Opinion: Beyond the bubble of Ottawa

Capital Letters with Kelsey Johnson of iPolitics

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For the last couple of years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hit the road in January to talk to Canadians.

Town halls are scheduled at local arenas, gymnasiums or university campuses in communities across the country. Notices are put out. Anyone can come. It’s first come, first served.

People can ask anything they want.

Based on the town halls recently in Kamloops and Regina, the questions are definitely not vetted.

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Many people opt for questions about specific policy areas like tuition fees for international students, pipelines, Indigenous rights, immigration, the state of the economy and health care.

Others simply want to know a bit more about the man behind the title. One child, for instance, asked Trudeau in Regina what his favourite toy was growing up.

The answer: Stretch Armstrong, a large, gel-filled action figure that apparently doesn’t mix well with radiators.

There’s one question, though, that has stuck with me in the days following these most recent town halls.

It was asked by a man in Kamloops at the first town hall the prime minister did this year.

He wanted to know whether Trudeau ever “laughed like an ordinary man?”

The question appeared to catch the prime minister off-guard.

Yes, he said, he laughs just like others do.

On the surface, it might seem like a simple question – silly even, though there is no such thing as a silly question.

But, dig a little deeper and one will find it carries a few important insights.

For one thing, it confirms what people in the Ottawa bubble sometimes forget: for the majority of Canadians, the prime minister is a being who lives in the nation’s capital.

He or she is a person who is seen on TV. They are an other – a celebrity-type figure even – who is very much removed from the day-to-day lives of most Canadians.

They are not an “ordinary” person – despite how relatable they try to make themselves and regardless of the demands from voters that they be ordinary.

This perception is an important reminder to those of us who interact with powerful people, like prime ministers or presidents, on a regular basis.

It’s a reminder I have been fortunate to receive more than once in my career: once when a family member asked me whether we could go some place where they would see the prime minister.

It happened again when the prime minister stopped by a friend of mine’s work place. She talked about his visit for days.

You see, even bureaucrats in Ottawa don’t often get to engage with those who work in the inner sanctum of Parliament Hill.

For politicians, recognizing that not everyone sees them like an average Joe is important, too – especially in an election year.

Politicians trying to connect with those outside of the Ottawa-bubble is a trend that goes into overtime during an election year.

Over the course of the next few months, politicians of all stripes will spend countless hours trying to make themselves more relatable to everyday Canadians.

There will be photo-ops at Tim Hortons. Some might try and show they’re the person who people will want to “grab a beer with.”

Dances will be had. Jokes will be cracked. Conversations at kitchen tables will be documented.

Babies will be kissed. Seniors homes will be visited. There will be more lobster-boils, pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners than one can shake a stick at.

For those who want to lead, wannabe presidents or prime ministers will often write a book, allowing readers to learn about their childhood tales and family misadventures.

Cynics will disregard these events as photo-ops where the only take away is who gets the best, or in some cases, the worst photo for social media.

Others argue they allow politicians and others in attendance to show their human side and remind people that politicians are people, too.

They juggle families and work responsibilities. They have good days and bad days. Restful nights and sleepless nights.

They cry and they laugh.

They are in fact, ordinary people who are simply leading extraordinary lives.

About the author


Kelsey Johnson

Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics.ca in Ottawa. Born and raised in Alberta, Kelsey credits her Western roots for sparking her interest in all things related to Canadian agriculture. In her spare time, she can be found hiking, camping or curled up with a mug of tea and book.



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