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Dublin: 4°C Thursday 1 October 2020

Why is Leo Varadkar so keen to roll out the red carpet for Justin Trudeau?

Canada’s centrist prime minister jets in this evening, and will be here until Wednesday morning.

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER Justin Trudeau pays a visit to Ireland this week.

His visit comes just two months after a trip to Canada by then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny which was, as you may recall, slightly overshadowed by questions about Kenny’s leadership, and a pair of Star Wars socks.

123 Source: Paul Chiasson, AP

Trudeau is set to arrive this evening, and a number of high-profile events are being scheduled around Dublin to mark his visit before he departs for the G20 summit in Germany on Wednesday.

He’s expected to visit Áras An Uachtaráin at some stage tomorrow.

And while Canadian leaders can always be assured of a warm welcome here (the two countries, of course, share strong cultural and business ties) the timing of Trudeau’s visit will be particularly welcomed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his advisors.

Varadkar has sought to align himself with the likes of Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, and said during the Fine Gael leadership campaign that he liked the “style and substance” of both men.

As populist movements – either on the right, or the left – continue to gain traction in the US, the UK and further afield, Varadkar has sought to establish a brand as both a safe pair of hands, and a straight-talking, strong leader.

At 38, he’s also of the same generation as Trudeau (45) and Macron (39), who he met while the French politician was still campaigning for the presidency, back at the start of May.

leo3 Leo Varadkar (who was not yet Taoiseach) meets Emmanuel Macron in May. Source: Leo Varadkar/Twitter

Who is Justin Trudeau?  

Trudeau is the son of Pierre Trudeau, who was one of the country’s best-known leaders and led Canada in the 1970s and early 80s.

Many profiles published at the time he took office in 2015 noted that he was pretty much born to be premier, as a result of his dynastic links.

And while Canadian politicians – even prime ministers – tend to be an unassuming bunch, Trudeau has become something of a global political celebrity in the two years since he took office.

His looks, charm, knife-flipping skills (see below) and fondness for themed socks have garnered interest from corners of the internet not normally concerned with international diplomacy.


On a more serious note – his rhetoric on immigration and general policy of inclusivity have established him as a liberal counterpoint to Donald Trump, since the US President took office in January.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” Trudeau tweeted, in the wake of Trump’s announcement of his planned travel ban, back in January.  ”Diversity is our strength.”

He also posted a photograph of himself with a child, apparently a Syrian refugee, with the hashtag #welcometocanada, which has since been retweeted almost 100,000 times.

32 Source: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

Indeed, Trudeau occasionally manages to combine the ephemeral and statesmanlike qualities of his leadership – harnessing the power of the internet to send a serious message.

There was his February handshake with Trump, for instance: the Canadian leader managed to exert a measure of calm and control over the ritual, combating the US President’s dominant approach to handshakes, and the encounter generated global headlines.

More recently, he wore a pair of multi-coloured Eid-themed socks to a Gay Pride event in Toronto.

Source: BBC News/YouTube

Neither left nor right

Like Trudeau, and Emmanuel Macron in France, Leo Varadkar has marketed himself as a new kind of leader, not shackled to the left-right divisions of the last century.

“They’re actually pushing back against some of the forces that want to close the world down again,” Varadkar told the Irish Times, as he launched his bid to be Taoiseach earlier this summer.

He added that the Canadian and French leaders were “standing up for free trade, standing up for Europe, standing up for multilateralism, saying that, on balance, if it’s managed, migration is a good thing.

Instead of pandering to populist or extremist views on the right or left, they’ve done the opposite.
Addressing the Dáil after his election as Taoiseach last month Varadkar said he planned to lead a government not “of left or right because those old divisions don’t comprehend the political challenges of today”.
The government I lead will be one of the new European centre as we seek to build a republic of opportunity.

Royal visit to Canada - Day 3 Justin Trudeau speaks during Canada Day celebrations at the weekend. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

And while Varadkar and Trudeau will have plenty of opportunity to talk up their common political ground in the coming 48 hours or so – it’s worth noting that away from the glowing international headlines it hasn’t all been plain sailing at home for the Canadian premier.

According to a recent poll, his approval ratings have taken a dent in the last year or so.

Business Insider reports that Trudeau has faced criticism for supporting oil pipeline expansion, going ahead with a controversial plan to supply military vehicles to Saudi Arabia, failing to fulfill promises of electoral reform, and taking a luxurious vacation on a billionaire’s private island.

Read: ‘Leo models himself on Macron and Trudeau, but he’s not living up to them when it comes to gender balance’>

Read: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit Ireland next week >

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