He was the consummate politician: tall, dapper and always willing to be trotted out for public appearances, even when someone licked his face. The only problem? He’s made of corrugated paper.
Despite the social media appeal of posing for selfies with a life-size cardboard cutout of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — or perhaps because of it — Canadian diplomats in the United States have been ordered to no longer set up the 6-foot-2 cardboard replica of Mr. Trudeau at promotional events, after researchers from the opposition Conservative Party raised the issue on Monday.
Before they were quietly retired, the sultry, if flat, cardboard cutouts of Mr. Trudeau popped up across the United States, from a Canadian consular event in Atlanta and a Canada Day celebration at the nation’s Embassy in Washington last year, to the South by Southwest arts festival in Austin, Tex., where the two-dimensional Trudeau, garbed in black suit and brown loafers, was surrounded by revelers with cocktails.
There will be no future invitations. “We are aware of instances where our missions in the United States had decided to purchase and use these cutouts,” the Global Affairs Canada spokesman, Michael O’Shaughnessy, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday. “The missions have been asked to no longer use these for their events.”
The abrupt retirement of the cutouts may reflect a tension in Canadian politics, between the understated reserve that’s a legacy of British colonial rule and the desire for American-style star power.
Highly sensitive to accusations that Mr. Trudeau lacks the gravitas of a world leader, the governing Liberal Party has long sought to balance his brand as celebrity and statesman. Last week, he attracted a great deal of media attention just by attending a performance of the Broadway musical “Come From Away.”
“The prime minister’s office is incredibly aware of the power of his celebrity and want nothing to affect that,” said Ian Capstick, a media consultant in Ottawa. “By having countless cutouts out there the government really starts to lose control of that image.”
While Global Affairs did not respond to emails and telephone calls asking about the reason for the decision, the demise of the Trudeau stand-ins comes at an awkward moment for the real-life prime minister, who is under fire for a family vacation to a Caribbean island owned by the Aga Khan, which cost Canadian taxpayers more than $95,000.
Conservative activists discovered that the Canadian Embassy last June paid $147.79 for a rush order on a Trudeau cutout from HistoricalCutouts.com, a Pennsylvania company.
Emails obtained by the Conservative researchers reveal a quiet debate over the cutout, with one describing the replica as a “hoot” that would spark “some serious selfie action.” But not all bureaucrats were supportive. “It just doesn’t seem very prime ministerial,” one said.
Conservatives have seized on the cutouts as a partisan waste of taxpayer money and an insult to Canadian political tradition.
“It’s undignified and unbecoming,” John Brassard, the Conservative Party spokesman and a member of Parliament, said in an interview, during which he argued the cutout was an accurate metaphor for Mr. Trudeau: “Our prime minister is all about style with very little substance.”
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