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LILLEY: Trudeau’s European trip heavy on photo-ops, light on substance

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Is Justin Trudeau’s visit to Europe nothing more than a photo-op?

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I’d say that’s an unfair characterization of the trip while noting the Trudeau team can’t help themselves when it comes to photo-ops.

That is why the reaction to a question about the photo-op nature of the trip was so telling. On Wednesday, CBC reporter Travis Dhanraj asked Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland if the government was focusing on photo-ops in Europe when there were important issues to deal with at home.

Dhanraj pointed out there are several ministers on this extended trip while pressing domestic issues at home are not being deal with.

“Some people view this as a photo-op trip to Europe,” Dhanraj said to Freeland.

“The only person I’ve heard saying that is you,” Freeland said in her usual high-handed way.

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What’s interesting is that this exchange was taking place shortly after I’d been on John Gormley’s radio show in Saskatchewan where he asked me if this was just a photo-op trip. I’ve been asked that on radio, on TV, in emails and direct messages.

So clearly, lots of people are questioning the value of this trip and wondering if it is just a photo-op for Trudeau and his team on the taxpayer dime.

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Face-to-face meetings are important and can lead to outcomes that simply won’t happen over a phone call or video chat. People who don’t understand that have never done sales or been involved in politics where relationship building matters.

None of that means that Trudeau and his team aren’t guilty of exploiting this trip for all it is worth politically, including using photos and videos to sell a message back home.

Tip O’Neill, the longtime speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, famously said, “All politics is local.” In this case, that means that Trudeau is using this trip to change the channel back home and paint himself and his team as leaders on the world stage.

On Thursday, Trudeau held no fewer than seven photo-ops. On Wednesday, just hours after Freeland and foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly pushed back at Dhanraj by saying this trip wasn’t about photo-ops, they posted one. A photo of Trudeau, Joly, Freeland and others walking past the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin looking like The Beatles posing for the cover of their Abbey Road album cover.

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Canada, under Justin Trudeau, has done yeoman’s work on helping move our allies towards imposing tougher sanctions on Putin’s Russia. We were instrumental in getting Russian banks removed from the SWIFT payment system and stopping Russia’s access to easy cash.

Since Trudeau has been in Europe though, it seems our work has been less substantive.

Due to the sad state of our own military, we have fewer options to offer Ukraine in their fight against Putin’s invaders. What we have sent is good, but we can’t do much more because we haven’t invested in our own military, never mind the ability to help other countries.

One of the announcements was to give Ukraine access to satellite imagery that the Trudeau government took away from Kyiv in 2016.

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When Trudeau has been asked if Canada can increase production of oil and gas to help give our European allies an alternative to Russian energy, he has talked about the need for renewables and decarbonizing our economy.

I support Trudeau going to Europe and meeting with our allies, I support what the Trudeau government has done to help Ukraine while wishing we could do more. If the Trudeau government wants to avoid being criticized for using his trip to Europe as nothing more than a photo-op, then he must show people that it is more than that.

Give us, and the Ukrainian people, the steak and not just the sizzle.

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