You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” remarked the caped crusader in The Dark Knight. And, as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to be finding out, being a politician known for high ethical standards is often like being Batman. Trudeau — the blue-eyed boy of Western liberals, the diversity-loving, immigrant-welcoming anti-Trump — is caught in the middle of a script that threatens to tarnish the carefully curated image.
The SNC-Lavalin scandal involves bribes allegedly paid to Libyan government officials during the Muammar Gaddafi era to secure contracts, as well as defrauding the Libyan government. Trudeau and his staff have been accused of scuttling the investigation into the matter by pressuring the justice minister at the time, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Trudeau probably understands more than most the power of a narrative, of image and personal brand in politics. He has consistently presented himself as a feminist. Now the appearance of trying to professionally intimidate a woman colleague, and being accused of demoting her when his office didn’t get its way, is bound to hurt the Liberal Party in an election year. Of course, leading politicians in democracies older and larger than Canada have been accused of batting for particular companies. But strongmen can power through scandals in a way that those presenting themselves as the answer to the immoralities of their time cannot. The realities of political compromise, or of “trying to protect Canadian jobs” may have worked for another politician, one less full of righteousness than Canada’s PM. Or maybe he will emerge stronger from the crisis and go from being the gentle hero in an increasingly xenophobic west, to a liberal bahubali.