Trudeau’s passport getting a workout

A day before he signed the Paris Agreement on climate change at the United Nations headquarters last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped by a Brooklyn gym, where he gave boxing lessons to a group of disadvantaged youth.

While Trudeau put the youngsters through their paces, for the past six months it’s the prime minister’s passport that has been getting a workout.

According to Trudeau’s daily itineraries and information provided by the Privy Council Office, since being sworn in on Nov. 4, 2015, Trudeau has spent 30 days of his term travelling internationally. By comparison, Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, was outside Canada on 16 days during his first six months.

The two men also contrasted sharply in the timing and purpose of their early travels. Harper made his first visit abroad one month into his term, when in March 2006 he spoke to Canadian troops in Afghanistan and declared his government wouldn’t “cut and run” from the war.

Trudeau took his first trip just nine days after being sworn in, when he flew to a G20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey. There he staunchly defended his decision to pull Canadian jets out of the bombing mission against Daesh, also referred to as ISIS or ISIL.

Since then, Trudeau has travelled to: the Philippines, for an APEC summit; London, where he met the Queen; Paris, for the COP21 climate meeting, and Washington, where U.S. President Barack Obama feted him with a state dinner. He’s also swung by Malta, Davos, Switzerland, Washington (again) and New York City (twice).

The prime minister’s office didn’t respond last week to requests for comment about Trudeau’s travel schedule.

NDP MP Niki Ashton is among those who have questioned when Trudeau’s activities abroad is time well-spent, and last Thursday took to Twitter to criticize his Brooklyn gym appearance.

In an interview, Ashton said she believed that many of the prime minister’s international visits were for worthy purposes. But, describing Trudeau as the “selfie prime minister,” she said she was troubled by the fact that the Canadian leader held a photo-op with a group of disadvantaged New York youth while he has yet to visit places like Cross Lake. The First Nation in Ashton’s northern Manitoba riding declared a state of emergency last month in the midst of a suicide crisis.

“These kids (in Cross Lake) don’t have a drop-in centre, they don’t have a recreation centre, never mind a boxing ring. Why’s he working with young people in Brooklyn when he’s the prime minister of Canada?” she asked.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said “international travel is important to any prime minister’s job, as long as they are actually doing their job while travelling. I’m not sure inviting TV cameras to film a boxing workout would qualify. We will continue to hold the prime minister accountable for actual accomplishments on his international trips, beyond self-promotion and photo ops.”

Foreign policy experts say there is value in Trudeau’s foreign visits. Paul Heinbecker, chief foreign policy adviser to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, estimated that Trudeau may have met “as many international leaders perhaps in his first six months as Harper did in his first six years.”

Heinbecker said that Harper “did us no favours” by missing out on those face-to-face meetings, because personal relationships between leaders often determine how governments prioritize requests from foreign countries.

“Everybody wants to have their issues dealt with in Washington by the president ... Your issue isn’t going to get to his desk and certainly not going to get to the top of his agenda unless he cares about what you think, unless that he knows that you’re coming,” he said.

Harper’s light foreign itinerary during the early part of his tenure shouldn’t be read as a failure to advance Canada’s interests, according to Fen Hampson, because the world and Canada’s place in it were much different 10 years ago.

There are now far more international summits that world leaders are expected to attend, said Hampson, a professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Also, Ottawa has been forced to seek out new trading partners overseas because the 2008 financial crisis showed Canada can’t rely on the U.S. to generate prolonged growth.

“I think what we’re seeing is an emphasis on the marketing of Canada, the branding of Canada, the selling of Canada,” Hampson said. “Clearly the person who can make the best case and the best argument for that is the prime minister himself.”

Related posts