Politics, Celebrity, and Too much Power: The Contemporary Canadian Prime Minister

The current ability for the Canadian Prime Minister to occupy a position of celebrity is one which imbues the individual in that role with an excess of political power. In looking at current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an example it is possible to consider the way in which previous questions of an autocracy can be answered in a contemporary context by looking at the presented political brand image in both a national and international context. By exploring the manner in which celebrity can be both created and leveraged what becomes clear is that it is this additional role that carries with its significant social capital which can be translated into greater political visibility and clout.

The idea that the Canadian Prime Minister has too much power has been argued for years, nor is it a position that is without merit. Popular discourse, and to a lesser extent academic literature has previously presented the idea that the position, independent of the particular individual who may be filling the role, is one that allows for powers that are not only excessive but also unhealthy for a democratic society.

One cited example of such powers was the Fall 2000 federal election which has been upheld as proof that the Prime Minister enjoys too much power which has only served to increase claims that the Prime Minister in effectively an autocrat (Bakvis, 2001). Without going so far as to suggest that Canadian Prime Minister is the head of an autocracy, what cannot be ignored is that the individual who holds this position is one who objectively has significant power. Specifically, within the context of the Canadian government the Prime Minister exists as central with the ability to determine the personnel and policy direction of the government and speaking for the government both at home and abroad.

Additionally, the Prime Minister has the power as party leader to both veto who can run as a member of the party and has de facto power over caucus membership (Azzi, 2017). Comparatively, to other democracies, especially that of the United States, this is a high level of responsibility and influence held by a single person. Moreover, it is power that is actively increased when the Prime Minister takes on a celebrity role.

The role of the Prime Minister as a celebrity is not one that should be understated, especially as that role can be correlated to the individual in

that position effectively being more powerful. Based in part on the rise of social media and the manner in which it shapes culture and communication there has also been a rise in celebrity politics e.g. the act of politicians borrowing from celebrity culture in order to communicate with their electorate (Gratton, 2020). It would be remiss to present this act as one that is inherently problematic, and in fact there are clear examples of how it could be beneficial as a way of offering politicians with limited financial resources a way in which they are able to level the playing field by being able to access their current or potential constituents via new media.

However, similar to celebrities, politicians are able to use this medium as a means of carefully curating a political image. Specifically, it is known that voters are in search of honesty, intelligence, friendliness, sincerity and trustworthiness when looking for political leaders (Lalancette, & Raynauld, 2019). More important than the reality that this is known academically is the fact that it is able to be exploited politically. One clear example of this can be found by looking at current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not only as a political figure but as a celebrity.

It would be implausible to consider Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and not consider the fact that he is currently a de facto celebrity, and therein lies the problem. First, in looking at Trudeau in particular what must also be considered is his family legacy. As Prime Minister his image acts as an extension to that of his father former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau which is beneficial from a marketing perspective as it allows him to leverage the past brand equity which allows him to clearly associate with the positive attributes, build his own persona, and disassociate himself from anything negative (Marland, 2018).

This is in and of itself not problematic, when correlated with the role of the younger Trudeau as a celebrity. In working to unpack this consideration can be given to the brand image that Trudeau has both created and continues to perpetuate. One way of looking at this is by comparing the actions of Trudeau to those of the current United States President. Despite presenting largely opposite messaging the social media usage of Trudeau can be closely compared to the social media usage of United States President Donald J. Trump in terms of the political communication strategy deployed.

Additionally, similar to Trump, the celebrity status that Trudeau has also serves as central to that communication strategy. One example of this can be found in the manner that Trudeau utilizes the social media site Instagram as a means of speaking directly to the public without the filter of the media or needing to engage them at all. While this practice allows for more personal communication it also serves as a means circumnavigating traditional, more formal channels (Lalancette, & Raynauld, 2019). This is arguably not a power that Trudeau would be afforded without his role as a celebrity.

The role of the Canadian Prime Minister is one which is already afforded what some may view as a disproportionate amount of power. Coupled with the ability for the individual in this position to be a celebrity however, and they are essentially granted even more latitude. While this is most evident in their ability to change the nature of communication, it is also apparent in the ways in which they are able to clearly pander to the public by curating a specific online image, both of which removes traditional and necessary barriers