Dr. Hook was right about the cover of the Rolling Stone

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must have purchased five copies of last week’s mag for his mother.


First published on Monday, July 31, 2017 in The Hill Times.


OTTAWA—Dr. Hook put it best. You haven’t made it until you appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

So, just like the eponymous song said, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must have purchased five copies of last week’s mag for his mother.

One picture is always worth a thousand words. And the full-page photo of the prime minister is a great one.

The 7,000 words of copy were equally effusive. Some would say obsequious.

Toronto Star columnist Vinay Menon complained that “the Rolling Stone profile of Trudeau that landed on Wednesday is so glowingly submissive, so blindingly quixotic, that even if you tool around in a T-shirt that reads ‘Sunny Ways,’ you might be wise to put on shades while skimming to avoid damaging your retinas.”

The former director of communications for Stephen Harper wrote an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail bluntly stating that “Trudeau’s celebrity helps Trudeau, not Canada.”

Andrew MacDougall’s lengthy analysis, intended to throw cold water on the prime minister’s international photo shoot, actually reinforced it. He went so far as to say that his former boss would never have deigned to give an interview to Rolling Stone because Harper considered the magazine irrelevant to his political agenda.

Of course it is irrelevant to a political agenda. But it is relevant to an electability agenda.

As MacDougall noted in his piece, the magazine is “not the journal of record on Capitol Hill.”

However, Rolling Stone is the journal of record for a generation of young people who know little, and care less, about what is happening on Capitol Hill or Parliament Hill.

It was this generation that delivered a majority to Trudeau, intrigued by his legalized marijuana promise while the other old-line parties were scoffing at him for being irrelevant.

The Conservatives still haven’t figured out why to take their message outside the confines of the Parliamentary Precinct.

If they did, they would not have used up so much political capital on the Stone story.

Simply from a public relations point of view, the cover spot has positive blowback in Canada.

As MacDougall himself wrote, “The marketing minds in Mr. Trudeau’s office know that Canadians turn into a country of gushing Sally Fields…when praised by foreigners.”

Setting aside the generational faux pas of using senior citizen Sally Fields as a foil, MacDougall was bang on. Canadians often validate ourselves by how others see us. How many Canadian musicians have toured south of the border merely to make sure their stuff gets played on Canadian radio stations?

If that is the case, Trudeau’s coup in securing the Stone cover shot, will simply reinforce the Canadian prime minister’s current international media darling status.

By attacking the messenger, the Conservatives have succeeded in making sure that all Canadians, including those outside the political class, are aware of Trudeau’s notoriety.

Instead of burying the Stone story, the Tories stoked it. Deputy leader Lisa Raitt went so far as to claim that the exposure could have the adverse affect of jeopardizing Canada’s renegotiation of the NAFTA.

The question “Why Can’t He Be Our President?” could irk the ego-centric president of the United States because of Donald Trump’s “mercurial” nature and his tendency to act “on a whim.”

Her comments implied that the best negotiating strategy would be to hide from Trump and hope for the best. One thing Trudeau will never be accused of is hiding his light under a bushel.

That strategy could work for new Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. His personal charisma is primarily derived from surrounding himself with his beautiful family.

If not careful, Scheer runs the risk of being stereotyped as an old-time politico.

The American cover story actually feeds Trudeau’s edgy celebrity status.

The president may privately bemoan Trudeau’s media popularity but he will want to publicly bask in the shared glory.

With his Russian relationships in tatters, Trump needs to reinforce ties with Trudeau, because of the latter’s rock star status with those who spurn traditional politics.

Trump secured the White House, because he understood that the road to victory involved bypassing, and even demonizing Capitol Hill. That was the “swamp” that the New York businessman was going in to clean up.

Trump stoked his status as a political outsider, the “blue collar billionaire,” appealing to non-politicos on the right. Trudeau is applying the same reasoning to cultivate his international rock star image. Their mutual success has been largely nurtured off the Hill.

As Hillary Clinton and Harper both learned, inside politics is dead.


Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.