Style and substance: How each leader is dressing for the part of PM

Illustration: Laura Whelan

When it comes to the leaders of Canada’s six main parties, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.

As PPC Leader Maxime Bernier, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pitch voters on their respective platforms, they’re also subtly pitching a version of themselves through the way they dress.

Experts say a party leader’s image is often crafted to reflect his or her platform and political beliefs. The leaders also work to distinguish themselves in hopes of looking like the kind of prime minister people would want.

The six Canadian party leaders posed for a photo prior to their English debate.
The six Canadian party leaders posed for a photo prior to their English debate. Canadian Press

Some style moves are obvious. For example, Trudeau wore a Liberal “L”-branded letterman jacket to an event at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on Oct. 2. Scheer struck a different tone by sporting a zip-up windbreaker at a FourQuest Energy event in Edmonton last month.

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Other decisions are more subtle. May occasionally breaks out her string of pearls. Singh might change up the colour of his turban, such as when he wore cheerful yellow for Montreal Pride or NDP orange for a leaders’ debate.

Some leaders stick to a consistent style. For example, Bernier is consistently dressed in high-end suits that reflect his target demographic, experts say.

Global News chatted with three image consultants and marketing educators — Tim Kane, chairman of Delta Media Inc., Alan Middleton, executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre, and Leah Morrigan, Principal at Image Consulting for Men — for an in-depth look at what each leader’s personal campaign style conveys about them.

The experts remarked on each leader’s style at the only English-language all-leaders’ debate on Oct. 7. Kane, Middleton and Morrigan also commented on each leader’s appearance on the campaign trail.

Maxime Bernier, People’s Party of Canada

Maxime Bernier is the People’s Party of Canada leader.
Maxime Bernier is the People’s Party of Canada leader. Illustration: Laura Whelan

Leah Morrigan: Bernier dresses well.

Alan Middleton: He was formal at the debate. In Canada, we do tend to stick to the blues and the blacks with the dark greens. It’s part of our own hierarchy of tradition. He was very interesting in probably the most expensive suit; clearly quite expensive as well. Somewhat in keeping with a … slightly more hierarchical attitude and culture.

Tim Kane: He’s a handsome and stylish man on any given day. For the debate, he dressed in a light blue suit with a neat pocket puff as he and Scheer attempted to reflect a lighter form of conservatism in their choices of wardrobe. I wouldn’t say that Bernier is a flashy dresser, as his attire is generally quite mainstream.

Yves-François Blanchet, Bloc Québécois

Yves-François Blanchet is the Bloc Quebecois leader.
Yves-François Blanchet is the Bloc Quebecois leader. Illustration: Laura Whelan

LM: He presented well in the best men’s outfit, and came across thoughtful and well-spoken.

AM: He is very much the traditional Québec authority in dress, more formal than the English. He’s a little professorial in manner, which is the right positioning for how he wants to be seen — a national, not provincial, leader.

TK: Blanchet’s appearance didn’t reflect his strong performance. His grey suit, white shirt and grey tie were very low-key, yet his performance was good and dynamic. I’d expected him to show a little of Québec blue in his wardrobe. I do recall the photo op with all the leaders just before the French debate where Blanchet was in the centre of the photo. His stance was very positive and dynamic.

Elizabeth May, Green Party of Canada

Elizabeth May is the Green Party leader.
Elizabeth May is the Green Party leader. Illustration: Laura Whelan

LM: She has her own simple, unique style and this is reflective of her party’s policies. She looks professional and uses colour and pattern, which sets her apart, not only because she’s a woman — it’s an embodiment of a different party. It’s non-traditional; she adds her own flair. Pearls are kind of like a man’s tie in a way; traditional, simple and tasteful.

AM: She manages to capture who she is and what she can do fairly well. It’s not over-masculine. It’s attractive without being sexy, so it gets across the fact that she’s a serious contender.

TK: She’s always very stylish and dresses appropriately for her age. The white pearls really helped to define her outfit and the Order of Canada showed clearly. Often you’ll see she’ll have appropriated First Nations images on her scarf or her vest. That’s with respect for First Nations. She was the only one who declared on stage that they were on the territory of the Algonquin.

Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party of Canada

Andrew Scheer is the Conservative Party leader.
Andrew Scheer is the Conservative Party leader. Illustration: Laura Whelan

LM: He generally sticks with dark blue suits like everybody else. The only deviation we see with him is the ties … Not very interesting, but I don’t know if it’s supposed to be interesting. I don’t know that the Conservatives want their leaders to deviate from that. They don’t want him to look out of the ordinary.

AM: You don’t want to make it too flashy or too colourful. His dress people are saying: “We want to make you look like a slightly professional guy next door.” It’s like they’ve decided on the style of low visibility. There’s a bit of the commentary on the Prairie boy kind of view of him. He doesn’t want to look upper class, downtown Toronto. He doesn’t want to play to the Trudeau youth. So what’s in the middle? Moderately small, middle Canada.

TK: Scheer is trying to head for middle ground because that’s where one has to be in order to govern in Canada. He’s always moving toward the centre. He reminds me of (Stephen) Harper’s early days; a little dishevelled. On his way from the bus last night, he was nervous, fussing with his button.

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party of Canada

Jagmeet Singh is the New Democratic Party leader.
Jagmeet Singh is the New Democratic Party leader. Illustration: Jagmeet Singh

LM: He’s got a really strong visual image. He wears beautifully tailored suits with peaked lapels and double-breasted jackets, which make his shoulders appear broader. He looks very strong when he walks in, sort of like a lion. He comes across as a strong figure. I met him at the White Ribbons annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event … and he was wearing a pink turban. Eyes are drawn to colour. It shows openness, flexibility and willingness to change.

AM: The idea was to not wear anything loud … but the problem with that is it minimizes differentiation between them. Singh has the advantage in that his turban was a wonderfully bright colour. It probably gave him a little point of extra difference vs. the others. It serves him well because it fits in with his persona. He comes across a little more genuine.

TK: I thought his yellow turban was symbolic of him being cautious. The NDP are often seen as an organization that might tax too much, so it could have been a cautionary symbol. In his campaigning, his personal style serves him well. He’s a handsome young man and well-groomed; he’s very personable.

Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party of Canada

Justin Trudeau is the Liberal Party leader.
Justin Trudeau is the Liberal Party leader. Illustration: Laura Whelan

LM: Rolling up his sleeves is a visual symbol of getting down to work and getting the job done. It also could be seen as removing a barrier to his audience. With the coloured socks, he’s looking hip and this embodies the progressive Liberal. He looks modern and forward-thinking in his dress. Socks are one of the few ways that men can express themselves. It’s part of a modern man’s dress.

AM: His overall casual dress was an asset back in the last election, but I think he’s beginning to send the wrong signal. I noticed he was very conservative in this dress, all buttoned up with a dark tie colour and suit, trying to look more ministerial.

TK: He was wearing an almost funeral-like suit. He was there to take the attacks and this dark suit was symbolic of his ability to withstand the attacks. The roll of the sleeves is so symbolic of “let’s get this done, get to work.” The relaxed look is appealing to young voters. Those people who brought him to power last time, he’s obviously hoping they’ll bring him back.

[These interviews have been edited and condensed.]
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