TORONTO — Justin Trudeau, the new, young prime minister of Canada with movie-star looks, is bringing his star power to the White House.
The tall, dark-haired, 44-year-old scion of one of Canada’s most famous politicians was sworn into office in November. Within weeks, President Barack Obama granted Trudeau one of the highest honors the U.S. reserves for close allies: a pomp-filled visit with plenty of time in private talks and in front of cameras with Obama, who remains popular in Canada.
Trudeau, accompanied by his wife, Sophie Gregoire, will be feted Thursday at a sparkly state dinner, the first of Obama’s final year in office and the first for Canada since April 1997.
“Obama was delighted that Trudeau got elected,” said Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political science professor, offering perspective on Trudeau’s speedy invitation. “They’re both liberals. They both like to talk the same kind of language.”
Stephen Harper, Trudeau’s predecessor, is a conservative who held office for nearly a decade. His relations with Obama were strained over various issues, most notably the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that would have run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. After years of U.S. government reviews, Obama killed the project last year.
Trudeau’s election has ushered in a new era in Canada’s politics that he and others hope will help strengthen relations with the U.S.
“I think we’ve seen the incredible excitement that Justin generated during his campaign in Canada,” Obama said after their first meeting at a summit in the Philippines last fall. “We’re confident that he’s going to be able to provide a great boost of energy and reform to the Canadian political landscape. And we’re looking forward very much to working with him.”
Added Trudeau: “It’s going to be a wonderful time of strengthening ties between our two countries both on the economic, on the security, on the engagement with the world and on the personal level.”
Nik Nanos, a Canadian pollster, said more Americans have become interested in Canadian politics because of Trudeau.
“Not all Canadian prime ministers have star power. Justin Trudeau has star power,” Nanos said.
Trudeau channels the charisma of his father, the late Pierre Trudeau, who often flashed his intelligence and wit. Trudeau aims to restore his father’s legacy as leader of the Liberal Party, a record that was under siege during 10 years of Conservative rule under Harper.
Pierre Trudeau swept into power in 1968 on a wave of support dubbed “Trudeaumania” and, with a short interruption, served until 1984. He was often compared to John F. Kennedy and remains one of the few Canadian politicians who are recognized in America.
Justin Trudeau is a former teacher, nightclub bouncer and snowboard instructor who has three young children with his wife, a former model and TV host. The second-youngest prime minister in Canada’s history, Trudeau’s rivals made his youth an issue, but he came from behind to win a sweeping mandate.
He tapped into a desire for change among many Canadians with an unexpectedly popular campaign promise to spend billions on infrastructure in an effort to stimulate the slowing Canadian economy. He has cut taxes for the middle class and increased them for the wealthy. He delivered on a major campaign promise by taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees amid terrorism fears after the Paris attacks. He also pulled Canada’s fighters from the U.S.-led mission against the Islamic State group but more than doubled the number of military trainers on the ground.
Trudeau has also signaled seriousness about climate change, and not just Canada’s oil sector.