Opinion

Please Advise! Why Is Trudeau Everywhere This Summer?

He’s at the Hip show, he’s at Stampede, he’s shirtless on your vacay. Is it all a stunt, Dr. Steve?

By Steve Burgess 29 Aug 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

Dear Dr. Steve,

Justin Trudeau has been everywhere this summer. He’s at every gay pride parade; he’s at the Calgary Stampede; he’s at the Tragically Hip farewell concert; he’s posing shirtless with vacationers. I suppose it’s a nice change from the last guy, but it seems to me like grandstanding. Isn’t this just a series of political stunts?

Signed,

Skeptic

Dear Skep,

As you say, it is a change. I would have been interested to see how Prime Minister Stephen Harper would have handled the Tragically Hip show—I am guessing a mandatory guest appearance singing “Sweet Child ‘O Mine,” or a revamped version of “New Orleans Is Sinking” that insists climate change is not a factor.

I notice the CBC did not offer the recently retired Mr. Harper a farewell tribute concert. Maybe Cee-Lo Green wasn’t available. It could have been a happy show though, with excitement building for the big moment when he actually leaves the stage. How thrilling to see the crowd on their feet, chanting, “No encore!”, the traditional lighting of Bics replaced by rushing the stage with flaming torches.

As for Justin, he is not going anywhere. Rather he seems to be everywhere. If Trudeau failed to show up at your child’s birthday party to make balloon animals, it’s only because you forgot to invite him—he was probably standing just outside the fence in a clown suit, waving. But Trudeau’s summer fun activities don’t really qualify as stunts. Glad-handing and photo ops are in a separate category than true political stunts, which are really more the province of opposition leaders and usually intended to make some telling point. Not surprisingly, they often go wrong.

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s recent effort went about as badly as such things can go. In an attempt to prove privatized British commuter trains are overcrowded, Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor of a train he described as “ram-packed.” Alas, there was CCTV footage (promptly released by Virgin, which runs the trains) showing Corbyn passing up empty seats in favour of his floor perch. Result: ridicule. The Times subsequently printed a photo of a chalkboard outside a restaurant: “We have plenty of seats but you are welcome to sit on the floor if you think it will make more people like you.” Most agree Corbyn actually has a point about overcrowding. But it was lost in the dishonesty and ineptitude of his ploy.

I don’t really think Justin is the stunt type. His pre-prime ministerial activities are instructive. Trudeau performed stunts of a sort. His boxing match with Patrick Brazeau was a fascinating oddity—a high-risk activity with the potential to rank among the most disastrous political photo ops since Emperor Commodus got into the Colosseum ring with Maximus. Instead it became a bizarre triumph. But what was it about? Beating Senate corruption? A boxing match with Mike Duffy might have made an actual point (as well as a killing on pay per view).

Likewise the striptease, promptly seized upon by Conservative strategists and replayed in attack ads. There was a goal there—to raise money for charity—but again, apparently no larger point. It was just Justin, the happy peeler. And for that reason the attack ads failed. Corbyn’s train trick went awry because it came to seem calculated and false. Trudeau’s various antics rarely seem to be the result of any calculation whatever. He’s just a dude who does fun stuff.

Certainly the rules change when one is elected Prime Minister. Enthusiastic support for Pride parades is fine for both a national leader and an opposition politician, whereas a fundraising striptease is perhaps not quite so Prime Ministerial (although come to think of it opposition leader Robert Stanfield never did one either).

Appearances like Trudeau’s at the Tragically Hip farewell are all well and good as long as one avoids taking controversial positions on the merits of Bobcaygeon vs. Blow at High Dough. The real danger is that people may conclude concerts and parades are all you’re good for. It’s like the suspicion that often attaches itself to fashionably dressed people. There’s nothing wrong with looking good. It just makes some wonder if that’s all you care about.  [Tyee]

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