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Is Emmanuel Macron really France's answer to Canada's Justin Trudeau?

© Bertrand Guay/Philippe Guguen, AFP | Emmanuel Macron (left) and Justin Trudeau meet for the first time this week

Text by Tracy MCNICOLL

Latest update : 2017-05-25

With consecutive NATO and G7 summits this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron are meeting for the first time, a rendez-vous hotly anticipated by social media, giddy for the photogenic pair.

When the Frenchman was elected on May 7, social media was all atwitter with side-by-side comparisons of the world stage’s young, progressive power players – Trudeau, 45, and Macron, 39, are respectively 17 and 23 years younger than the next youngest G7 leaders. The two leaders are scheduled to hold a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the G7 gathering in Sicily on Friday and Saturday.

On election night and beyond, the word “bromance” was used not a few times. “Justin Trudeau has called Emmanuel Macron to concede in the race for Sexiest G7 Leader,” New York-based editor Josh Barro tweeted. “Already two Macron vs Trudeau hotness smackdown threads on my timeline. When will the sexual objectification of male politicians end?” Twitter user Damian Counsell joked on election night. One Twitter account that jokingly purports to reflect Trudeau’s Google search history tweeted “is Macron hotter than me”.

Through Macron’s meteoric rise to power, pundits and bystanders on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to paint him as “the French Trudeau”. But is he really? Not exactly.

In fact, a more pertinent comparative for Trudeau is John F. Kennedy Jr., the late son of the US Democrat president assassinated in 1963.

Trudeau was born into the public eye on Christmas Day 1971, the first-born son of sitting Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, three years into the Liberal Party leader’s long, influential reign championing official bilingualism, multiculturalism, civil rights, and a unified Canada. The young Justin Trudeau met world leaders as a boy decades before he would encounter them again as a world leader himself. He tells the story of having had to race home from school with his two brothers for lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, Canada’s head of state, visiting Ottawa from Britain.

When Fidel Castro died last November, Justin Trudeau raised eyebrows with his tribute, unusually sanguine among Western leaders, to the Cuban strongman. Trudeau’s homage shared his “deep sorrow” on learning of Castro’s death and called the Cuban “a legendary revolutionary and orator”. “I know my father was very proud to call him a friend,” Trudeau’s statement read. A photo of El Comandante with Trudeau’s mother Margaret -- the leader cradling Trudeau’s baby brother Michel in Havana in 1976 -- was reportedly on display in the family’s home when Justin was a child.

Justin Trudeau’s most difficult moments were headline-grabbing news in Canada: When his mother, 30 years his father’s junior, separated from his father in 1977 and was photographed partying at New York City’s iconic Studio 54, where she rubbed elbows (among other things, rumour has it) with the likes of The Rolling Stones; when Trudeau’s brother Michel died in a 1998 avalanche at 23; when his father passed away two years later.

Compare that to Macron’s altogether more discreet upbringing in provincial Amiens, north of Paris. The son of two doctors famously fell in love with his French teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, 24 years his senior, at his Jesuit high school, while he was still a teenager and she the leader of his theatre club, a married mother of three. But their unconventional relationship didn’t become the stuff of tabloid headlines until decades on, once Macron was already on a fast-track to the Élysée Palace.

Trudeau, too, had a Jesuit education, but similarities in the pair’s schooling, and what they did with it, end there.

Trudeau holds undergraduate degrees in literature from Montreal’s McGill University and education from the University of British Columbia. He reportedly started two other degrees, in engineering and environmental geography, but didn’t finish them. Before finally wending his way into politics in 2007, the young Trudeau had worked as a nightclub bouncer, a snowboard instructor, a high-school French and maths teacher, and had played a WWI hero in a movie for Canadian public television.

Macron, meanwhile, had an altogether different road to adulthood and eventual political prominence. In 2012, when Macron was an advisor in the Élysée Palace, the French daily Le Monde called the then-34-year-old’s CV “so impeccable that it is almost discouraging” and that was before he was named French economy minister at 36 in 2014.

At 16, Macron won a national French language prize. He went on to graduate from Paris’s prestigious Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po) and earned postgraduate degrees in philosophy. The future president was an editorial assistant to Paul Ricoeur, one of the greatest French philosophical minds of the 20th century. Macron graduated among the top ten students in his year at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, France’s elite public service school. Before joining Hollande’s Élysée Palace in 2012, Macron mixed public service assignments with a three-year break to become an investment banker -- and, reportedly, rich.

As for Trudeau, will-he-won’t-he questions over whether he would follow in his father’s footsteps were always in the air, as they had been for John F. Kennedy Jr. before him. (Trudeau’s maternal grandfather, too, had been in politics, a cabinet-minister colleague of his father’s in the 1960s.) In April 1972, when Trudeau was only a baby, US President Richard Nixon, visiting Ottawa, raised a glass of champagne to the infant Trudeau. “Tonight, we’ll dispense with formalities. I’d like to toast the future prime minister of Canada – Justin Pierre Trudeau.”

But to the young Trudeau’s credit, when he did turn to politics, he worked his way up. He won the Liberal Party’s nomination for Montreal’s hardscrabble Papineau district in 2007 and a seat in parliament the following year, unseating an incumbent from the rival Bloc Québécois. Trudeau declined the first opportunity to run for the Liberal leadership in 2009, bolstering his chops in parliament first and successfully running for re-election in 2011. Trudeau did finally win the leadership of the Liberals, a party that has been a dominant force in Canadian politics since the 19th century, before becoming Canada’s second-youngest prime minister in 2015.

Macron, for his part, started his own independent centrist political movement, En Marche!, to mount his unlikely bid just a year before winning the French presidency. Macron stepped down as economy minister in Socialist president Hollande’s government to usher his upstart movement to power, eliminating both of the political forces that had governed France for decades, on the left and right alike, to advance in April to the presidential election’s run-off. He had never been elected to any office before scoring a landslide win against anti-immigration Europhobe Marine Le Pen for France’s top job on May 7 as his country’s youngest ever elected president.

It is too early to say how Trudeau and Macron’s work in office might compare. Both are considered globalist and progressive in their respective countries, but Macron still has a majority to win in legislative elections in June. And the context of each of the pair’s first steps in power is wildly different.

On the one hand, Trudeau won office after a decade of hardline Conservative Party rule in Canada under the grey and dour PM Stephen Harper. His early symbolic moves were necessarily in stark progressive contrast. He raised eyebrows the world over, for one, when he led Gay Pride parades in Canada, dancing through crowded city streets in colourful attire.

Macron, meanwhile, succeeded the Socialist Hollande and has a different set of imperatives. He needs support on the left, right, and centre to win the majority in June that will let him push through his economically and socially liberal platform. A committed Europhile with a laundry list of ideas to boost European integration, he is thought to have poached conservatives from the rival Les Républicains to run the country’s finances as a signal to EU partners – Berlin, in particular -- that France is serious about budgetary rigour and economic reforms at home.

“These Siamese twins aren’t content to be liberal on economics, they are also libertarian on matters of mores. The great work of Trudeau’s first term may be the legalisation of marijuana. Macron proposes decriminalising it. Alongside Daniel Cohn-Bendit, [Macron] doesn’t hesitate to claim allegiance to May 1968 [student uprising]”, a critical pundit wrote in Quebec’s Le Devoir newspaper in April. “I imagine with impatience their first handshake in Ottawa. If the spirit moves them, they could soon be taking a selfie while smoking a joint in the gardens of [the prime minister’s residence].”

The young leaders did both show their shared progressive bent with one of their first acts in office: Naming a cabinet with gender parity -- “Because it’s 2015,” Trudeau famously explained – although he clearly had a closer eye on bringing ethnic diversity into his first government than Macron did.

Indeed, where the G7’s youngest leaders are most readily comparable is on tone. Both campaigned as unabashed optimists.

Macron led a presidential campaign high on, in a word, the hopey-changey thing. He shushed his rally crowds when they booed his rivals; when his run-off opponent Le Pen stumped in negative terms to Make France Great Again, Macron seemed to retort that France is already great. “I want to get us back to optimism,” he pledged in his televised victory speech on May 7.

“Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways,” Trudeau told supporters in his 2015 federal election victory speech, quoting early 20th-century Liberal Canadian PM Wilfrid Laurier. “This is what positive politics can do. This is what a positive, hopeful vision and a platform and team together can make happen.”

In the Globe and Mail newspaper in April, Canadian authors Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau called Macron “the first presidential candidate to ever tell the French it’s okay to be optimistic”.

“In jest, we say that Mr. Macron is France’s version of Justin Trudeau, not just because he shares with the Prime Minister a sunny, almost naive demeanour,” Barlow and Nadeau wrote. “The real similarity is in their willingness to go out and be idealistic in full public view.”

So apart from being young, handsome, bilingual, charismatic, affluent white males with the world at their feet, Trudeau and Macron do share a tendency for optimism. But with all that, who wouldn’t be optimistic, eh?

Date created : 2017-05-25

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