While politicians are best judged by their work, you cannot ignore the way they choose to present themselves to the world, the narratives they make about themselves, the stories and images they wish will remain forever etched in our minds.
Take Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He has offered for our view and judgements not concrete nation building policies but fashion spreads, endless selfies, and most recently the garish garbs of a Bollywood extra.
He is getting the flak now for overdoing it, but not long ago you’d be accused of being a killjoy if you didn’t revel in the fashionable antics of this charming politician worthy of a fawning Rolling Stone cover. Who can forget the adulation heaped on him when images appeared of him doing the famous Mayurasana yoga pose, the peacock symbolising love and immortality.
The talk of the town then was his core strength, which impressed reporters and yoga instructors alike. Our national broadcaster wondered where the Prime Minister could have learned this particular move, from his father who pulled a similar feat or from his wife, a certified yoga instructor, while reminding us it should only be tried by seasoned yoga experts. While even the intellectuals and the media feasted on a seemingly non-stop supply of Trudeau’s chiselled yoga body images, many believed sooner or later the country would see a man who would call his bluff.
As his anti-thesis, Andre Scheer seems to be the man who embodies everything Trudeau is not. Less image-conscious, his stolid demeanor and his persona is a far cry from Trudeau’s entitled narcissism. Scheer’s dad bod stands in stark contrast to Trudeau’s yoga-bod, a difference he emphasized at the Conservative Party leadership campaign. “The budget doesn’t get balanced and the economy doesn’t get looked after by selfies and photo-ops. I can make you one promise: I will not be taking my shirt off as often as Justin Trudeau does. He may have a yoga body, I’ve got a dad body,” Scheer said.
What Scheer said jokingly at the race actually carries a lot of symbolic meaning. Self-absorbed narcissism, he promises, isn’t what you would expect from him. He will keep the shirt on. The dad body, urban dictionary tells us, is a male body type that is best described as a “softly round” and the term is built around the theory that once a man has found a mate and fathered a child, he doesn’t need to worry about maintaining a sculpted physique. But that is only one way of looking at it. The dad body isn’t merely the end of a desire to look attractive for prospective mates. It’s more than that. It’s the rejection of the self in service of family. The dad body is, in fact, the most visible symbol of sacrifice. The dad-body man is one who prefers to bother less about his own looks and more about his kids and his family.
He would rather slog more in his office than the yoga studio. He would rather spend more time with family than pumping iron at the gym. The yoga body yearns for applause, the dad body ignores it. If appearance is any guide, then Scheer suggests a man who is far less interested in his own image. His dad body dressed in plain vanilla suits, Scheer seems more focused on policy he feels will ensure prosperity and well-being for Canada. He rarely plays up his youth and even his website carries an unflattering side pose.
Scheer may have shunned the camera but a lot of Canadians may just be in favour of letting the dad-bod run the country. Policy and platform may have a higher appeal than just persona. The latest Angus Reid poll suggests Canadians are losing faith in Trudeau, a sentiment that has been simmering for a while but may just have bubbled up to the surface after a disastrous trip to India widely criticized for Trudeau’s over-the-top garb and an invitation to a suspected terrorist. A failed foreign policy trip combined with a simmering unease among the voters over the federal government’s deficit spending has, for the first time, driven Trudeau’s disapproval rating north of 50 per cent, Angus Reid survey finds.
If the data generated by Angus Reid is to be believed, Trudeau at this point is about as popular as Donald Trump. The polling analysis from the Angus Reid Institute shows that if an election were held tomorrow, the Conservative Part of Canada, led by Andrew Scheer, would be capable of forming a majority government. This assessment of the voter’s mood isn’t just on voting intentions, but also on perception of leadership. If the election were held tomorrow, four in ten Canadians say they would vote for a Conservative candidate in their riding, and for the fourth consecutive quarter, as many as 51 per cent of Canadians say it’s time for a change in government.
When Canadians were asked which party is best suited to form a government, the Liberals trail the Conservatives by nine points, the survey finds. For the fourth consecutive quarter the number of Canadians saying it is ‘time for a change in government’ has risen. The percentage of respondents holding that view is now up to 51 per cent, although Trudeau still holds an advantage over his counterpart Scheer on the question of who would make the best Prime Minister.
Not turning the lens on himself but rather the economy has helped Scheer gradually narrow the gap between him and Trudeau. Government spending and a ballooning deficit have emerged as important issues and Scheer is seen as the leader best suited to steward the economy. With simple suits that make him look like an insurance salesman he once was, he keeps the focus away from himself—and increasingly on the economy.
His recent trip to England is in such stark contract to Trudeau’s India road show that it almost feels like it was planned to draw comparisons. Except a photograph of him standing next to a London telephone booth, there is little that suggests Scheer took the trip to put himself on lurid display that seems to come naturally to Trudeau. Instead, his statements suggest an assured, hard-working prime minister-in-the-making who wants to get the ball rolling on trade and the economy.
With Britain poised for Brexit, and an America turning inwards with protectionist policy on trade and imports, Scheer has projected himself as a leader who is willing to negotiate the best trade deal for Canadians. Negotiating a deal with UK as it moves out of EU has in fact been a key part of Scheer’s platform, and it only adds to his appeal when he says he is convinced US protectionism isn’t the best way to move forward. He held meetings with British cabinet minister, including foreign minister and has promised that establishing a free-trade agreement would be a priority. He has also pitted his free trade talks in the UK with Justin Trudeau’s failed free talk deal with China, where Scheer likes to point out that Trudeau couldn’t negotiate a photo op or a joint press release.
While he has projected himself as a pragmatist who is keen to negotiate trade to Canada’s advantage that reduces dependency on the US, he also seems to be quietly working to consolidate his base while making a foray into new territories—all with 2019 in sight.
With Trudeau faltering and the Bloc Québécois MPs deserting the party, Scheer has sensed an opportunity to bring Quebec voters into the Conservative fold. In an open letter published in a Quebec newspaper, Scheer invited people in the province to join his party, appealing to federalists as well as nationalists. He has also vowed to give due importance to the unique identity of the province and consider an open discussion on how to best give credence to that distinct identify. While he has reached out to Quebecers, he hasn’t forgotten his core base, as is evident from his disapproving position on payment to Omar Khadr and a supportive stance on Jerusalem, which he says he will recognise as Israel’s capital if his party forms a government.
He has vowed to repeal the carbon tax and has sharply criticised the changes to Canada’s summer jobs program, which could cancel funding for some religious organisations. Despite some bold decisions, Scheer has comes across as someone who is silent and mostly absent from the spotlight. One commentator recently said people wouldn’t recognise him if he sat right next to them in a bus. That assessment may be a tad exaggerated, but there it’s possible the lack of flashiness is a strategy. He may just be hoping voters will warm up to his low-profile persona and pick him up over his more flamboyant competitors.
If voters indeed fall for this subdued persona, it could give him advantage over both Jagmeet and Justin who are all playing to the same gallery of voters. It may appear so but it’s hardly a tripartite contest as Jagmeet’s controversial stances may just push Sikh conservatives firmly into Scheer’s tent while those fed up of Trudeau’s showy style may vote for Scheer seeking substance. Still, the Angus Reid survey finds support among millennials for Trudeau, and the Liberal party remains either in lead or competitive in vote-rich urban areas. But if the self-strikes of Trudeau and Jagmeet continue, it is possible Scheer ends up as the silent, surprise. In 18 months from now, the dad bod may just trump the yoga bods.
By Gagandeep Ghuman