WASHINGTON – The first foreign reactions to Justin Trudeau’s ascent to the prime ministership included words of both congratulation and consternation — as well as some sexual objectification.
The flood of well-wishes began early Tuesday as world leaders from India, Mexico, Italy, France, China, the U.K. and the U.S. either sent messages or called Canada’s newest prime minister-designate.
The foreign media coverage included serious dives into his policies. At the same time there was a bumper crop of tabloid-style headlines about his appearance, with the UK Daily Mirror offering one example of the genre: “Is Justin Trudeau the sexiest politician in the world?”
Sexy or not, his closest international partner showed no sign of being an easy first date. The U.S. sent mixed signals Tuesday, some of encouragement but also notes of caution.
The White House offered congratulations and welcomed talk of closer co-operation on climate change. On the other hand, the Obama administration sought clarity on two files where it was pleased with the relationship with the Conservative government: trade and the military.
A White House spokesman raised the Islamic State bombing mission without prompting Tuesday. There were whispers in Washington over the summer that the administration was concerned about the Liberals’ stated intention of withdrawing from the bombing, in order to contribute in other ways.
“They have made an important contribution thus far and we’re obviously deeply appreciative of them lending their talent and skill,” said Josh Earnest, a spokesman for President Barack Obama.
“We hope that we can continue to count on their ongoing support for this very important mission.”
Earnest also raised the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — which Trudeau has declined to take a position on, given that he hasn’t seen it yet.
Earnest pushed back at suggestions that relations with Canada would improve with the Conservatives gone, following an era marked by frustration from the Harper government over the stalled Keystone XL pipeline.
Earnest said the relationship is more complex than a pipeline, and expressed appreciation for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s efforts over the years: “It would be shortsighted to reduce the relationship between our two countries to just one issue.”
He said Obama would call both the current and future prime minister — with plans to speak with Trudeau right away Tuesday, and with Harper in the near future.
The White House spokesman did concede hope for one improvement from the status quo — on climate change: “We believe that it’s possible that there is more that Canada can do in this regard.”
The upcoming climate talks in Paris were also raised in a congratulatory message from the summit host, French President Francois Hollande.
Congratulations for Trudeau rolled in from around the world. Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto called the future prime minister and tweeted congratulations in Spanish: “Canada and Mexico have the opportunity to start a new chapter in their relationship.” As noted by the Washington Post, this is the first time since 2000 that the continent is led by three left-of-centre governments.
Narendra Modi said: “I have fond memories of my visit to Canada in April 2015 and my meeting with you,” he tweeted at Trudeau. “It was also great meeting your daughter, whom you had woken up early that day. Best wishes.”
In the U.S., one persistent critic of Conservative climate-change policies expressed delight about a potential change in Canadian policy in time for next month’s climate talks.
“I’m hopeful tonight’s election will put Canada back in a leadership position,” former vice-president and presidential candidate Al Gore tweeted. “Congratulations.”
World media ran stories speculating on what a Trudeau win might mean. Most pieces invariably mentioned the father-son dynamic, in Canada’s first multi-generational prime ministerial dynasty.
The Associated Press informed readers worldwide about the Richard Nixon prophecy. At a state dinner in 1972, when Trudeau was a few months old, the then-president toasted the baby’s arrival and joked that he’d become prime minister someday.
Then there was one Australian news site: “Justin Trudeau is Canada’s new, incredibly good looking prime minister.” And the UK Daily Mail: “‘No other leader in the world is as sexy’: Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau causes global stir.”
An NBC News website straddled the serious and the frivolous. It introduced Trudeau to readers with facts about his politics, and personal details like his Haida-style tattoo.
NBC’s headline: “Meet Justin Trudeau: Canada’s Liberal, Boxing, Strip-Teasing New PM.”