Commons People: Trudeau, Singh and Scheer keen to prove they're just like us

The leaders of the main parties are going to great lengths — criss-crossing the entire country, in fact — to appear relatable. Are Canadians feeling the love?
Jagmeet Singh, Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau are operating in an age where personality can define politics. (Canadian Press)

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They say that politics is a bit like high school — with money.

But in recent years the popularity contest has intensified, with politicians going to great lengths to make themselves appear relatable. What they seek is that elusive quality: someone you'd want to sit and have a beer with, trusting them with your wallet — and the economy.

We spoke to a pair of political junkies — Susan Delacourt, a columnist with iPolitics and the Toronto Star; and Jen Gerson, a National Post reporter in Calgary — about how important the relatability factor is nowadays.

People want to see their leaders now not as some lofty figure speaking from a podium.- Jen Gerson

Delacourt thinks that as policy lines have become blurred (i.e. there's less of a stark divide between how the federal Liberal and Conservative parties approach certain issues), Canadians have started to "distinguish between their leaders by what kind of people they are."

"People want to see their leaders now not as some lofty figure speaking from a podium," she says. "They want their politicians to be people who go in there, roll up their sleeves and sit down and have a beer with them, or a coffee, or a conversation."

Gerson thinks there are still certain policy issues which sway voters, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to predict which ones. Ultimately, she says "people do tend to score points on the issues of relatability and popularity."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deals with two different hecklers at his town hall event in London, Ontario 1:44

Justin Trudeau may be trying to court these ideas as he engages with Canadians in town halls across the country. But now that he's midway through his first term, the welcome is not always as warm as in years prior.

Gerson also points to recent coverage of his trips to the Aga Khan's private island in the Bahamas.

She says that story damaged the prime minister's reputation not just because of the Ethics Commissioner ruling that it broke conflict of interest rules, but because "it showed that he was the type of guy who was going to pal about with a billionaire royal on a private island."

"It undermines his ability to come across as this relatable person to the average person, buying coffee down at Tim Hortons," says Gerson.

"Canadians are almost conflicted on him," says Delacourt.

"They kind of want him to be different. They want him to be extraordinary. They don't mind the idea that he's an international rock star or celebrity, and yet they get really annoyed when he does things like fly off to private islands on vacation."

Getting to know Scheer

At least one of Trudeau's rivals may be trying to contrast his own upbringing with the prime minister's — Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

In a recent video, he tells viewers:

"I grew up in the kind of family lots of Canadians would recognise. My mom was a nurse. My dad worked for a newspaper. They had to make a lot of sacrifices for me and my sisters. Like a lot of people. I had to take the bus everywhere because our family didn't have a car. I learned you have to have a pretty good pitch to try to get a girl to meet you for a date at a bus stop."

Gerson notes that Scheer is not yet a well-known figure in Canada, and the video is partly aimed at introducing himself. But the subtext is also very clear.

"This is his longer game: he's portraying himself as the anti-Trudeau," she says. "'Look at me, I had an ordinary childhood, I delivered papers, I had ordinary parents, I wasn't hanging out at 24 Sussex Drive watching Princess Diana swimming in the swimming pool.'"

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was praised for calmly dealing with a heckler at a 'Jagmeet-and-greet' in Brampton, Ont. (YouTube)

Jagmeet Singh, the relatively new leader of the NDP, is not currently seeking a eat in the House of Commons. That has freed him up to tour the country and hold his trademark "Jagmeet-and-greets."

Delacourt notes the similarity to Trudeau's strategy in 2015.

"Trudeau didn't spend much time in the House of Commons either," she notes, "and I say constantly: If being the best in parliament won elections, Tom Mulcair would be prime minister right now."

"So I think Jagmeet Singh is doing what Justin Trudeau did. Can you win an election imitating your rival? We'll see."

Listen to the full audio near the top of this page. You can share this story through email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms using the icons below.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Pacinthe Mattar and Kori Sidaway.