09/28/2015 11:17 EDT | Updated 09/28/2016 05:12 EDT

Federal Leaders Embrace Selfies On The Campaign Trail

There's little doubt the phenomenon has taken hold as a mainstay of political campaigns, usurping the cliched baby-kissing and flesh-pressing.

OTTAWA — If selfies were votes, it's a safe bet that the 2015 election campaign would already be over — with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau the hands-down winner.

Of course, whether that measure of popularity actually translates into success at the ballot box on Oct. 19 is another matter — as is whether, when it comes to election campaigns, the whole selfie phenomenon is more help or hindrance.

One highly unscientific analysis of markers on Twitter that counted tweets mentioning the names of party leaders and the word "selfie" showed Trudeau with 128 such posts at the midpoint of the federal election campaign.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair had just 16 such posts each since the election campaign was formally launched Aug. 2, while the Green party's Elizabeth May and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe were each referenced just once.

Naturally, there are innumerable other such photos with all the leaders posted on various other social media sites, including Instagram and Facebook.

Indeed, it's likely impossible to quantify the actual number of selfies taken with party leaders, since many are never posted on social media and are instead kept as personal digital prizes or transmitted in private messages.

But there's little doubt the phenomenon has taken hold as a mainstay of political campaigns, usurping the cliched baby-kissing and flesh-pressing.

"It's the kind of a handshake for a new generation," said NDP campaign strategist Brad Lavigne.

Twitter numbers notwithstanding, Mulcair is constantly being asked to hold still for a selfie, said Lavigne. And while the NDP leader welcomes each and every one, the new trend means building more time into party events to ensure as many people as possible are accommodated, he said.

In the past, a leader could exit a rally or other campaign venue after a few minutes of waving and shaking hands. These days, it takes upwards of an hour because taking pictures is more time consuming.

"The biggest challenge is to make the time to take all of the selfies that are wanted," Lavigne said. "That's something that we just have to book into Mr. Mulcair's tour schedule."

Like many postings on social media, selfies are often met with negative reactions.

Trudeau has been panned on Twitter and Facebook as "narcissistic" for posing for so many photos. He was also criticized in April 2014 after attending the funeral of former federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for stopping to take a selfie with an onlooker as he entered the Toronto church where the service was held.

The Liberals are nonetheless eager to take advantage of the phenomenon and their leader's affinity for it.

Smartphone users can go to the Liberal website and for $15.99, help out the campaign by purchasing a "selfie stick" — those ubiquitous, telescoping branches that allow the user to take their photos with a slightly wider perspective.

The Conservative selfie philosophy is decidedly different.

Early in the Tory campaign, event attendees were prohibited from posting pictures of party events in the Toronto and Montreal areas, making selfies a no-no. Now, while the crowds gathered around Harper are still carefully vetted and controlled, his officials say the prime minister has since posed for numerous selfies and more traditional pictures.

"In this campaign, Prime Minister Harper is pleased to meet Canadians from all walks of life," said party spokesman Stephen Lecce.

Some people have also posted selfies with Harper on Twitter where it appears the Conservative leader was unaware a picture was being taken.

It's often unclear whether the people asking for pictures plan to vote for the leader they are posing with, or whether they just want a social media trophy.

But selfies can produce huge returns at no cost to political campaigns, says Toronto-based public relations consultant Nandy Heule.

"These innocent pictures turn into powerful brand building tools for political leaders," Heule wrote in a recent blog. "The selfies we share on social media turn into thousands of public endorsements."

South of the border, politicians have had mixed reactions to the lust for selfies in the lead up to the 2016 election.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton has been known to take smartphones out of the hands of their owners to speed up taking the shot.

And frustration with the trend was evident in an opinion article that Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson wrote recently for The Washington Post, where he asked people to "please stop" taking selfies.

The practice isn't just narcissistic, it's "dangerous," Carson wrote, referring to examples of how some enthusiasts had been injured or killed in their pursuit of the ultimate campaign souvenir.

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