March 6, 2016 12:23 pm
Updated: March 6, 2016 2:37 pm

Unpacking the Politics: assessing Trudeau’s celebrity status

Sun Media's David Akin and Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star unpack the politics of the prime minister's state dinner at the White House with President Obama later this week.


Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, will head to Washington later this week for the first state dinner featuring a Canadian prime minister in nearly two decades.

It will undoubtedly be a glittering affair, but as Trudeau’s celebrity status is cemented, the West Block’s panel of journalists says he must walk a fine line between fostering better relations with the U.S. and over-the-top showboating.

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“I think this is all about showing that Americans love Justin Trudeau and … the Trudeau government thinks they can leverage that into something with the American relationship,” said Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star.

“The question is what does Obama have to give? And what do they want? I still haven’t heard what the Trudeau government exactly wants from this relationship.”

Sun Media’s David Akin recalled watching Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama meeting for the first time in Manila, and said the two men obviously get along.

“After, (Trudeau) was mobbed by a bunch of youngish women in Manila, we asked him about the celebrity factor, does it get in the way of doing things?” Akin recalled. “And his answer (was) no it doesn’t. He’s going to use it to advance Canada’s interest to get people thinking about Canada. And if that happens as a result of the state dinner, I think that’s just good for Canada.”

Delacourt said the connections between the two administrations have actually been growing for quite a while, with Trudeau’s campaign staff taking advice from Obama’s people, and his right-hand advisor, Gerald Butts, travelling to Washington within two weeks of the Liberal victory.

Still, the panelists said, there’s a limit to what Canadians will tolerate in terms of celebrity status and performing for the cameras.

“I do think, especially if our economy continues to be lousy, that there is going to be a point where someone out of work in a year’s time kind of goes, ‘I really like the guy and he’s nice and they look good, but really, I need some stuff done,'” Akin said.

Delacourt agreed, noting there was a distinct backlash when former prime minister Brian Mulroney sang an impromptu duet in 1985 with Ronald Reagan.

“I would not recommend that Sophie or Justin sing while they’re down at the White House,” she said. “Canadians don’t like that.”

Watch the full panel discussion above.

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