and the Liberals 33.1 percent, a Nanos Research poll for CTV and the Globe and Mail newspaper released on Monday showed.

In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and a key to any party’s hopes, the scandal has erased the 15-percentage-point lead the Liberals held, Graves said.

Liberal insiders are more optimistic, saying that relatively few voters are bringing up the topic. A pollster noted that the election is still a month away.

“Ultimately, the blackface photos may be the campaign moment that prevents the Liberals from being re-elected,” said David Coletto of the Abacus Data polling firm, which has Conservatives leading the Liberals by two percentage points nationally, the same margin as last week.

“But the initial reaction and how voters are reacting so far suggests there’s way too much campaign left to make that conclusion today.”

Source: Reuters