08/18/2016 05:36 EDT | Updated 08/18/2016 05:59 EDT

Contrast Between Photo-Op Justin And Policy Trudeau Is Night And Day

Jonathan Hayward/CP

He won't talk about his government's non-progressive policies, but man does he ever look good with his shirt off.

It's been 10 months, and Liberal voters are still having a difficult time seeing past the glossy veneer slathered on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They have yet to acknowledge that their aspirational leader is anything other than the exact antithesis to their ideological enemy, Stephen Harper.

If you try talking about tough issues, issues that run counter to his best-guy-ever image, you are met with a list of rebuttals completely absolving Trudeau, and then it's just a quick pivot to the ever popular anti-Harper talking points. It never fails. Ever.

A pattern has emerged since last October, and it includes a prime minister who uses the photo op to distract the public from the more conservative facets of his party's agenda.

If you try initiating a discussion about Trudeau's various positions on marijuana decriminalization, you get a whole host of responses ranging from the generic "What do you expect him to do?" to "You just don't understand how difficult it is for him," then back to an anti-Harper rant. It doesn't matter that he has changed his position three times since becoming Liberal leader. In fact, never bring that up again. Also, Harper.

The Saudi arms deal? Harper did it. But couldn't Trudeau have stopped the deal? Sure, but then the Saudis might sue us for not building the weapons they use against civilian populations. Duh. Also, it's all Harper's fault.

The latest reinvention is also about weapons, only this time it will be more difficult to square with the heavily promoted idea that Canada is back to its peacekeeping roots. Canada is now the second biggest arms dealer when it comes to supplying that peaceful oasis known as the Middle East with high-grade weaponry. That's right, folks, our uber-progressive prime minister, known for his feminist bona fides and yoga poses, now leads a country where arms manufacturers thrive more than ever before.

Because nothing says Namaste quite like dead civilians killed by Canadian weapons.

gay trudeau

Justin Trudeau walks in Toronto's Pride Parade. (Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I know, I know. I'm just so idealistic. The real world is a messy place, and Trudeau is just doing his job the best way he can in a world filled with harsh realities and boy does his chest look good. But a pattern has emerged since last October, and it includes a prime minister who uses the photo op to distract the public from the more conservative facets of his party's agenda.

Think about it. Most non-conservatives I know would rightfully rail against any conservative prime minister for a number of items on the Trudeau action plan. Imagine Prime Minister Jason Kenney ushering in the era of Middle East weapons distribution. Or how about Prime Minster Peter McKay quietly firing dozens of environmental scientists? Or let's imagine Prime Minister Tim Hudak refusing to speak directly on the draconian measures in Bill C-51.

Keep giving the media the casual, approachable Trudeau, but keep the centre-right material in the vault.

None of that would be acceptable to the same progressive loyalists who are currently propping up our dreamy prime minister.

When was the last time you heard anyone in the government talk about pipelines, arms deals, fired scientists, criminal records for pot possession, Bill C-51, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or any of the other big-ticket issues? Now, think of how easy is it to recall Trudeau marching in a parade, jogging with a world leader, joking with Obama, photobombing a wedding or the litany of other non-substantive moments in his first year as leader.

The contrast between Photo-op Justin and Policy Trudeau is stark, and there does not seem to be a shift in strategy coming out of the PMO.

The media, meanwhile, is complicit, if not galvanized by the difference in styles between Harper and Trudeau. They seem to be playing along, willful dance partners in a communications tango, singing from the PMO songbook by covering Trudeau as if he were a rock star and not a world leader.

After a decade of zero access to the prime minister's office, members of the press seem just happy to be there, forgetting their role as an institution whose existence is to call truth to power, not publish photos that will garner the most clicks.


Justin Trudeau (L) runs with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto across the Alexandra Bridge from Ottawa to Gatineau, Quebec. (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Recently, the Globe and Mail featured a story on the prime minister's personal photographer, Adam Scotti. The piece was an interesting read, documenting the 24/7 access Scotti has and the immeasurable importance of social media once the photos are catalogued and edited.

Inadvertently, the piece outlined one of the most glaring problems with the Trudeau government: its brain trust has placed such a high value on presenting a certain image to the public that they have replaced transparency with celebrity, a strategy meant to seduce and distract rather than inform the public.

This calculation is duplicitous; it showcases an accessible leader but one with little time to get into the specifics of the policies that run counter to Trudeau's reputation of a real progressive. Keep giving the media the casual, approachable Trudeau, but keep the centre-right material in the vault.

It is the best of Trudeau, it is the worst of Trudeau, and until his gushing fans and the complicit media start doing their jobs by demanding transparency, we will be stuck having to tolerate both.

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