Politics

Cut out the cardboard cut-outs of Trudeau, Canadian diplomats told

Selfie-friendly images of PM are banned at promotional events in U.S.

Trudeau cut out at 2017 SXSW Arts Festival, Austin, Tex.

This group selfie was posted recently on Twitter, showing visitors appearing with a cardboard cut-out of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an arts event in Austin, Texas. (twitter.com)

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Canada's diplomats have been told to stop using life-size, cardboard cut-outs of Justin Trudeau at promotional events.

Stand-up images of the prime minister have appeared at Canadian events in the United States, attracting visitors, many of whom have snapped fake-Trudeau selfies and then posted them on social media.

Trudeau cut out at Washington Embassy, July 1, 2016

Global Affairs Canada ordered this cut-out of Trudeau for a Canada Day event in Washington last year. This picture appeared on Twitter that day. (twitter.com)

A Trudeau cut-out appeared at Canada Day events last year at the embassy in Washington, for example, and as recently as last week, at a Canadian tourism booth at the South by Southwest arts festival in Austin, Texas.

But after Conservative party researchers alerted news media, including CBC News, to the images, Global Affairs Canada ordered an end to the practice.

"We are aware of instances where our missions in the United States had decided to purchase and use these cut-outs," department spokesperson Michael O'Shaughnessy said in an email.

"The missions have been asked to no longer use these for their events."

A Trudeau cut-out was rush-ordered by the embassy last June from an online firm based in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., for $147.79 US including shipping, access-to-information documents obtained by the Conservatives show.

Bureaucrats at the time called the idea a "hoot" that would generate "some serious selfie action," released emails say.

Stephen Harper cut out for sale

This Stephen Harper cut-out is offered for sale at HistoricalCutouts.com. (HistoricalCutouts.com)

Others urged caution: "It just doesn't seem very prime ministerial." But the order got a green light after it was noted that the U.S. embassy in Ottawa had used a Barack Obama cut-out.

Several firms in Canada and the United States sell cut-outs of famous people, drawing on an in-house inventory of electronic images. Some allow customers to send in a personal image to be transferred to cardboard.

The Pennsylvania firm used by the Washington embassy — HistoricalCutouts.com — offers some Canadian content in its large inventory, including former prime minister Stephen Harper, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Tommy Douglas, Sir John A. Macdonald and an anonymous Mountie.

But owner Stephen Taren says the Canadian inventory sells poorly, with the exception of Trudeau.

'Except for Trudeau, the others are obscure to most of our audience.' —Stephen Taren, owner of HistoricalCutouts.com

"The Canadian historical cut-outs are not as popular as you may think," he said in an email. "We probably have sold about 10 to 20 Trudeaus since he became prime minister."

"Except for Trudeau, the others are obscure to most of our audience. But we like to offer as many historical figures as we can."

Global Affairs Canada did not respond to questions about the number, cost and locations of Trudeau cut-outs purchased by the department, nor about why their use was stopped.

Trudeau cutout at 2013 Hill Times party

A cut-out of Trudeau appeared at a 2013 party hosted by the Hill Times newspaper. (Hill Times)

Conservative party spokesman John Brassard slammed the cut-out caper, saying the "Canadian brand is much more than the prime minister."

"A life-size, two-dimensional cut-out is probably a perfect metaphor for everything that Justin Trudeau represents," Brassard, MP for Barrie-Innisfil in Ontario, said in an interview.

"You've got the shallow facade, and yet there's very little in the way of depth or substance there."

Vanity project?

It's not clear whether the previous Conservative government used Stephen Harper cut-outs at official events. Global Affairs Canada declined to respond when asked, and a party official said no one could recall any such instance.

But the Conservative government did come under fire from critics for use of the phrase "Harper government" on official communications, rather than the standard "Government of Canada."

Screen shot of 24/7

Critics complained that a video series featuring then-prime minister Stephen Harper, called 24/7, was a vanity project. (Prime Minister's Office)

And a taxpayer-funded video series called 24/7, chronicling Harper's official appearances each week, drew fire as a vanity project.

Justin Trudeau cut-outs have also appeared at non-government events, such as a 2013 party in Ottawa sponsored by the Hill Times newspaper. And New York magazine published a Justin Trudeau paper doll set shortly after he was sworn in as prime minister.

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