So it’s not surprising that some Canadian women are reconsidering who they’ll be voting for this fall. The country is no closer to a national child-care program, which Trudeau has promoted, and funding the government pledged to stem the housing crisis facing Toronto, Vancouver, and other urban centers has been slow to materialize. Electoral reform, an initiative backed by many women’s organizations that Trudeau promised to execute, has been halted. And the Liberals’ inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women has stalled.
Read: Why women still can’t have it all
Many of the feminist efforts Trudeau has championed are international ones, such as his establishment of a so-called feminist foreign policy and his efforts to restore some of the international funding for women’s reproductive health that was slashed by Donald Trump.
That has led to a striking difference in how Trudeau has been perceived abroad and at home. The Canadian leader has made headlines around the world for, among other things, stating that he’ll raise his sons as feminists, photobombing a prom photo shoot in Vancouver, demonstrating his core strength in a viral photo of him doing a peacock pose, and sharing a beer with Barack Obama in Montreal. In the Trump era, Trudeau’s warmth and charm have earned him an international reputation as a liberal boy wonder, advocating for stronger women’s rights, better environmental protections, and more stable relationships with indigenous groups.
Back home, Trudeau’s fondness for antics such as balancing babies in the palm of his hand, cuddling pandas at the zoo, and posing with his hands in a heart before a pink backdrop for the press have led to one Toronto writer calling him “the political equivalent of a YouTube puppy video”—satisfying, but lacking depth. It’s a criticism that has followed Trudeau since the start of his term, but one that feels even more salient now. For Bashevkin, the political-science professor, what this scandal illustrates most starkly is the prime minister’s and his team’s lack of experience. “I think if he’s actually going to do what he says he will, which is think about how to learn from these events, I’d suggest that he might think about revaluing the women who are currently and were formerly in cabinet,” Bashevkin says.
It’s a disappointing coda for the gender-parity initiative. If Trudeau weathers this scandal, he’ll almost certainly run for reelection in October, and he might win. But his treatment of Wilson-Raybould and his response to the snowballing crisis give more fuel—this time with evidence—to the critics who have long accused him of being a superficial feminist, and those cries will become louder and more sustained during the campaign. If Trudeau doesn’t get reelected, Canadian voters will swing back to the Conservatives, a party that opposes gender quotas in the cabinet, signaling the death knell for an initiative that stood for something much greater when Trudeau’s term began.
Amid it all, one point is strikingly clear: For Canadian women who want to use their vote to ensure an equal seat at the governance table, no major party in their country can offer them even that.