Justin Trudeau: Liberal star dimmed by scandals

Michel COMTE
Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau refused to say whether he might consider an eventual alliance with the left-leaning New Democratic Party (AFP Photo/Dave Chan)

Ottawa (AFP) - After winning a decisive mandate in 2015 to set Canada on a progressive path, Justin Trudeau's golden boy image has been blotted by ethics lapses and scandals, putting his bid for a second term in jeopardy.

The first-born son of late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau ran a positive first campaign that echoed the "Trudeaumania" of his father's 1960s rise to power.

With his mop of dark curly hair and confident swagger, he wowed Canadians by jumping into crowds to take selfies with adoring young fans.

On the day he was sworn in, the self-declared feminist unveiled a cabinet equally split with 15 men and 15 women.

When other nations closed their doors to migrants, Trudeau welcomed Syrian refugees to Canada with a hug and a gift of a parka. More than 45,000 Syrians were resettled in the country during his first term in office.

Under his leadership, Canada became only the second nation to legalize cannabis, held a public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and passed legislation permitting medically assisted suicide.

"Trudeau's great strength is his positive message," University of Montreal researcher Jocelyn Coulon told AFP.

"It's all about openness, tolerance and respect for diversity, at a time when public discourse has become bigoted and xenophobic."

- Canada's Kennedys -

The world watched with interest, even admiration, as Trudeau brought the ethnos of multilateralism to a new generation and proclaimed: "Canada is back!"

"Why can't he be our president?" shouted a Rolling Stone magazine cover featuring Trudeau.

The Trudeaus, with their political talents and film-star good looks, have often been compared to the Kennedys in the United States.

Pierre Trudeau, who was prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984, is considered the father of modern Canada.

He established the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, preserved national unity against Quebec separatists, decriminalized homosexuality and pushed for the bilingualism and multiculturalism that have become integral parts of Canadian identity.

Justin's birth on December 25, 1971, made front-page news across Canada.

His mother Margaret's partying with the Rolling Stones and her 1984 divorce from Pierre -- a sensational scandal in a country unused to them -- was also fodder for tabloids.

Justin Trudeau came late to politics, spending his early years working as a whitewater guide, snowboard instructor, bartender, bouncer and teacher.

His eulogy at his father's state funeral in 2000 arguably launched his political career.

But he held off until 2008 when he was first elected to the House of Commons to represent a gritty, working-class Montreal neighborhood.

- Blackface scandal -

His admission that he smoked pot after becoming an MP raised eyebrows, and his detractors accuse him of being an intellectual lightweight.

Nevertheless, in his first term, his Liberal Party ratified free trade agreements with Europe and Pacific nations, and negotiated a new continental trade pact with the United States and Mexico.

His administration also put Canada back on track to curbing CO2 emissions by introducing a carbon tax.

It seemed that the married father of three could do no wrong, until his dramatic fall from grace this past year over his firing of Canada's first indigenous attorney general for accusing him of meddling in the bribery prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

"He promised to do politics differently, but he turned out to be a politician like the others," Coulon lamented.

Images of Trudeau in blackface makeup that emerged during the campaign have also tainted his image.

Trudeau apologized for the makeup worn to parties in 2000 and in the early 1990s, and at a high school talent contest

University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris said the damage appeared limited.

"Canadians have gotten to know him over the years and don't think he's a racist," he said.

But the photographs hurt his personal ratings and, along with other controversies, dragged his Liberals into neck-and-neck fight with the Conservatives ahead of the October 21 ballot.