Really, Justin Trudeau? Push-ups?!

Really, Mr. Trudeau? Push-ups?!

Trudeau seems to conflate ‘core strength’ with core political values, writes Anne Kingston

Screen grab of a video where Prime Ministry Justin Trudeau is seen doing one-arm pushups with Invictus Games athletes.

Screen grab of a video where Prime Ministry Justin Trudeau is seen doing one-arm pushups with Invictus Games athletes.

Justin Trudeau’s showy one-armed push-up this week was surely enough to make even the most steadfast admirers of his abdominal tone hold up a white flag of surrender. A video designed to go viral showed the PM join in, and try to trump, a faux-competitive Twitter war between the Obamas and Kensington Palace to promote the Invictus Games founded by Prince Harry. In it, Trudeau is front and centre, relishing the spotlight, surrounded by Canada’s Invictus Games team, comprised of wounded, injured, or sick military personnel or veterans.

Our Prime Minister’s core strength and vigorous physicality have been central to his political brand from the start: winning a boxing match with then-senator Patrick Brazeau was what made people, for the first time, see him as a serious “contender” in the political ring. We’ve seen his mastery of the “peacock” yoga pose in a 2011 photo taken in the Liberal caucus room. And we’ve watched him stage-falling down a flight of stairs in a decades-old video. Likeability is equally a part of his brand, and we’ve also watched Trudeau cuddle (and out-cute) pandas, bromance Barack Obama, and even win over Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and rapping genius behind the Broadway sensation Hamilton; after meeting the Trudeaus, he tweeted: “And yes the PM of Canada is delightful. We literally geeked out about Shakespeare for like 5 minutes. I’m in love with him too y’all.”

Trudeau’s personal warmth and his penchant for hugging and selfie-taking his way across the country offered a stark, and much-desired, alternative to the emotionally remote Stephen Harper, a master of political opacity and media control. But our new Prime Minister is turning out to be Canada’s Zelig, less statesman than character destined to pop up at any culturally happening moment: If he showed up on Inside Amy Schumer, who’d be surprised?

But, as with a precocious child interrupting a dinner party to sing the alphabet backwards, what was once adorable, or a breath of fresh air, can became wearying, even cringe-making. That’s what we saw last month when the PM went to New York City to sign the Paris climate change agreement; the media was invited not to a scrum where questions could be asked but to a photo op of Trudeau working out at a Brooklyn gym. Trudeau’s messaging seems to conflate “core strength”—as in abs—with core political values.

Since taking office, Trudeau has proven as adept as Harper, if not more, in controlling his messaging. Tellingly, there was no “rap-off” with Miranda: Trudeau would never submit to a situation in which he couldn’t prevail.

“He’s playing a game that he knows the media is going to follow,” says political scientist Alex Marland, author of Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control. “A smart politician knows it’s important to come out with a sound bite; Justin Trudeau knows it’s important to come out with an image bite.”

Trudeau’s acutely aware of his own theatrical impact, Marland notes. His book recounts a scene captured by the CBC backstage at his swearing-in ceremony in which he’s staging media imagery: “Getting off [the] bus is such an ugly shot, we’re making sure that they get the walkover from 24 [Sussex],” Trudeau tells his communications director.

The downside, ironically, is the same “cult of the leader” we saw with Harper and see now in the U.S. with Donald Trump. “The more media attention paid to one individual, the more powerful that individual becomes,” Marland says. This would be paradoxical for a leader who has promised government by cabinet and a decentralized PMO.

Another paradox is the Trudeau government’s long-awaited unmuzzling of scientists, announced in November. Yet we’re still not hearing from scientists. Instead, we’ve got the PM reciting quantum-computing basics in answer to a reporter’s question about ISIS that began with a jokey mention of quantum computing. Trudeau hijacked the moment; his eventual answer to the ISIS query has been forgotten; by then, geek history had been rewritten.

At New York University last month, where Trudeau participated in the town hall format he favours, he told students to make leaders accountable. “Young people need to demand more from their politicians, their business leaders, their community leaders,” he said. Yet his own international charm offensive—trips to Washington, Davos, Paris, New York—leaves little time to answer questions in House of Commons, where the political executive is held to account.

It has reached the point where even the media-savvy American President is calling out Trudeau’s hip and hunky ubiquity, albeit in a joke at the White House Correspondents dinner last weekend. “Somebody recently said to me, ‘Mr. President, you are so yesterday, Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you. He’s so handsome, he’s so charming, he’s the future,” the President told the room before delivering the punch line: “I said, ‘Justin, just give it a rest.’ ” A calisthenics-weary nation nods its head in agreement.


Really, Mr. Trudeau? Push-ups?!

  1. The big difference between Trudeau and Harper/Trump etc. is that Trudeau is a caring, civil, and not a totally self-obsessed narcissist. He is putting Canada on the world stage which can only reap benefits for us!

    • Komarade Rudd you actually said “Trudeau is a caring, civil, and not a totally self obsessed narcissist.” . What is the Colour is the sky on your Planet???

      • Blue…as opposed to grey for you.

        • It wouldn’t matter to most of these righties and even some far lefties what color the sky is, they are still going around wearing those rose colored glasses, and until they remove them, they will never know what the color of the sky is, so the comment from JOEFRMEDM is considered MOOT!

    • This man has taken narcissistic behaviour to heights never before imagined. Harper may have been a control freak, but at least we didn’t have to endure his proof of virility on a weekly basis. What a joke.

    • Tom,

      Let’s see what you think when Trudeau is faced with a situaiton where he has to make a hard decision. Harper was the leader who could make the hard choices.

      Trudeau will need to convene his Ministers, contact experts, and after all is said and done, he will ask Geral Butts what he should do.

      Trudeau can only be trusted to provide one-liners and photo-ops.

      • Yeah. Hard choices like letting the PMO control parliament? Or passing legislation that was unconstitutional? Or pandering to his base?

    • Funny, then word narcissist comes from the God who could stop admiring his reflection. I do not recall Harper being enamoured with his own reflection in mirrors or pictures such as selfies. One cannot say the same about our current PM, who is known for his love of is own picture in a selfie. Perhaps you are a little mixed up when it comes to your descriptions of who exactly is the obsessed narcissist. You could us with sources indicating that Harper was always attempting to get his photo taken. We already have more than ample sources that Jt loves getting his photo taken.

  2. This man is becoming an embarrassment … did no one actually tell him the election is over, he can stop the campaign and start running the country instead of travelling and mugging in front of every camera he can find. Of course, his training is Drama so maybe this is all he knows.

  3. I think someone seems to be jealous or not understanding Trudeau at all!

    • Trupode is the true definition of self absorbed and narcissistic… This guy’s an embarrassment, everytime I see his media whoring and the retards that fall for this crap, it makes me cringe at the stupidity people have.

    • Juanita….

      Let’s see your list of Justin’s accomplishments. one’s that matter. Snow board instructor, and part time drama teacher dont’ count, because those are not really accomplishments. Just so you know.

      • How about leading the third place party to a commanding majority in his first election, and increasing his popularity after he became Prime Minister.

        Most people would find that to be an accomplishment. Especially since he didn’t have to rely on vote splitting and voter suppression tactics in order to do it.

    • We want to understand our PM. We really do. After all, he isn’t just the PM for the 39,4 percent who voted for him but rather for every Canadian. The decisions he makes affect us all. It is in our best interest when he is wise, forthright and honest. When he tells mistruths about the opposition not cooperating with organizing committees to review election reform that isn’t helpful. When he takes a year and a 1/2 to decriminalize cannabis and legalize it, that isn’t helpful. When Marc Garneau says it isn’t our business what the federal government paid in compensation in town in Quebec where an American rail company with American staff carrying Bakker crude caused an explosion and many deaths through their negligence, that is unacceptable. The federal government didn’t lie about how much compensation they paid for other disasters in Canada. Why was this not transparent?

  4. I have never been comfortable with all these “virility displays”. I did think the boxing match and canoe paddle before the debates were effective at showing his confidence, but challenging Harper and Mulcair to do the Grouse Grind was a bit of a cheap shot.

    Still, it is amusing to see Harper supporters complaining about Trudeau using his image to promote himself. If image wasn’t important, then Harper would not have spent so much of his donors’ money trying to create a negative image of Dion, Ignatieff and Trudeau.

  5. When I watch Trudeau, I always have the uneasy feeling that I am watching a staged reality TV program.

    • Ha!

  6. Wanna be PM and wanna be gigolo. Failing miserably at both!

  7. Personally I find it so dismaying that we as a country can’t step into the same sense of intelligence, humour, and pride that Trudeau is displaying. We can’t seem to step into this new world where politics and social media blend…we don’t get it, and we have become toxic in our criticism. But we as Canadians have always been that way…if we think someone’s head is getting too big, we crucify them, rather than ask ourselves if we are worthy…and be bigger and better ourselves.