Updated at 8:30 p.m. ET on October 6, 2019.
The 2019 election is a test for Canadian progressives: style or substance. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is the most successful progressive government in the world. It instituted a carbon tax and legalized marijuana. Last year, for the first time, Canada settled more refugees than any other country. Because of higher government benefits, child poverty is at its lowest level in history. Economic growth this year reached 3 percent. That is what Trudeau has done. He also appeared in brownface at an Aladdin-themed costume party in 2001 at the age of 29.
Canadian progressives, like progressives all over the world, must decide whether they care more about the pursuit of social and cultural change, through the eradication of racist and sexist imagery, or the pursuit of transformative policies. In 2015, Trudeau promised both. He was the shining ideal of maximum wokeness, imposing a gender-equal cabinet and offering as the explanation, “Because it’s 2015.” Well, it’s 2019 now.
How racist Trudeau’s appearance in brownface was, and therefore how forgivable, is subject to debate. People of color in Canada—by no means a contiguous body or voting bloc—have differences of opinion about the gravity of Trudeau’s browning up. Sunny Khurana, a Sikh man who appears in one of Trudeau’s photos from the “Arabian Nights” theme party at West Point Grey Academy, did not find his appearance there racist in the slightest. “He wasn’t trying to demean anybody who was a person of color, and from what I can recall from that function, it never came across as that, not at all,” he said recently. “I mean, I didn’t even think twice of it. It was a good party. We had fun.”