04.21.2016 08:59 AM

Boxed in

Snippet from next week’s Hill Times column.  I’m getting…concerned.

…here was the highest office in the land, issuing an official-looking media statement beneath the Great Seal of Canada, no less, that “The Prime Minister will train at Gleason’s Gym.” No questions, just be there to take his picture. Don’t be late.

Some of us, sitting in the cheap seats outside the ring, have written about Justin Trudeau’s sheer mastery of image. In my view, there is no politician alive who is as adept at visuals. Words equal information, but pictures equal power, and Justin Trudeau – grinning out at us on the cover of GQ, this week – knows that better than anyone.


But are you starting to feel, like me, that this stuff is getting pushed a bit too far? That there is a danger, here, that he is dancing too close to the klieg lights, and is about to fall into the orchestra pit?


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    Caligula Jones says:

    Starting to?

    I might be mean to call him PM Zoolander. Or PMPR. Or the Minister of State for Selfies. But I don’t think I’m wrong.

    My theory is that the Liberal backroom basically said: “Justin, you’re a natural on the campaign trail, don’t stop. We’ll just stay here in Ottawa getting things done. Have fun. Take a hair dryer and remember to moisturize regularly”.

    Nice that some Liberals are noticing, though. Did you not learn anything from Blair’s “Cool Britannia?” Branding is a necessary evil these days for the low information “Generation Swipe”. But when all you have is a brand, people start noticing. Like paying $500 for running shoes when you don’t actually run.

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    cynical says:

    Is it him or his handlers? This kind of stuff leaves your opposition lots of video clips to use in their next campaign. Careful editing can make anyone look silly.

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    Cory says:

    Coyne has a similar article out today. I think there is a growing sense that after 6 months this government has gotten a lot of good PR but hasn’t actually accomplished much.

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      Tired of it All says:

      Or do the images overshadow the accomplishments? Either way, it’s time to tone it down.

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    lou says:

    Warren, I don’t mind all the magazine photo spreads. It has made birdcage lining decisions very easy. Thanks JT!!

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    JH says:

    Lots of dash – not much dignitas. Some might consider that important in a PM.

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      JH says:

      PS – will there be swooning by male and female members of the press corps when the shirt comes off? And I assume lots of pix of media hair brushing Trudeau as well? Oh the joy of it all for them – just to be in his presence!
      They are the ones who should know better WK – Trudeau’s lackies in short pants are just doing their job.

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    ottawacon says:

    I think it is trying to stay ahead of the media curve and keep control of the conversation. This government has already made a number of significant errors (residential schools appeal dropped, getting into a fight with the PBO over the budget and transparency, the false start on carbon pricing, management of the Saudi arms deals as examples), and took an unusually long time to get Minister’s offices staffed – not sure I would call it up to speed. There are some very solid people, but the neural network of a fully functioning government is struggling to take shape. The whole ‘run to the left, govern to the right’ trick is harder than it looks. Under Harper, those sorts of gaffes produced a ‘bring it all into the PMO to manage it’ mentality, but I don’t think that would be viable.

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    davie says:

    He might have a word with his trade minister about this image control. The allegation that she used 20 thou to appear on Bill Maher’s show in Hollywood seems to me like a $16 orange juice moment. Justice Minister could be a little more careful as well. Leave the young quantum physics expert/boxer/canoeist/college student forums to the guy who does it with flair and impunity.

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    Malcolm Jolley says:

    Or, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to build up and bank as much social capital now, while things are good?

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      Warren says:

      Good point.

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        dean sherratt says:

        You don’t bank good will when he has so much of it now…why not use it to accomplish something needed but unpopular? Instead, he seems to take the road of least resistance.

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          Tim Sullivan says:

          Arms deals, climate treaties, senate appointments, deficits on purpose and doctor-assisted dying aside, you mean.

          He’s been in power, what, 5 months?

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    Michael Clifton says:

    I used the Zoolander image here. https://www.facebook.com/anybodybuttrudeau/photos/pb.543368669130440.-2207520000.1461252673./717911958342776/?type=3&theater

    Lots of our readers on that page refer to him as PM-Selfie, or some similar epithet.

    I have commended his mastery of spin. I don’t believe it is his handlers. He seems to do it very naturally and quite consistently. It really is incredible. And if I was sufficiently narcissitic and interested in the kind of power fame alone can bring — which isn’t an inherently *good* power — I would follow his example any day.

    Well, most of it. I should retract the word “naturally”. His one weakness in this regard is that he most often appears quite affected (as well as occasionally smug, distant and vacuous-looking), although it is obvious that a vast number of Canadians are willing to look past that out of what I can only guess an intense, irrational desire to believe in him, or, perhaps, to believe in anyone, someone, something (…hm, perhaps we are suffering a national neurosis of some sort — a need for faith in our leadership, and leadership in which we can be faithful — and he is the…placebo?).

    What irks me a little, though, when reading comments such as “I think there is a growing sense that after 6 months this government has gotten a lot of good PR but hasn’t actually accomplished much,” is that this was both predictable and, in fact, predicted. I mean, I don’t blame the commenter, but the fact is that this *shouldn’t* be a “growing sense”. You shouldn’t be “getting concerned”. There was always this sense. There was always this basis for concern. This is not new news. The new news will be if (and I expect he will) he accomplishes any substantive good despite it.

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      davie says:

      Your 3rd paragraph “…I can only guess and intense, irrational desire …anyone, someone,…” has given me a flushback.
      During the 1960’s I was not a member of the Manitoba/federal Liberals, but I almost always pitched in for candidates. (Here, I would drop a few names of Liberals for those days…). I didn’t really care for Pearson, but I liked Marchand, LaMarsh, Greene,…When Jean Marchand did not run for federal leadership (health), and then Trudeau became leader, I was uncomfortable with the ‘messiah’ style, and the growing adulation for PET, particularly among my social circle. I have always distrusted the idea of a great strong saviour of the nation kind of politics.
      I saw that in the Harper cartel’s constant attempts to sell Harper as the tough adult.
      In J Trudeau, he seems okay, but he media and its audience seem to be wallowing in the image of the visionary of the New Canadian Century. He and Trump will get on famously, the smooth Montrealer and the hustling New Yorker.

      So I dislike and distrust that part of us that wants to follow a single all powerful leader.

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        Michael Clifton says:

        Agreed. We should also distrust the leader who embraces it… particularly one on record as admiring that kind of dictatorship.

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          The Doctor says:

          This is one of the things that kills me about this in terms of its irony: the number of self-identifying Canadian progressives who now think that a deliberate, manipulative celebrity cult of personality is simply awesome in a PM. But of course that Donald Trump personality cult? Well, that’s horrible and dangerous and shows what weak, gullible minds his supporters have, falling for such shallow, vapid stuff.

          I guess the takeaway is that a manipulative political personality cult is awesome, as long as it’s your partisan home team that’s doing it. But if the other guys do it, it’s evil.

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    PJH says:

    Didn’t your boss have a saying: “Undersell and overperform”?…..I know he was talking about govt’s as a whole…..but at the moment, Justin is the face of gov’t……and it appears he has things in reverse…..

    I worry that overexposure in the MSM will not sit well with the Canadian electorate…….we don’t have quite the stomach for “celebrity” that our neighbour to the South does….

    Even the Canadian electorates infatuation with his father faded after his first term……

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    Matt says:

    Are you including his latest PR stunt about his “mastery” and “profound understanding” of quantum computing that sent the Canadian and international media into a frenzy recently?

    You know the incident where he simply repeated a few things about quantum computing he had learned just an hour or so before while musing he hoped a reporter would ask him about during the media Q&A portion of his photo op.

    Now, having said that, I understand the CPC have turned that into an attack ad. Lame in my opinion.

    Attack his policies. Attack his lack of the promised openness and transparency. Attack his finance minister apparent lack of basic math skills repeatedly claiming the CPC left a $5.4 billion deficit despite the PBO, AND Morneau’s own finance department saying there was a $4.3 billion surplus at the end of February and should be a $700 million surplus still March 31st, the fiscal end 2015/2016

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      Tim Sullivan says:

      Sorry if I conflate Matt’s response with the good Doctor’s response through these posts. They just seem so similar, so hollow and somehow so predictable.

      How lonely it must be to be a CPC sympathizer and defender of the Harper “legacy” in the face of a government that is, at this early stage, so much better in almost every measurable and perceptible way, than we as Canadians endured over the previous 9 yrs. Lonely, lonely, lonely.

      The Liberals will be able to report a surplus too, when it undersells GM stock. Where was the opprobrium during the Harper fights with the PBO, the lack of accountability immediately after the Accountability Act, the demands for oversight when Parliament as prorogued to avoid oversight … when deficit after deficit was being recorded, even BEFORE the 2008 “good buying opportunity”?

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        The Doctor says:

        Yeah, if you’re not with Trudeau, you’re with Harper. Yawn.

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    The Doctor says:

    There’s an element of preaching to the choir in all this. This is precisely the kind of thing that Justin Beliebers eat up — cue the facebook posts linking to the article and/or photo with some comment like “look how badass and awesome our PM is.”

    But this has pretty much the opposite effect on those people who see the PM’s proper job as being a sober, competent manager who makes sure that the trains run on time etc.

    One thing that’s politically dangerous about constantly preaching to the choir and reaffirming the choir’s adulation like this is that over time, you might mistake the choir’s adulation for more broad-based support, and thus not be aware of when you’re crossing the line and alienating ordinary apolitical types in the centre whose support you also need to remain in power.

    He almost seems to be doubling down on the PM Selfie/celebrity PM thing, but the confounding factor here is that it’s difficult to know how much of that massive current lead in the polls is really owing to any virtue of his vs. the “thank God he’s not Harper” factor.

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    Francis says:

    Hmmm, judging by the bitchy comments here, the bitterness hasn’t worn off for many.

    Justin Trudeau is doing an incredible job laying down a foundation for 2019. The campaign hasn’t even started and he’s already leaps and bounds ahead on the political capital front. Everything he’s doing right now is to ensure that regardless of what happens between now and the next election, his personal brand remains as enduring as it currently is.

    Can it go too far? Of course it can.

    Has it gone too far? No.

    If John and Jane Frontporch don’t give a shit about the Duffy trial enough to pay attention to the minutiae then they don’t care that Trudeau is giving lectures at NYU or sparring in a boxing ring at some inner city gym. Its a PR campaign that intended to establish an image of a charismatic personality; a statesmen of intrigue. The media reports on this shit because there are enough people out there consuming this information; current and future supporters. He is the polar opposite of Harper in terms of personalities, and people got sick enough of Harper to give him the boot. Now Trudeau is cultivating his own image in a way that will sustain itself when compared against whatever white-bread personality of a leader the CPC put up or whoever the last minute candidate the NDP shoves on stage.

    The thing I’ve begun to realize is the agitation amongst many with Trudeau seems to based purely out of resentment. But until you have tangible numbers which indicate that Canadians are fed up with Trudeau, you’re just spitting at the wind. Constantly dismissing and underestimated Trudeau has come at the expense of his detractors. Instead of complaining about his behaviour, maybe develop some sort of substantive rebuttal to a policy position instead of chiding him on his understanding of quantum physics.

    Just remember, its going to take a lot more than the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tipline” to get back in power.

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      davie says:

      Methinks that deep down in the Liberal brain trust it would be good to have at least one person who figures there si a good chance the Liberal landslide is less about JT’s attractive style, and a whole lot less than the Liberal platform, and more ot do with a good chunk of voters figuring at the last few days that the Liberals were the way to displace the sneering mentality and behaviour of the Conservatives.

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        Francis says:

        That has to be the most asinine ascription of last years elections I’ve ever heard.

        If that were the case, then the NDP wouldn’t have started tanking halfway through the campaign and would in government today, instead of the back corner of the House.

        I would also remind you that it was Mulcair that insistently stated that “only the NDP could get rid of Harper” when they were riding high (and low) in the polls. Evidently, voters didn’t buy into that whole “only 35 seats more” thing.

        Campaigns matter, and platforms matters. The reality is that the NDP completely fumbled their campaign and failed to convince voters that they were offering more that just “not Harper”. They were totally devoid of any tangible change other than already being in official opposition. It was a campaign of complacency and entitlement that ultimately ended the way it did.

        Dismissing the Liberals as being the beneficiaries of a blind wave of desired change with voters hold absolutely no water. Its simply a method for Dippers to find some kind of solace in their devastation; processing defeat in a way that exonerates themselves of a poorly run campaign.

        Additionally, the Conservatives spent millions of dollars directing negativity towards the Liberals throughout the entire campaign, yet the Liberals still managed to pull through. And if I recall, it was the “balanced budget” issue that set the Liberals apart from the other two parties. It was that significant platform piece (and Conservative/NDP blind commitment to continuity of austerity) that put the Liberals on the path to success.

        If the Liberals didn’t win on their platform and efficient campaigning than we’d be sitting here today with a government implementing the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tipline” or pieces of the “Leap Manifesto”.

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      Lance says:

      Yeah yeah, because actually doing the job is boring……and stuff.

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        Francis says:

        You’re implying that going to New York to attend a meeting at the UN is just super-fantastic-fun-time” and totally not within the job description of being Prime Minister?

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      The Doctor says:

      I dunno, to me that line of argument slides pretty easily into this whole “you’re just bitter” thing, or worse yet “if you’re not with Trudeau, you’re with Harper.” I am going to boldly submit that it is possible for one to legitimately criticize Justin Trudeau without being either a fan of Harper or bitter about the outcome of the last election.

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        Matt says:

        Worse, those Liberal supporters who blindly, unquestioningly (is that even a word?) support and defend everything Trudeau does become the Liberal version of those “HarperCons” they profess to detest.

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        Francis says:

        You’re right, and I certainly don’t make that inference.

        There are absolutely legitimate reasons to criticize Trudeau and the Liberals; many of which I have been vocal about. My point, though, is that there are many reasonable points of discussion and criticisms to be made, but boxing and quantum physics are most definitely not one them.

        This is the problem with the majority of critical opinions that are being voiced today. We aren’t even a year into the Liberal government’s mandate and some have opted to make downright petty and petulant comments about the most insignificant of issues. I assure you, there will be plenty of reasons forthcoming to lambaste the Liberal government.

        Trudeau’s style, speech or hair aren’t and have never been legitimate sources of criticism. It hasn’t worked before and its not going to work because like we saw last year, Canadians deplore unrelenting negativity that diminishes the personality of anyone, including politicians.

        You’re right, no one should be accused of either “being with us or against us” and that’s certainly not my intention here. But critics need to find a different reason to be irritated other than a predisposition to disliking Justin Trudeau.

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      Art says:

      I think Liberals and even most Dippers are quite happy with Trudeau. I know the scientists are happy. The rest of the world seems pretty happy. Pretty sure the gender equal cabinet and the independant Senators are too. Natives and refugees are certainly happy. Municipalities and Provinces seem happy. People concerned with the climate are definitely happier than they were.
      It would seem to be mainly Conservatives who are griping.

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        BlueGritr says:

        JT will secure an even stronger majority government in 2019. Why? Because he’s so different from Harper, and because the Conservatives always make people uneasy.

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        The Doctor says:

        Yeah, like on that Saudi arms deal, the only people complaining were conbots. Not a peep from the human rights crowd, and the Dippers were totally on board with arming the Saudis to the teeth etc. I just finished reading some screed that was hyper-critical of the Liberals on that Saudi arms deal — but of course it was written by that notorious Conbot lackey Neil Macdonald, on the website of the CBC, which everyone knows is the house organ of the CPC.

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        Francis says:

        And griping over the most absurd of reasons.

        Its one thing to fundamentally disagree with political or ideological positions, but to chastise the PM for being an effective brand ambassador for Canada is in utter poor taste.

        But it also shows that the pool for policy and legislative criticisms is relatively shallow at this point. For the most part, its been smooth sailing for the Liberals and critics are having a difficult time finding something to go after the Liberals on that is reasonable and self-sustaning.

        So, probably a good sign for supporters of the centre-left approach of this new government. Plus, recent polls show a large portion of the population is supportive of the Liberals currently, thus the criticisms seem to be coming from a relatively small minority people.

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          The Doctor says:

          So you’re fine with this government’s craven spinelessness and evasiveness on (not) passing a Canadian version of the Magnitsky Act. Interesting.

          And you agree with this government’s decision to refuse Parliamentary oversight over arms sales.

          Because I guess those are just “shallow” matters. I would love to see you say that to the face of Sergei Magnitsky’s widow, or to Bill Browder.

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            Francis says:

            “Spineless” is quite the term to attribute anyone, let alone a collective group of elected Members of Parliament.

            You’re equating the government’s cautiousness to the demands being made by the NDP regarding the Magnitsky matter as being irreverence for the man who lost his life. Which is not only absurd hyperbole, but callous as well. New Democrats know full well that the issue is one of legitimacy, but are choosing instead to politicize the problem and not afford the government the latitude to construct a response to Russia’s aggression in an effective and meaningful manner.

            Regarding the arms deal, get over yourself; during the election, all three leader indicated explicitly that despite their concerns with the deal, they would not kibosh it. Perhaps you could explain how you would justify the cancellation of that deal to the Canadians who would be directly impacted by such a decision as employees of the vendor involved. Oversight of any sort is completely unnecessary because there are already a variety of factors to take into consideration prior to making these sorts of deals, as is. Unfortunately, those factors were undermined in this process. However, what your proposing would ultimately lead to an extra layer of bureaucracy burdening the economic independence of Canadian businesses. But, I guess self-righteous symbolism is of much more value to you than reasonability in governance.

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            The Doctor says:

            You’re completely inaccurate in suggesting that the push in Canada for a Magnitsky Act is some NDP initiative. First of all, it previously had all-party support. That’s back when Warren’s friend Irwin Cotler — who has a spine and principles — was still in government. Cotler was prominent in promoting this initiative. Then the Liberals get elected, and Dion won’t even take a meeting with Bill Browder. He’s hiding. Spineless perfectly describes that.

            And the Magnitsky Act has nothing to do with Russian military aggression in Ukraine, it’s not aimed at condemning or punishing that. What it’s aimed at is Putin’s cronies and goons who illegally detained, tortured and beat to death a lawyer who had the guts to investigate and oppose Russian government corruption.

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    doconnor says:

    This is occouring in New York City for the benefit of the American media to build on the GQ cover. It may have been deliberately timed to coincide with the Duffy verdict to reduce the Canadian media coverage.

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    davepizer says:

    In times of crisis, the Romans had the games. We have the corporate media. It’s old hat actually.

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    Ted H says:

    Actually it’s quite refreshing not to be governed by a bunch of stiffs any more, let’s bask in it for a while. If he is savvy enough to know when to step out he probably knows when to step back too.

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    Ridiculosity says:

    Everyone – and I mean everyone – that I’ve spoken with thinks Trudeau (and his government) is doing an admirable job; one Canadians can be proud of (for a change).

    I fully agree.

    Maybe, just maybe, politics doesn’t have to be all about negativity to work effectively.

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      Michael Clifton says:

      It really is a little too early to be too adulating about the job they are doing, though that doesn’t mean we can’t give credit where credit is due. However…

      “Everyone”? I’d say your circle is small, or they’re just not watching the details. Visit mine. It is more highly diverse and critical (even those who are Liberals).

      “Admirable”? They’ve done some good, absolutely. They are signalling some positive things. They are not, however, getting everything right, and there has been competent, valid criticism thrown at much of what they do. There’s also the factor that when you start with low expectations (because, face it, no one held the bar all that high for them to leap over), you’ll look good almost no matter what you do. And there was also the element of wanting change, that many Canadians felt even without really having good or articulate reasons for it.

      “Proud…for a change.” Personally, I was never not proud of aspects of our past governments. The inclination to vilify the HarperCons is simply knee-jerk simple-mindedness. *Every* government does some things wrong and other things right. And pretty much every person who seeks that office… even Harper… brings with him or her a store of positive, ethical ideas that he or she seeks to implement. We don’t have to agree with them to be willing to admire their efforts. Anyone who felt no national pride in the face of some of the things our previous government does likely needs to remove his or her partisan glasses.

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        Art says:

        Don’t agree about vilifying the Harper cons. I think there was plenty to vilify. What’s more, I can’t think of one thing they did that I admired.

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          The Doctor says:

          Yeah, that formal apology for residential schools was just despicable, wasn’t it Art?

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            Art says:

            That’s one, I’ll give you that.

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          Tim Sullivan says:

          They were in power for 10 yrs and someone has come up with ONE thing.

          Damning with faint praise much? Of course, Harper canceled the Kelowna Accord and how many boil water advisories were solved? Murdered and missing aboriginal women were not high on the priority list, it being a police matter and all, because there is no fault with the police …

          So that one thing is pretty damning … I mean, admirable.

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            Charlie K says:

            Thats what 10 years of “none of our business” governance gets you.

            That was the Harper government’s approach to just about every issue they knew wasn’t going to gain them favour with their base; i.e. FN issues, the census and spending on urban infrastructure. They were the “anti-government” government, they’re main objective was to cripple institutions like the SCOC and various governmental departments.

            They took reducing government spending to reducing government efficacy and its why after 10 years in power, there’s nothing much to show for Conservatives to assert their pride on. The minute MPs returned to Parliament after the election, long time members of the CPC caucus immediately changed their tune on many key Conservative policies from the past decade. Instead, these MPs have taken a nonchalant attitude to their own record and have coopted “balanced budgets”, a few token positions on foreign policy and a pseudo “friends of the oil patch” act as their new persona.

            Now we have a legion of Conservatives complaining about the Senate, complaining about the assisted dying bill, complaining about the lack of “moral support” for the oil industry and complaining about transparency –all of which the Conservatives were selectively blind to themselves.

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            The Doctor says:

            There are lots and lots of things that Harper and his government did that I didn’t like or agree with. I was merely pointing out the inanity of this “absolutely everything Harper has ever done is the shits” line. I never liked Harper, so I don’t feel obligated to come up with some list of other praiseworthy things he did. If you want that, go ask a fan.

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    Western Wonk says:

    Yes this liberal notices. I miss the good old days of an average guy having fish & chips with locals, seems like a more down to earth image than being in GQ.

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      Francis says:

      Trudeau may, admittedly, not be an “average Joe” but he’s done plenty of fish-and-chips dining with locals over the past few years.

      I can attest to this myself.

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    Glen says:

    I’d say his handlers realize he’s better in front of a camera than he is a microphone.

    I was scanning Sirius while driving back from city yesterday, and happened upon an interview with Trump. Out of curiosity I listed to it’s entirety.

    I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in the word salad both of them spew forth when trying to finesse themselves around the simplest of questions.

    Very telling.

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    Mr. Beer N. Hockey says:

    Need I remind both you and your readers our Prime Minister is carrying on in a political environment in which he has no leaders in the opposition and will not for some time. Well before the election I expect he will be facing swords, not butter knives in Parliament. Not that sharp opposition may matter to a Prime Minister wily enough to change Election Day to April 20th in the calendar year of his choosing.

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