Politics·Analysis

The world might be tiring of Trudeau, but it could be time for him to make his mark

Any pop star has to worry about overexposure. And eventually even the fans want to hear something new. So the question now for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might be, what's next?

Any pop star has to worry about overexposure, but what is the PM going to do with his cachet?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau introduce Coldplay to open the Global Citizen concert at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 6. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Could the world be getting tired of our prime minister?

A day after Rolling Stone published its cover story on the "north star," the World Economic Forum released its latest ranking of the world's leaders in soft power, the somewhat ephemeral notion of a nation's economic and cultural influence.

The forum's analysis of Canada's standing included a note of caution: "Following Canada's slight decline in our international polling data, and with his approval ratings at home taking a hit, it looks like Trudeau fatigue could finally be setting in."

At the very least, contrarian takes are no longer being penned only by Canadian writers.

In recent weeks it has been American and British writers in the SpectatorProspect and Washington Post who have been quibbling with the Trudeau phenomenon.

"It's time the fawning over Trudeau stopped," wrote Shafi Musaddique in Prospect.

"The Trump phenomenon is the pinnacle of rationalism in comparison with the mass liberal falling at Trudeau's feet," harrumphed Brendan O'Neill in the Spectator.

Granted, Canada's soft-power score for 2017 actually improved over 2016, even if Canada slipped one spot in the ranking (surpassed by France and Emmanuel Macron, the new liberal heartthrob). 

But any pop star has to worry about overexposure. And eventually even the fans want to hear something new.

So the question now for Trudeau might be, what's next? What is he going to do with all this cachet?

The Aug. 10 issue of Rolling Stone features Trudeau on its cover, along with a lengthy, largely positive profile inside. (Rolling Stone/Twitter)

For Canada, there is probably no great downside to having the prime minister on the cover of Rolling Stone, an honour rarely bestowed on a foreign leader, Pope Francis and Princess Caroline of Monaco being perhaps the only two precedents. 

And even if the fawning can seem silly, even if significant shortcomings are glossed over, there is something to be said for seeming to be a beacon of decency and liberalism when political opinion elsewhere is turning angry and reactionary.

What does the fawning amount to?

But other than satisfying those Canadians who like to hear their country is well thought of abroad, what does all that amount to?

"People have long talked about ways of 'branding' Canada in order to attract tourists, students, businesses and investment ... but no branding strategy could hope to achieve more than what Trudeau has already accomplished," Roland Paris, a former senior adviser on foreign policy for Trudeau, argues via email.

On that score, it might be more relevant to note the stories in the American press touting Canada as a new destination for tech entrepreneurs and investment.

Of course, policy changes might matter more for attracting business than the cover of Rolling Stone. But if Canada is soon swamped by app developers, bright young minds and free-spending tourists, that cover might at least seem symbolic of something lucrative and enriching.

Even so, Trudeau's imprint on the world might be a bit shallow.

Though he stands for worthy ideals, it's not yet obvious what his foreign policy will amount to.

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Trudeau's signature accomplishment?

Renegotiating NAFTA and managing a relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump are profound challenges, but the impact is ultimately domestic. A purported commitment to peacekeeping remains to be fulfilled. Canada's foreign aid might be refocused on feminist objectives, but the budget has not been significantly increased.

Maybe Canada will win a seat on the UN Security Council, but we've done that before. Canada seems to be a decent participant in international climate talks, but that doesn't amount to a signature accomplishment. 

Stephen Harper's international legacy rested on a commitment to maternal, child and newborn health. Jean Chretien's government had the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines. Brian Mulroney had the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer and Canada's stand against apartheid in South Africa.

As the Ottawa Citizen's Shannon Gormley wondered recently: At what point will Trudeau reciprocate the world's love?

"Trudeau is now in an advantageous position," suggests Paris. "With all this visibility and goodwill, he could mobilize a group of states and civil society actors in an international campaign to tackle one or more specific global problems."

Is it time to put that soft power to prominent use?

'Global political capital'

"Trudeau has an unprecedented stock of global political capital that he could 'spend' on such an initiative," says Paris. "It would need to be [a] concrete, specific and goal-oriented campaign, and presumably in an area that he has already highlighted: women's empowerment, aboriginal rights, pluralism and diversity, the welfare of refugees, youth, climate."

On that note, Paris points out that Trudeau is scheduled to host the leaders of the G7 next year in in Malbaie, Que.

That gathering will no doubt result in more write-ups for Trudeau and Canada in the international press.

Perhaps those visitors will have something new to write about.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.

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