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Justin Trudeau, Sophie and the kids: Canada’s political family

By AFP   |   17 October 2016   |   10:00 am

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  / AFP PHOTO / Alice Chiche

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau / AFP PHOTO / Alice Chiche

Justin Trudeau hasn’t been alone as his star rises in the political world — whether visiting China’s Great Wall, dining at the White House or marching in Toronto’s gay pride parade, he’s often joined by his family who have helped cement his reputation as a down-to-earth everyman.

Upon taking office one year ago, the prime minister set the tone: Although he’s Canada’s leader, he’s also a father with a young family.

Wife Sophie, nine-year-old Xavier, seven-year-old Ella-Grace and two-year-old Hadrien have done their part to bolster dad’s political career.

The children seemed unaffected by the glare of the media at Trudeau’s swearing-in, while trick-or-treating on Halloween, or during foreign trips on government business.

“Justin explored the world when he was young,” when his father Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and similarly grew up in the limelight, said Alex Marland, a politics professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland.

His carefree “flower child” mother and siblings were also used to bolster the prime minister’s image, Marland said, shown at the elder Trudeau’s side when he greeted Queen Elizabeth II or Fidel Castro.

“Justin Trudeau grew up with the media, and his wife (a former television host) has obviously a lot of experience with the media too,” Marland said.

Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau has a natural elegance and has helped promote Canadian fashions by wearing pieces by local designers.

Days after the Liberals’ election win, the couple were featured on the cover of Vogue magazine gazing deeply and affectionately into each other’s eyes.

“It’s celebrity politics,” said Myriam Durocher, a communications researcher at the University of Montreal. The couple and their three children evoke traditional family values, she said.

– Please don’t call me Madame –
P.G. Forest, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, says Trudeau has what he calls “the Hollywood factor.”

“Part of his personal appeal and very high approval rating is his ability to relate to anybody,” he added. “It’s fascinating.”

In the spring, the Trudeaus traveled to Washington for a state dinner hosted by US President Barack Obama, which drew not only senior government officials but also stars from Hollywood and American music.

Aged 44 and 41, Justin and Sophie embody a new generation in Canadian politics.

At a Gay Pride event in Vancouver this summer, Justin pushed Hadrian in a stroller while Xavier and Ella-Grace marched alongside their mother seemingly unfazed by the gaze of the huge crowd around them.

“Publicity and politics go hand in hand, and in order to have a public profile you must promote a public image,” Durocher said.

Trudeau, she says, has nurtured his image as modern leader.

She also points out that Trudeau taps into deep emotions with the public, for example, when he stepped down from the plane that brought him to Washington with Hadrien in his arms, or when he and his wife dressed as Star Wars characters to take their children trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Trudeau uses social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram (or WeChat and Weibo during a visit to China) to reach younger generations. He poses willingly with strangers for selfies.

His wife is now catching up, having launched Facebook and Instagram accounts only a few days ago.

“Today is a first! For the past decade or so, I’ve resisted getting on social media in every way… It’s time,” she wrote in her inaugural post.

Her Facebook cover photo is a goofy family photo, and she signed her first post “Sophie (please don’t call me Madame).”

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