Unpacking the Politics: Justin Trudeau and the value of ‘soft power’

A spread in Vogue magazine. A photo-op at the airport as the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees touched down on Canadian soil. A glittering dinner at the White House.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may not have had the easiest start to his mandate as Canada’s economy struggles back to life, but he seems to understand the power of imagery, agreed the West Block’s panel of experts this weekend.

“He speaks a language that neither Harper nor Mulcair understood: The language of the image and he’s very comfortable in it,” Sirius XM radio’s Evan Solomon said.

“During the campaign they had a Chatelaine issue where he talked about his family. Why? Internal polls showed Canadians did not view Justin Trudeau as a father figure. They viewed him as a kind of cool, single guy. They wanted to make him a family figure, so they had those pictures. Now there’s a Vogue issue. He’s very cleverly mastering the image.”

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Trudeau is riding high due to his understanding of how to wield so-called ‘soft power,’ The Ottawa Citizen’s Mark Kennedy agreed, but there’s a flip-side to that coin.

“People may become tired of that,” Kennedy predicted. “I mean, it might be fine now, (but) a year or two or three years from now, if they don’t deliver on their platform, people may quickly become fatigued of that.”

The panel also tackled the first week back in the House of Commons. While MPs seem to be speaking off-the-cuff more often and abandoning the written notes that seemed omnipresent during the last Parliament, the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt said there is still plenty of room for improvement in decorum.

“You know, it hasn’t been scintillating. I’ve appreciated a slight elevation in tone. You see them falling back into their bad habits.”

The biggest surprise, Solomon said, has been interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.

“She has been absolutely superb, concise questions, confident questions,” he said. “As a minister, you never got anything out of her. This is the most unexpected turnaround. I think she’s done really well. And Tom Mulcair does extremely well in the House, but he does look like someone stole his red bike.”

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