Winnipeg Liberal ridings could be in jeopardy after Trudeau brownface scandal: analyst

A political analyst says some Winnipeg ridings that were expected to be safe Liberal seats in the upcoming federal election might be in after news broke Wednesday of Justin Trudeau's past use of brownface and blackface.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau answers reporters' questions about his brownface photos in Winnipeg's Exchange District on Thursday. (CBC)

A political analyst says controversial images that have emerged from Justin Trudeau's past have the potential to flip seemingly safe Liberal ridings in Winnipeg.

On Wednesday, Time Magazine dropped a bombshell story featuring a 2001 photo of the federal Liberal leader in brownface and a turban, taken at a gala at a private school where Trudeau taught at the time.

Since then, other images have surfaced of the Liberal leader in blackface and brownface on different occasions.

"It cuts right to the heart of his brand," said Royce Koop, head of the political sciences department at the University of Manitoba.

"The caring, the positive, the sensitive, the modern feminist persona that he has — this slices right through that. I think that is where the Liberals should be very concerned about the impact of this for them."

This 2001 photo, published in the yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, where Justin Trudeau was teaching at the time, emerged on Wednesday. It could cause trouble for Liberal candidates in Winnipeg, says the University of Manitoba's Royce Koop. (

Here in Manitoba, that could mean Liberal candidates have to amp up their campaign efforts, Koops says.

Traditionally Conservative ridings that turned red in the last election did so based on Trudeau's popularity, said Koop. Ridings like Kildonan-St. Paul and Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley are going to be tough for the Liberals to hold on to, even with a solid campaign.

"Now if they have a bad campaign, not only did they lose those seats, but suddenly St. Vital and Winnipeg South are coming into play too."

Liberal candidates Dan Vandal in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital and Terry Duguid in Winnipeg South have strong support, said Koop. Both candidates had 58 per cent of the vote share in their respective ridings in 2015, with large margins between them and the Conservative runners-up.

Royce Koop says the actions of party leaders can have an effect on the success of local candidates. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

In spite of that, this week's news could hurt them.

"These are seats the Liberal Party should win. They only really lose these seats if the campaign is tanking as a whole," said Koop.

"Election campaigns in Canada pretty leader-centric. So when the leader does well or when the leader steps in a cow-pie, the candidates have to deal with that."

Bigger issues for new Canadians: advocate

Changing demographics in areas like Winnipeg South could also make a difference, Koop said.

"In the new suburbs, those are actually pretty diverse areas," he said.

"When you go into south Winnipeg, there are these big houses, and you can have multigenerational families. There's lots of people from different groups down there, so it could have an effect."

But some Winnipeggers who work with new Canadians say that they aren't concerned with Trudeau's past.

"Today, black and brown people, including people from minority faiths, are more worried of the threat of white supremacy than what happened 20 or so years ago," said Abdikheir Ahmed, executive director of the newcomer organization Immigration Partnership Winnipeg.

Ahmed spearheads the "Got citizenship? Go vote!" campaign, which encourages new Canadians to get involved in the democratic process for the first time.

Abdikheir Ahmed, the executive director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, says many new Canadians are more concerned with what a politician will do in office than their past. (CBC)

He says issues like the Trudeau controversy distract from what newcomers in Manitoba want, which is a politician who will demonstrate what positive change they'll make.

"I would like to be told why a certain party is better than the other, and what they are going to do for me and my community after the elections, rather than them focusing on 20 years ago," said Ahmed.

The federal election is on Oct. 21.


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