Trudeau's son a political opportunity

For a compulsive social media junkie, Justin Trudeau has fallen uncharacteristically silent since his third child was born 10 days ago.

The Liberal leader announced Hadrian's birth to his 330,000-plus followers on Twitter, with a discreet close-up photo of the baby's tiny hand clutching his finger.

Since then, he's been home with his wife, Sophie Gregoire, and kids Xavier and Ella-Grace, privately enjoying the new addition to their family. No tweets. No Facebook posts. No photos. No public appearances.

But while Trudeau seems intent on shielding his infant son from the glare of the public spotlight, the Liberal party has had no qualms about using Hadrian's birth to help build up its data base of potential supporters and donors.

Newly elected party president Anna Gainey, a Trudeau confidant, sent out an email blast last week urging well-wishers to send the party their names and email addresses, along with congratulatory messages that would be passed on to Trudeau and Gregoire.

“Don’t expect to see much of Justin in the news for the next few days, right now he’s where he should be — with his family,” Gainey said.

“I imagine many of you would appreciate a chance to welcome baby Hadrian and express your excitement and happiness for the family, so we wanted to give you the opportunity here.”

The dissonance between Trudeau's circumspect conduct and his party's willingness to exploit the birth of his son underscores the balancing act facing a political leader with young children.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," says Karen Brunger, president of the Toronto-based International Image Institute.

On the one hand, voters love to see politicians with their cute kids, the younger the better. And being seen with kids is generally a plus for the politician, making him or her seem warmer, more human, more caring, she says.

"I don't know a politician who doesn't use their children," Brunger says, noting that municipal, provincial and federal politicians often send Christmas cards or campaign brochures plastered with photos of themselves posing with their happy families.

But there's a fine line between featuring one's children occasionally and being perceived to be exploiting them for political gain. And figuring out precisely where that line is can be "challenging," says Brunger.

"It's such a fine line. Can you think of another line of work where family plays such a role?"

From her perspective, Trudeau's handling of his son's birth was "sweet" and not exploitative. The party's handling of the occasion was "much more obvious" and, therefore, more likely to prompt eye-rolling.

Not since Brian Mulroney have Canadians had a political leader with an infant child. Mulroney's youngest son, Nicolas, was born the year after Mulroney became prime minister in 1984.

Before that it was Pierre Trudeau, whose three sons — including his eldest, Justin — started life living at 24 Sussex Dr., the prime minister's official residence.

The current occupant of 24 Sussex, Stephen Harper, has two teenaged children, Ben and Rachel, who were 10 and seven respectively when he took office.



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