Trudeau’s ‘likeable dude’ image a deliberate contrast with Harper’s, academics say
Mere hours after winning the election, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was at a Montreal metro station, shaking hands and snapping selfies with commuters.
It’s a continuation of a campaign strategy that featured Trudeau at crowded public events, personally greeting everyone in attendance.
The Liberals purposely played up an image of Trudeau as “a likeable dude” to contrast him against the more aloof Stephen Harper, says Thierry Giasson, politics professor at Université Laval.
“They knew that he couldn’t run on experience. They knew that he couldn’t run on competence, even. And so they had to find a way to introduce him and frame him as a leader that would contrast with those other values that Stephen Harper was bringing to the table,” Giasson said.
So they took Trudeau’s interpersonal strengths and ran with them, Giasson added.
“You need to be very aware of what your candidate, what your leader has to offer and bring this out as much as you can. I think the Liberals really understood that they have a people person, that they had a guy who was willing to shake every single hand in a room and they saw that as his most valued characteristic and they magnified this…
“The selfies are a perfect contemporary depiction of this strategy.”
Trudeau also emphasized his accessibility to contrast Harper’s more scripted style, says Queen’s University politics professor Jonathan Rose.
“Being accessible to the press and glad handing with the public are two very powerful and clear ways he can convey this.”
Canadians seem to be loving it. A clip of Trudeau shaking hands at the Montreal metro has millions of hits on the Global News website. Everywhere he goes, people are taking selfies with the future prime minister.
Watch: Jean Chretien lauds Justin Trudeau for his man-of-the-people style
“I think it’s very good,” said former prime minister Jean Chretien, who was also known for his ability to work a crowd. “I was always like that. I’m still like that. I love people. He’s comfortable with people and that’s very important because it makes people feel good. It was a very good move on his part to be at the subway station yesterday and see the people. People love to see their prime minister.”
And of course, it helped Trudeau win the election. “He was able to present to Canadians the best image of what Canadians wanted their prime minister to be: young, energetic, accessible and empathetic,” said Giasson. “And it worked because it’s such a huge contrast to what we’ve been seeing for the last 10 years.”
How long will the honeymoon period last?
Wading into a crowd as prime minister is very different than doing so as the leader of the third-place party says security consultant Larry Busch, a retired RCMP officer who used to be in charge of VIP security in Ontario.
“A prime minister is a target solely because of his position, not necessarily because of his personality,” he said.
“One of the things that will happen is that the RCMP will sit down and have a chat with Mr. Trudeau and basically let him know how they have to do their business in order to provide him and his family with the proper level of security,” he said.
For example, as leader of the third party, Trudeau had no official security detail for much of the last two years. There was even a break-in at his home, while his wife and children were sleeping (Trudeau was in Winnipeg at the time). Although officers were added during the election campaign, being prime minister means even more security.
And while Trudeau likely wants to have more direct contact with Canadians than some previous prime ministers, Busch said, anyone seeking to harm him would be aware of selfie-taking proclivities.
“As much as he might not be used to that level of security, he’s going to have to also realize that it is incumbent on him to recognize the expertise of the RCMP and that this is all for his own good.”
“There’s going to be a partnership between the new prime minister and the RCMP until they each get used to each other and they can then fine-tune the protection until they find a comfort level on each side.”
That doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to go shake hands in the subway anymore, Busch said. It will just require more work and preparation from the RCMP when he does.
And at some point, the “honeymoon period” will fade and Canadians will likely be less enamoured with the personality of their new prime minister Rose said.
“Like all leaders he will grow into the position and as he does we can expect his demeanor and comportment to change. How [that will happen] is anyone’s guess.”
And you can’t make tough political decisions while ensuring everyone likes you, Giasson said.
“When this is going to happen, we don’t know. But he’s going to have to make important decisions really soon.”