Mr. Dressup

A moniker that rose out the ill-fated 2018 official visit to India by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that became a target of ridicule at home and around the globe.

It seemed like a great idea. A camera-friendly, politically beneficial trip to one of the fastest-growing, most dynamic countries in the world. But virtually from the moment the PM’s mission landed in India, things went awry. A perceived snub by the Indian PM. The presence of a convicted terrorist at a reception at the Canadian embassy. And post-trip damage control that only dug a deeper hole.  

But most of all there were the pictures. Photo after photo, day after day, of Trudeau – and his wife and children – in elaborate, colourful Indian traditional clothing, palms held together in a Namaste greeting.

The internet exploded. And so did the scorn. One Indian pundit likened the photo-op to “a weeklong Indian wedding”. Trudeau’s global profile – largely built on his ease in front of the camera and personal style – ensured an international frenzy of ridicule. For the first time, the Canadian PM experienced the flip side of fame. For Canadians – always sensitive to how other countries perceive us – their PM went from being an international darling to a colourful punch-line.

For media – Canadian and international – this was a moment to underline a perceived lack of seriousness and maturity in the then 47-year old leader. Maclean’s magazine dubbed the PM “Mr. Dressup” – a winking nod to a popular CBC TV children’s show of the Sixties and Seventies. 

Trudeau’s India trip – like Joe Clark’s ill-fated 1979 world tour – immediately secured a place in Canadian political lore as a case study in using international travel to burnish a reputation, only to have it backfire disastrously.

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