You don’t see Justin Trudeau around as much these days.
We hear from him a lot less, too. Someone – the Prime Minister himself, presumably – must have decided Canadians prefer it that way.
Politically, it is probably wise, too.
Mr. Trudeau hasn’t been invisible, but he has been low-key in such a very un-Justin-Trudeau sort of way.
Most of his days since the Oct. 21 election have been spent in private meetings out of the public eye or in his now-favourite kind of public event: the private meeting preceded by a brief photo-op.
Such photo-ops tell the country the Prime Minister is doing something, without much discussion of what. The PM meets Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi; the PM meets Opposition leaders; the PM meets premiers, and so on.
The public sees a picture of the Prime Minister working with someone else, it hears a few words from Mr. Trudeau. It is terse and understated.
So far, Justin Trudeau’s entire second term has been understated, at least by his standards
Since his re-election, he has done one news conference on Oct. 23, one brief press scrum at the Liberal caucus meeting on Nov. 7 and he took questions from reporters after the unveiling of his new cabinet on Nov. 20. He has made no speeches. He stayed in Ottawa, except for three days in Tofino, B.C.
Contrast that with the frenzy of 2015. Day One of his government was a grand display of a new cabinet and on Day Three, he was mobbed by selfie-seeking civil servants after a cabinet retreat. In his first eight days he did two full press conferences and a scrum. Then he went to four major international summits. One reader complained about the wall-to-wall coverage in a letter to The Globe and Mail: “Oh blessed relief, no mention of Justin in the Drive Section.”
Back then, most Canadians weren’t sick of seeing Mr. Trudeau. But it kept on. He was on the covers of GQ and Rolling Stone. By the time the PM was touring the country last spring, doing town halls and smiling at questions about the SNC-Lavalin affair, the proportion of people who felt they’d had enough had palpably risen.
The fall election campaign was all about overexposure, so when it was done, it was probably politically smart to give it a rest. Will the low-profile approach be temporary, or will it be Mr. Trudeau’s standard practice over his second term?
It might just be part of setting a tone at the start of this term. His Liberals were reduced to a minority, so he has to consult the opposition. There are renewed questions about national unity, so he talked to premiers. He needs to look humble. The terse photo ops sent a workaday message.
But it could also be a lasting effort to present a more low-key PM.
“I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping a lower profile generally,” said Peter Donolo, the vice-chairman of Hill+Knowlton Canada who served as communications director for prime minister Jean Chrétien.
“Overexposure is a risk in politics,” he said. “There’s no question that a lot of the criticism directed at the PM was related to it.”
Low-key becomes low-voltage democracy if the Prime Minister makes it a way to dodge questions. But several past PMs managed to answer queries without always being onstage. Mr. Trudeau’s bigger issue hasn’t been avoiding questions, but avoiding answers.
Some of the common knocks on Mr. Trudeau – that he’s all talk or spends too much time virtue-signalling – are probably exacerbated by the fact that he’s always visible and always on Canadians’ TVs. After six weeks of quiet time, Mr. Trudeau’s ratings as “best prime minister” have inched up slightly – though, it’s hard to tell if that’s a trend.
Mr. Donolo argued it’s politically wiser to “save the PM for the important stuff” and let ministers do more. That increases the notion that the Prime Minister has a team and lets ministers rise or fall with the issues – so the leader has less risk.
Will it stay this way? High-profile and Justin Trudeau are virtually synonymous terms. But so far, part of his minority-government-style has been a quieter celebrity.