Justin Trudeau is doing his baby trick again, and his communications director is having a minor convulsion. She sucks in her breath just a little as he wraps his fingers around his son Hadrien’s feet and hoists the giggling five-month-old in the air in the palm of his hand. The baby is still months away from being able to stand on his own, and according to the rules of most child development charts, he should be about to topple soft-skull-first onto the paving stones outside the family’s home in Ottawa’s tony Rockcliffe neighbourhood.
But as Hadrien rises, his chubby legs lock; he looms high above, standing stoutly, unbelievably, upright in his father’s hand. The baby flashes a drooling smile. “Oh, tu es fier — très, très fier,” says Trudeau, grinning at his son. He’s done the same thing with other people’s infants at campaign events. It’s an attention-getter that sends parents lunging for their babies while scrambling for their cellphone cameras, but Trudeau insists they shouldn’t worry. He always holds babies close to his chest first, he says, checking that they’re able to lock their knees. If they can, he knows they won’t buckle.
“Okay, let’s head inside,” Trudeau’s aide, Mylène Dupéré, says firmly, leading him toward the house. She’s clearly glad the stunt is over, but she knows the boss has pulled off a show-stopping moment. It’s Baby Kissing 2.0, and it projects a bunch of images that could help Trudeau in the next election: a loving, hands-on parent; a warm, approachable counterpoint to Stephen Harper; and his father’s son — a charismatic leader who understands the value of a well-timed pirouette or a slide down a royal banister.
Read more: Talking politics with kids>
That’s a lot of potential messaging packed into a five-second party trick. Then again, it’s also possible that the move is simply a spontaneous gesture. It’s hard to tell with Justin Trudeau. While he displays a canny understanding of how things will play in front of an audience (think of his now-famous eulogy to his father, which ended with an emotional “Je t’aime, Papa”), he also feels so at ease under a zoom lens that he’s unafraid to try out fresh material (recently, critics pounded him mercilessly for suggesting that the Canadian government should provide humanitarian support to the anti-ISIS coalition, “rather than trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are”). The result is a candidate whom some view as smarmily media-savvy and others think of as an untrained puppy.
Many voters aren’t sweating the details: They already like what they see in Trudeau — his storied lineage, his youthful energy, his awesome hair. With a new memoir, Common Ground, out on October 21 and a party platform in the works, he hopes to add depth to what has so far been a superficial public image — and baby trick aside, he’s hell-bent on engaging women in the coming election.
He’s recruited a roster of impressive female candidates and taken a strong, clear stand on women’s reproductive rights. This past spring, he came out as definitively pro-choice in the abortion debate — a position he reiterated last month with a breathtakingly candid tweet: “The days when old men get to decide what a woman does with her body are long gone. Times have changed for the better. #LPC defends rights.” He’s had push-back from a few long-time party members, but some politics watchers say it was a smart move that could bring a lot of female voters onside — and help finally establish a clear Justin Trudeau identity, as a woman-friendly candidate.
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