Justin Trudeau, 'the anti-Trump,' shows U.S. Canada's progressive, diverse face

Story highlights

  • Justin Trudeau contrasts with stern image of U.S. presidential race, Andrew Cohen says
  • Cohen: Trudeau's visit to U.S. shows Canada's progressive, moderate, sunny face
  • Cohen says Canada believes in government, universal health care, climate change

Andrew Cohen is a best-selling author and journalist who writes a nationally syndicated column for the Ottawa Citizen. His latest book is "Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History" (Signal/Random House). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Justin Trudeau and his entourage arrived in Washington to the warm applause of the American media. Vanity Fair, Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post and others have cloaked him in the rapture of an international celebrity.

This is unusual -- even unprecedented -- for a prime minister of Canada, the northern neighbor that Americans know as friendly, reliable, cold and dull. But no prime minister has looked and sounded like this one in a generation -- certainly not since his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, ran the country.
    When President Barack Obama hosted him at a state dinner Thursday at the White House -- the first for a Canadian leader since 1998 -- it offered a prime opportunity for Justin Trudeau to show the new face of Canada, the second most diverse country in the world, as progressive, moderate and tolerant.
    Andrew Cohen
    In a sense, everything that the United States is not in this election season.
    It's a theme Trudeau has embraced since the surprising election of his Liberal Party on October 19, ending almost 10 years of the divisive government of Conservative Stephen Harper. More striking, Trudeau's image contrasts with the stern face that the United States has shown the world in its winter of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton -- old, gray, loud and scowling.
    What is interesting about Trudeau -- who has been called "the anti-Trump" -- is how he, his politics, and his country are diverging dramatically from the United States. It helps explain the fascination in Trudeau beyond his looks (6 feet 2 inches), his youth (44), his elegant wife and his patrician pedigree.
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    In fact, amid the demagoguery and vulgarity of the presidential race, Trudeau personifies something entirely different: youth, idealism, warmth and hope.
    It is not accidental that his delegation to Washington includes two senior women ministers, underscoring the fact that his Cabinet is half female. When asked in November why he insisted on gender parity, he answered, "Because it's 2015!"
    He is accompanied as well by the minister of national defense and the minister of economic development, both Sikhs who wear turbans. And his foreign minister, a Francophone from Quebec. There are also many parliamentarians who are visible minorities.
    The point: Canada is about diversity. Since the Liberals took office, Canada has admitted 25,000 Syrian refugees; Trudeau greeted the first planeload personally in Toronto.
    They are among the 300,000 immigrants Canada will accept this year, the highest in some time.
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    After a government that dismissed global warming, Canada has embraced an activist policy on climate change. In the international mission against ISIS, Trudeau has withdrawn Canada's bombers, preferring instead to train troops on the ground.
    In other ways, Trudeau leads a country that believes in government: recommitting funding to universal health care and public broadcasting, pledging to run budgetary deficits to pay infrastructure and supporting the expansion of free trade, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which Trump and Sanders oppose.)
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    All of this has led some Americans to light up social media with talk of moving to Canada. Americans don't actually move, but they see Canada as an insurance policy.
    Canada is no utopia. It has fat people, bad trains, high airfares and some ugly urban architecture. It has racial profiling and income equity and an ambition deficit.
    But to those dreaming of an America and a leader such as Barack Obama in 2008, Canada restricts guns, limits money in politics and separates church and state.
    And in an America in the teeth of a nasty election campaign, it is led by a tribune of hope who talks of "sunny ways."