CBC News
Prime Minister Paul Martin and U2 lead singer Bono wave to fans looking to get a glimpse of the rock star as they leave Parliament Hill following their
  meeting to attend an HIV/AIDS symposium in Ottawa, May 12, 2004. Bono hailed the Prime Minister for increasing AIDS funding to Africa.
  (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)
Prime Minister Paul Martin and U2 lead singer Bono wave to fans looking to get a glimpse of the rock star as they leave Parliament Hill following their meeting to attend an HIV/AIDS symposium in Ottawa, May 12, 2004. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)
Bono to the rescue
Dan Brown, CBC News Online | May 12, 2004

Prime Minister Paul Martin and U2 lead singer Bono talk with the media at a news conference following their attendance at an HIV/AIDS symposium in Ottawa, May 12, 2004. (CP Photo)
Bono's visit to Ottawa on Wednesday represents the second occasion on which Paul Martin has enlisted the help of the U2 front man. The first came last year, when the Irish rocker gave the suspense-free Liberal leadership convention a much-needed jolt of star power and, in return, he got a forum to speak out on the issue of AIDS in Africa, one of his pet causes.

Although the AIDS crisis was the official reason for this week's mini-summit with the Prime Minister, Bono and Martin were asked by reporters about the timing of the meeting, coming as it does just weeks before an expected election call.

"I'm not here to elect Paul Martin or the Liberal Party," Bono insisted. Martin, for his part, said that inviting Bono to come to Canada has nothing to do with improving the government's political fortunes.

Observers who specialize in politics and pop culture, however, cast doubt on those denials.

"It's completely political," said Tony Tremblay, who teaches media and cultural studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. "Politicians will take any advantage."

"I think that there's a political agenda for sure, in that any time a politician does anything it's political," echoed Andrew Clark, a Toronto author who specializes in Canadian comedy.

Tremblay believes that Martin is hoping to appeal to younger voters by allying himself with Bono, who is as famous for hits like One and Pride (In The Name of Love) as he is for being politically outspoken. According to Tremblay, the Prime Minister is targeting people who are between 25 and 35 years old, a largely disgruntled demographic that was turned off by the sponsorship scandal.

But whether or not their joint appearance will result in more votes for the Liberals down the road is not easy to gauge. "That's a little bit more difficult to answer," Tremblay said.

What Tremblay will say is that not just any celebrity could help Martin win the impending election. If the Grits had called on, say, Pamela Anderson, the potential political benefits would have been very limited.

"I think his handlers were working hard and late into the night, months ago, to try to target a celebrity and I think they've done so with Bono. He appeared at the convention and he's appeared again, so he is the Martin celebrity," he said.

In Clark's view, Martin is hoping to soften his image by associating himself so closely with Bono, who in the public mind is thought of as a rock star with a conscience. In other words, getting Bono's seal of approval makes Martin look a little more hip.

Doug Long, a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., agrees.

"The Liberals are great niche hunters," he said. "They're a real brokerage party and they're always looking to put a new square in the quilt, and I think this is an attempt to get the youth vote."

Liberal leadership hopeful Paul Martin chats with U2 singer Bono in his hotel room at the Liberal leadership convention in Toronto, Ontario, Nov. 14, 2003. (CP Photo)
Clark thinks that Martin wouldn't necessarily get the same boost from a homegrown celebrity. It wouldn't be as advantageous to form a partnership with the members of the group Blue Rodeo, for example, who have never been legitimized by the American star system because their success has come almost exclusively in this country.

"I think star power works in Canadian politics as long as the star doesn't happen to be from Canada," Clark said. "It has to be Bono or somebody from somewhere else. Unless it was Geddy Lee or someone like that, it wouldn't have the same weight."

And what does the celebrity get when the worlds of entertainment and politics collide? "I think that, for Bono, it legitimizes his political maneuvers," said Clark. By having the leader of a very reputable nation on his side, Bono increases his power base.

"Bono's still in the business of selling records, and so is Paul Martin in the business of getting elected again for a fourth Liberal term so, in a way, the action is complimentary to both, I would think," added Tremblay.

Which isn't to say that the pair's motives are completely impure. Clarks says that even though the two men come from completely different backgrounds, Bono sees in Martin a kindred spirit: "There is a genuine kind of meeting of minds there." And he notes that if Martin were to stop working on Bono's pet causes, Bono would likely withdraw his support.

What's so interesting about the pairing is that it's a very rare one in Canada. Unlike in the United States, where there is a long history of celebrities lending their star power to political campaigns - and becoming politicians themselves - those kinds of crossovers don't take place in Canada very frequently.

This may be the case because this country has a different kind of celebrity tradition. In Canada, we tend to make celebrities out of athletes or intellectuals. And in Canada, party ties are much more important to getting elected.

Long points to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a perfect example of the differences between the two countries. Schwarzenegger was able to turn his box-office clout into political capital because there is a much more individualistic culture in the States. Despite being married to a Kennedy and belonging to the Republican Party, Long says that "his Arnold-ness stands out way more" than any other part of his identity.

In Canada, on other hand, party matters more. "The party system in Canada absorbs these people more than it does in the States," he said. "They get consumed. They get used, but they don't dominate the party system or the political system."

Even a business star like Belinda Stronach had a hard time being taken seriously when she ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and the world of business is not that far removed from the world of politics. Long also discounts the recent talk of the Conservatives drafting Hockey Night In Canada personality Don Cherry to run for parliament, even though Cherry has a huge public following.

"I don't expect Don Cherry to be able to write his own ticket to anything."

Convention culture

Celebrity politicians

Disclosure: Pop politics

Bono says Canada is 'clever' (May 12, 2004)

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