MANILA, Philippines – It’s about Canada, not him.
Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who famously earned the moniker “APEC hottie” from Filipino netizens, deftly deflected questions about his heartthrob status in Manila.
“I’m pleased Canada is getting a little more attention right now because it gives us an opportunity to highlight the issues that are important to us,” he told a Canadian journalist who asked how he viewed the “celebrity aura.”
“I got elected on the platform of openness, transparency, engagement, of listening to Canadians, of trusting people. We have real answers to tough questions, a level of respect for citizens, that for me, is at the heart of what a 21st century democracy looks like,” Trudeau added.
Screams and requests for selfies greeted Trudeau at the International Media Center of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Manila at the end of a two-day summit he attended on his first series of foreign trips as head of government. (READ: Frenzy over ‘APEC hottie’ Justin Trudeau at end of APEC meet)
Even some journalists and summit volunteers joined the craze before and after he held a press briefing where he spoke in both English and French.
The premier said the attention he is getting is one way to promote engagement between leaders and citizens.
“Anything that can highlight that perspective – that positive engagement that Canada wants to have on a world stage – at a time when quite frankly we need Canada to engage positively on the world stage, I [will] take as a positive [development],” he said.
The 43-year-old leader assumed his post only two weeks ago after his Liberal Party won a stunning victory against the Conservatives of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Although fresh in office, he has gone to Turkey for the G20 summit and Manila for the APEC summit. He will also go to Malta for the Commonwealth leaders’ gathering and Paris for the climate talks. He said Canada must be “committed on the international stage.”
‘We’ll convert it to substance’
When Philippine media again brought up his fame, Trudeau highlighted the “very strong” Filipino-Canadian ties.
“I have absolutely adored my stay in the Philippines,” he replied. “Everyone has been tremendously friendly and, for me, it was an opportunity to engage with a culture that I’ve gotten to know very well in Canada,” he added.
Trudeau pointed out that Canada has 700,000 citizens of Filipino origin.
“So for me to be able to be here and see what a beautiful and welcoming country so many of my fellow Canadian citizens call home or original home is a real pleasure,” he said.
He said he knows that the attention to his appearance will eventually wane and people will soon focus on what he has “to say.” He likened it to the attention he got in Canada as the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
“On a personal level, when I first announced I was going into politics 8 years ago, there was a little bit of buzz and interest in my father and my story. Rapidly, after a few months of working hard, I got people to focus on the actual substance because I had things to say,” Trudeau said.
“Similar things happened once I got to be leader of the Liberal Party. Again, by the time I became prime minister in Canada, it was old for people. This is fresh for the world stage. We’ll take some interest right now, and convert that into substance of what we’re talking about,” he added.
Trudeau’s father, a former leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, was also a media sensation. His charisma often draws comparisons to the late US President John Kennedy.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said of the elder Trudeau: “Women and men were mesmerized by him. But Trudeau’s appeal extended beyond Parliament. He became a political pop star, attracting admirers whose dedication rivaled that of Beatles fans. Canada called it ‘Trudeaumania,’ a phenomenon that lasted until his marriage in 1971.”
‘Balance the public and the professional’
Trudeau also talked about his father when he explained how he views the fandom.
“You know, one of the things about growing up somewhat in the public eye is that I have to develop a capacity to separate people’s perceptions of me from who I really am,” he said.
“My father was well-respected as a prime minister but there were a lot of people who didn’t like him for any sorts of reason, and often they would project that on to me as a young child, and I had to learn that what people said about me negatively like that didn’t define me and wasn’t who I am,” he added.
Trudeau said he learned from his father the importance of balancing the “public role” with the “very professional role” of a leader.
Beyond the adulation, Trudeau said his first experience on the global stage as Canada’s leader taught him the value of engaging with his counterparts.
In Turkey and the Philippines, the prime minister highlighted the need for Canada to hold consultations on the US-led trade deal Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), its role in the anti-terrorism coalition, its support for an ambitious climate change deal, and his government’s openness to accepting Syrian refugees.
“International relations often come down to personal relationships. I’d seen it from my father but for me to be here, to be able to engage in both formal and more casual conversations with leaders from around the world, to establish connections so we can work together on issues where we align, but also to agree to disagree on issues where we may have different perspectives,” he said.
While he has a lot of work setting up his government and focusing on domestic issues, he said Canada benefits from sharing and learning from the rest of the world.
“In the beginning, I was somewhat reticent about talking about the kinds of solutions specifically for Canada during our election: investing in infrastructure, transit right off the bat. It may not be directly appropriate to other countries. But one of the things I’ve learned from those leaders is no, let’s talk about what we do at home in concrete terms, and share what works and doesn’t work,” he said.
“Frankly, I think that’s a big part of what these summits are about,” he said. – Rappler.com