A long, long time ago, when the Earth was still young, and dinosaurs like me roamed Parliament Hill, I cornered my boss, The Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien.
He was the leader of the Opposition, back then, and I was his special assistant. I’m not sure why he kept me around, but I think I amused him.
Anyway, I was excited about something in the news, and saw it as a great opportunity for Chretien to get some media coverage. Others in the office agreed with me, as I recall.
Chretien listened to me, grinning, then shook his head.
“Young man,” he said, which is what he always said to me (and still does) when he was about to disagree with me, “I don’t need to be in the newspaper every day. I shouldn’t be. Mr. Mulroney is in the paper every day, and what has it done for him?”
It was true. With constitutional machinations, with battles about the GST, with windy pronouncements about everything and nothing, 24/7, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was then supported by 12% of Canadian voters. Twelve per cent!
Chretien was a big believer in less is more — undersell and overperform. So, after the election, he made me chief of staff at Public Works and Government Services, and instructed me to cut the living you-know-what out of the federal advertising budget, which I did.
Chretien: “The Tories polled and advertised all the time. It got them two seats. Cut.”
The moral of the tale, generally, is that Jean Chretien is always right. More specifically, the moral this: If you are in politics, and people are seeing and hearing you too much, they’ll get sick of your face.
Which brings us to another Right Honourable, Justin Trudeau. Seen him around, lately? Trust me: You haven’t.
He had one press conference in the first week of January, billed as a COVID-19 update, and let his assembled ministers do much of the talking. Same thing a week later. COVID talk, ministers present. Yawn.
Over on his web site, it’s the same. Two (2) press releases so far this year — one about Nova Scotia, one about changes in the federal bureaucracy. His office has issued statements on various things, like the sad passing of former NDP leader Alexa McDonough. But precious little else.
What does it mean? It means Justin Trudeau has rendered himself less visible, Virginia. And it’s paying dividends — because, nowadays, the federal Liberal leader is more popular than not. And his principal opponent, Erin O’Toole, is doing very badly, indeed.
Elsewhere, leaders who are too public aren’t too popular: U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to cite just two examples, are all over the front pages these days. And their approval numbers are basement-level.
It may be that there is no smart strategy at work here. It may simply be that Trudeau has been chastened by the election result, and is off at Harrington Lake, licking his wounds.
But it’s more likely that Trudeau’s brain trust has finally (thankfully) embraced the Chretien approach to visibility, and it’s decidedly working. And, given how Trudeau used to be, that’s a big, big change.
Because, back in the early days of his regime, Trudeau was the Kardashian of Canadian politics: He was everywhere, like a computer virus. Cover of Rolling Stone, flirting with Melania Trump, documenting every waking moment on Instagram, his medium of choice.
And now? Poof. He’s vanished.
And it’s working.
— Warren Kinsella is CEO of the Daisy Group, a public relations and crisis communications firm