Cult of Personality

Canada’s diplomats have received their orders: no more selfies with the Prime Minister.

It is not that  foreign service officers have been flocking to have their photo taken with the man dubbed “Prime Minister Selfie;” it is that some of our diplomatic missions have purchased life-sized cardboard cutouts of the PM that are being used at official functions. People love to take selfies with the cardboard.

I find this kind of amusing myself, but it will happen no more I guess. Those taxpayer dollars spent on the cardboard cutouts are now officially wasted. I don’t know whether the issue was that the PM felt the imitation was devaluing his brand, or whether he was a bit thin-skinned over the idea. The Official Opposition was suggesting it was difficult to tell a two-dimensional piece of cardboard from the real thing. Apparently both were lacking in substance.

The cult of personality surrounding politicians (and athletes, actors, musicians or whomever) is nothing new. It is all a matter of branding. The previous Canadian government labelled itself “the Harper Government,” which worked really well when Stephen Harper was seen as a competent manager for tough economic times. The brand suffered when people began to see him as mean-spirited and out of touch. The Conservative Party and its leader became synonymous, and the election was lost.

In the same way Prime Minister Selfie’s shine will also wear off – it did for his father, who was our previous example of a rock star prime minister. Already the picture isn’t as perfect as it once was; whether it is broken election promises (too many to list) or apparent violation of ethics rules (still under investigation) or an economy that seems to be drifting listlessly with no political leadership, the man has developed a credibility problem he didn’t have in 2015.

I’m the sort of person who wishes there was more substance and less personality in politics. It would be so nice to discuss issues and policies on their merits instead of basing our opinions on who proposed them. All of Canada’s political parties are capable of proposing good legislation, though I will admit that I think that is truer of some than others.

Unfortunately, it seems we are drawn to personalities, we seem to need heroes, someone to look up to. And, given that our heroes are all too human, they can’t stay as our heroes forever. We see their flaws and move on to the next shiny person – until they too lose their lustre. And so it goes in an endless procession.

Now that I think about it, maybe the cardboard cutout isn’t a bad idea. It at least would stay the same in our eyes. A little week in the policy area perhaps, but it would satisfy the needs of most people.

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