, 11.21.2017 07:15 AM

Politics is pictures

Conservatives don’t like Justin Trudeau.  They really, really don’t like him.

This writer is a regular on Evan Solomon’s CFRA radio show with Alise Mills and Karl Belanger.  My friends Alise and Karl are articulate and thoughtful advocates (unlike me), and they are prepared to criticize their own political party when it is warranted (like me).

Evan invites us onto his much-listened-to show, we are told, because we don’t just parrot partisan talking points.  There’s too much of that on the airwaves – particularly over at CBC – and Solomon prefers panellists who are prepared to offer the occasional mea culpa.

Alise is (notionally) the Conservative strategist, Karl is (usually) the New Democrat strategist, and I am cast in the role of Liberal strategist (mostly).  One topic, last week: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit with the Philippines’ madman,  Rodrigo Duterte, and whether Trudeau would raise Duterte’s human rights violations.

I vigorously defended Trudeau, and insisted that he would do so (and he did).  On every international excursion, I said, Trudeau has never hesitated to press human rights issues.

Alise, however, was having none of it.  And she was intently focussed on one part of Trudeau’s Philippines visit in particular: the part where Trudeau popped by a fried chicken place in Manila to get something to eat.  He had a lot of cameras in tow, as Prime Ministers usually do.

Trudeau charmed the locals, ordered the chicken, and left.

Alise, however, was mightily unimpressed.  And, if you were to eyeball the offerings of the conservative commentariat – and, inter alia, conservative commenters online – you’ll see she is not alone.  They went bananas about something that seemed quite innocent.

I have pondered all this, and come up with a theory.  Here it is: conservatives know that Justin Trudeau is arguably the best retail politician Canada has had since my former boss, Jean Chretien.  When it comes to glad-handing and baby-balancing, Trudeau is without equal.  When you think about it, you might agree that there isn’t an elected politician alive who is as good at this mano-a-mano stuff as Justin Trudeau.

Now, of course, he overdoes it sometimes.  His Superman stunt on Halloween was, as Mashable noted, “a little bit too self-aware.”  Sniffed Mashable’s guy: “Trudeau is clearly fishing for more media attention, a tactic his administration has used for some time now. While Trudeau may be the darling politician to some, his obvious PR moves are getting old real quick.”

Maybe.  Perhaps.

But if we’re being fair, we have to acknowledge that every politician, everywhere, fishes for media attention.  They all do stunts.  The aforementioned Chretien, for  instance, rode on scooters and water skis.  Trudeau’s Dad did pirouettes.  Bill Clinton donned sunglasses and played the saxophone.  Barack Obama went kitesurfing, mugged with countless kids, and openly loved his wife.

Wait: that’s not “every politician.”  That’s just progressive politicians.

And therein lies the best explanation for Alise’s pique: conservative partisans detest Justin Trudeau because he (like Messrs. Chretien, Clinton, Obama, et al.) is really good at visuals.  And conservative politicians generally aren’t.

Stephen Harper at the Calgary Stampede, dressed up like a wretched Woody in Toy Story.  Robert Stanfield famously fumbling a football.  Joe Clark losing his luggage and walking into a soldier’s bayonet.  And Blandy Scheer, who just last week released a commercial – innovatively titled “I’m Andrew Scheer” – that was so bad, and so fundamentally weird, you half expect David Lynch to appear in it, too, holding an owl and a log and talking backwards.

Conservatives aren’t very good at photo ops.  They just aren’t.  Watch Donald Trump, the Mango Mussolini, the next time he is compelled to shake someone’s extended hand in the Rose Garden.  He usually looks at it like it is a wet dog turd – or, conversely, he latches onto it like a barnacle on the underside of a barge.  It makes for fun television.

Conservatives, in their tiny black hearts, know this about themselves. Distilled down to its base elements, their ideology is misanthropy.  So, they avoid interactions with other humans wherever and whenever possible.

Trudeau, meanwhile, doesn’t.  It’s the one thing he’s really good at.

And that’s why conservatives hate him when he does selfies and baby-balancing and cheery photo ops.

They wish they could do that stuff, too, and they’re jealous.


  1. Lance says:

    No, we “hate” him when he does it because when he does, it is usually eye-rollingly contrived beyond belief and fake. Everything – EVERYTHING – about him is gilded. And if he is better at being gilded, it is certainly nothing to crow about or emulate. If C(c)onservatives would stop trying to emulate that type of disengenuity, they’d be better for it.

    • Sean says:

      pretty much my feelings exactly… its also that with most politicians we get 10 real issues based stories and one cute silly story. With JT those numbers are reversed.

    • Patricia Collins says:

      Trudeau is genuinely likeable, as pretty much everyone who has met him will attest. Not perfect, but a nice guy. People believe that he means well and wants to make things better. I have no idea whether Scheer is likeable or not, beyond the fact that members of his own caucus apparently call him Andrew Smear. But I do know that he does not mean well. He will implement the same agenda that Harper had, or possibly worse because Scheer is a true theocrat. When he tries to present himself as a nice, middle-of-the-road guy, as in that idiotic commercial, we do not believe him, so it comes across as hypocritical. Ditto Patrick Brown.

  2. the salamander horde says:

    .. Interesting tilt there.. & some highly accurate jabs.. and before I forget.. well done you n Lisa’s takedown of rascists in the Beach(es) ..

    I myself have zero argue with you appraisal of Trudeau & his natural appeal.. he certainly recognizes ‘how its done’ .. Your article does not examine NDP muchly.. but any posotion Alise Mills takes is pretty darn blatently partisan.. The Greens ? MIA

    As for Scheer.. ugh.. its the Hamish Marshall ‘school’ of ‘soft’ Ezra stridency & Kouvalis style ‘flag wrapping’ .. meets the Ken Boesenkool pseudo intellectualism with an unhealthy dose of Jason Kenney style posturing..

    We already had the CPC Harper branding of CANADA plastered on his portly & manly arctic & military adventures.. the photo I will never forget is Harper on the arctic ice in his parka & Joe Oliver joing him, in a business suit fer gawd sake !

    Expect many to attack Singh for wrestling the ‘leadership’ of the NDP as did Patrick Brown – Conservative, via retail membership drives.. kinda like UNICEF boxes on halloween.. who knows how that unfolded eh? I recall neighborhood bullies in Moore Park crowing about ‘their take’ & and well stocked with ‘smokes’ & jelly tots for months afterwards..

    Cash is king.. or queen.. in todays political whirled.. yes whirled.. And yes.. one single phot can trash a political or partisan campaign..

    I do recall the New York or Boston candidate, complaining that his scandalous behaviour was not problematic, way back in the day.. but there was a published cartoonist who was destroying him.. Amen.. Amen ..

  3. BlueGritr says:

    Conservatives constantly lose because their war room is inept. If they can find a way to be on the wrong side of an issue, they will.

  4. SM says:

    At the very heart of it is the nature of conservatism. What is joyful about say, cutting emergency room availability for lower income areas, like Pallister has done in Manitoba? One can sit at home and delight in sticking it to the poor, but taking public delight in that is generally not good form.

  5. Sean McLaughlin says:

    Scheer’s ad could’ve taken an interesting turn if he instead declared, “I’m Negan!”

  6. Bruce M says:

    Missed the mark, entirely. And the saddest thing is, you know it. All political leaders do the stupid baby, Jet-Ski and marathon race photo ops. When Harper was PM, he attended every Red Blacks game he could, while in Ottawa. People lined up for the entire half-time and he’d stay with them into the 3rd quarter, though you could see he was dying to get back to the game.
    So why do Trudeau’s (staged) photo-ops irritate me so? Because there is nothing else to him. I know that as soon as he opens his mouth, a stream of “Umms” will come out; a Butts script.

    That is why it irritates this Tory. (Unlike Chretien, who could hold his own with anyone.)

  7. Lyndon Dunkley says:

    I sadly agree with your retail politics assessment of JT compared to anything the Conservatives have to offer. Even the conservative business leaders I know in Alberta who have met him, have been greatly impressed by his ability to light up a room.

    However, my 2017 Christmas wish is JT and his government begin to get judged on their results and not just their “good intentions” as is nearly always the case. Take you Duterte example – JT bringing up human rights issues with him has the same chance of success as Harper telling Putin to get out of the Ukraine, yet JT gets adulation for his efforts while Harper got pilloried. The Liberals send these massive delegations to every climate conference in the world and denigrate coal at every chance yet there’s no plan to meet our targets and we’ll gladly export coal to anyone who wants it. Don’t even get me started on the middle class bs or the fact I’m convinced Butts rolls up his sleeves for him every morning. “JT isn’t lazy – his sleeves are always rolled up he’s working so hard”

  8. Ridiculosity says:

    “Conservatives aren’t very good at photo opps,” as clearly evidenced by the banner ad of Patrick Brown that I am subjected to every time I’m on this page. There is something positively reptilian about his visage. Made even slimier by the slippery sheen of excessive gel that’s been amply applied to his hair. If the shot was head-on instead of a side shot I’m certain it’d reveal he was speaking with a forked tongue (both physically and metaphorically). The real reason Conservatives don’t like Justin Trudeau? Jealousy. And envy.

  9. Rob Smith says:

    Two points–as a Red Tory turned Liberal–I wish you wouldn’t compare the old Progressive Conservatives to current ones. The former were better with better ideas. Butyou ar mostly right and I very much admire and support JT. And I couldn’t help, even as a dedicated Stanfield guy (I’m Nova Scotian, after all), but admire P.E.T.

    • Pedant says:

      Considering the old PCs were identical to the Liberals, what’s the point in having two parties like that? You consider the PCs a party with better ideas simply because they, like you, were left-wing.

  10. The Doctor says:

    I don’t have a problem with Trudeau’s skill at retail politics, even though it does often veer into cringe-worthy cheesiness. He’s good at it and it gets results for him. My problem with Trudeau is that far too often, he’s a panderer. He trots out clichéd liberal, progressive bromides and clearly does certain things purely for the sake of tossing bones to the faithful. That’s not leadership, it’s pandering. And there’s nothing virtuous about that.

  11. Charlie says:

    Conservatives can hate Trudeau until their blue in the fucking face. But at the end of the day, they need to make their own case as to why the Conservative view on governance is the better than the current Liberal one.

    Hate and distaste for Trudeau isn’t going to put the CPC back in the government benches.

    Alise Mills and her ilk don’t seem to understand that.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how going door to door being completely incensed by Trudeau’s personality is going to help endear Conservatives to Canadians in the lower mainland and the GTA.

  12. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Black hearts?


    Your analysis is a tad too overgeneralized.

    • The Doctor says:

      Ya think?

    • Pedant says:

      It also:
      1) misunderstands the difference between extroverts and introverts
      2) ignores conservatives who are/were good at retail politics : Reagan, Mulroney, Klein, GW Bush, even Mike Harris was pretty good in his early days and Patrick Brown is improving
      3) ignores progressives who were bad at it : Dion, Ignatieff, Hillary Clinton
      4) ignores the fact that non-retail oriented politicians can and do win : Right Honourable Stephen Harper

  13. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Justin’s election was a long overdue breath of fresh air. Harper was an overdose of substance looking for a smidgen of style. He never got there. Trudeau is all style in search of protracted substance. He could very well find it but better hurry before the next campaign.

  14. jay says:

    High school explains a lot about conservatives. They hate the popular kids.

  15. Pedant says:

    And therein lies the best explanation for Alise’s pique: conservative partisans detest Justin Trudeau because he (like Messrs. Chretien, Clinton, Obama, et al.) is really good at visuals. And conservative politicians generally aren’t.

    No, with respect Warren, I do not accept that Justin Trudeau can be placed in the same sentence with the three men you have listed.

    Clinton and Obama are first-rate thinkers. True intellectuals both of them. A thinking Conservative can respect them for that. Ditto PET.

    Chretien was a self-made man who, through his own smarts and determination, made it to the top on his own merits. Again, Conservatives can and do respect him for that even if they disagree with his politics.

    Justin Trudeau is an intellectual flyweight who rose to power on his name and alleged good looks. Quite honestly that should irritate anyone who values merit and depth, regardless of one’s own political leanings.

  16. Matthew says:

    Remember Stock the Jock? The Conservatives remember it too. Warren Kinsella crucified him with ridicule, and a stuffed toy, so they are pretty certain ridicule sometimes works. It is just that they do not understand how to be popular, let alone how to stop someone else from being popular.

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