TIME

Identity Crisis

Justin Trudeau has been a liberal icon for years. But are his days numbered?
Trudeau faces another major scandal as he seeks re-election on Oct. 21

IT’S BEEN 84 YEARS SINCE A FIRST-TERM Canadian Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority lost a bid for re-election, but Justin Trudeau was in a position to shatter that record even before those photos hit the Internet. Blackface is a bad look for any candidate, but it’s especially unbecoming for an incumbent who has built his political brand on inclusion, immigration, multiculturalism and a liberal global order.

Trudeau now finds himself defending not just the record of his four years in office but also his personal sincerity, all while fending off a Conservative challenger who is smart, likable, polished and even younger than he is. How seriously can anyone take his impassioned speeches about diversity now?

“Actions speak louder than words,” Trudeau told me, in a follow-up to an exclusive interview with TIME. “I know that my actions in the past have been hurtful to people, and for that I’m deeply sorry. Our government has acted to fight discrimination and racism consistently over our first term, and if we earn the right to govern Canada again, we’ll move forward to fight racism and discrimination in our next term.”

I sat down with Trudeau on Sept. 3 in his Parliament office, 15 days before TIME published on its website what would prove to be only the first photograph of the leader of the Liberal Party in brown- or blackface. That one was taken at age 29, at a costume party at the Vancouver private school where he was teaching (see page 34). Within hours two more images had popped up from high school, and the Prime Minister was in the midst of a full-on media storm.

Polls taken in the days afterward showed scant change in Canadians’ assessment of their Prime Minister,

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