Nenshi: Fighting Bill 21 matters more than 'hot takes' on Trudeau's brownface
TORONTO – Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi isn’t interested in “hot takes” on Justin Trudeau’s brownface costume from 18 years ago.
But he is interested in a frank conversation about racism in Canada, specifically as it pertains to Bill 21, a new law in Quebec that bans public servants in positions of authority, such as school teachers, from wearing turbans, hijabs or other religious symbols.
“It’s horrifying,” Nenshi, who became Canada’s first Muslim mayor in 2010, told CTV’s Power Play on Monday.
“A Muslim man with a beard can say, ‘Hey, I’m just a hipster. It’s not about my faith,’ and have any job. But a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf can’t. If she’s in a job now, she will never be considered for promotion. And this is crazy.”
No federal leader has said they would challenge the law, which passed with popular support from Quebecers in 2017 and came into force in June.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said he was “saddened” by the law but won’t fight it because Quebec has jurisdiction over the issue. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has taken a similar stance, saying she won’t challenge the law but would offer jobs to anyone affected.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has also ruled out challenging the secularism law.
But Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau hasn’t completely ruled out fighting Bill 21. Trudeau has said he is deeply opposed by the measure but, for the moment, a Liberal government wouldn’t get involved because it would not be productive.
Nenshi said that’s not good enough.
“It’s time to take a moral stand, and it’s time to stand up for what’s right,” he said, adding that he hopes Trudeau might be keeping the door open to federal intervention.
“I see some coded language in what Mr. Trudeau is saying around it would be counter-productive to intervene now. I mean, what that says to me is if he were to win the election, he’s ready to intervene later.”
Nenshi also doesn’t buy arguments from leaders such as Singh that the provinces have the right to make their own decisions without federal intervention.
“There is stuff the federal government can do. The federal government has the constitutional power to disallow provincial legislation, they have the power to reserve it, they have the power to do what Lyndon Johnson did in the United States (to) the states that didn’t believe in civil rights, which is withhold federal funding,” he said.
“And it’s not good enough to say, ‘Well, we would never enact that at the federal level. But it’s OK for 20 per cent of our population to be treated differently of where they happen to live.’”
As for photos dating back to 2001 and earlier of Trudeau dressed in brownface and blackface, Nenshi said he considered it clearly a dumb thing to do. But he doesn’t think Trudeau was ever a racist and believes that the Liberal leader should instead be judged by his record on diversity.
“He didn’t look in the mirror that day and say, ‘Wow, this is super racist and I look great.’ He thought, ‘This is a fun costume to wear.’ And while that was dumb then and it’s dumb now, I’m not actually that interested in these hot takes about what does that make him, how do we react to that in terms of this election?”
So far, the photos do not appear to have dramatically shaken up the race.
The Conservatives hold a thin lead over the Liberals, with 34.3 per cent support, compared to 33.1 per cent support for the Liberals, according to Nanos Daily Ballot Tracking numbers released Monday. The NDP holds 12.8 per cent support, followed by the Greens with 10.6 per cent.
Trudeau remains the top choice among the Nanos Preferred Prime Minister poll, with 30.5 per cent support, compared to 28 per cent for Scheer, 8.8 per cent for Singh and 8.5 per cent for May.
With files from The Canadian Press