By Andrea Hopkins
LONDON, Ontario (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gathered with his cabinet on Friday aiming to reset the agenda after a rough end to 2017, hoping a return to retail politics and a little voter adulation restores momentum for the second half of his mandate.
Bracketing the two-day cabinet retreat with town hall meetings across Canada, Trudeau mostly left questions about conflicts of interest back in Ottawa as he waded through crowds of supporters seeking selfies – scenes reminiscent of his 2015 rise to power.
“He’s a natural in that environment, he’s good at it, he loves it, and the people in the room love it as well,” said Ipsos Public Affairs pollster Darrell Bricker after Trudeau’s third town hall in as many days.
“And it’s far less risky than sitting in Ottawa getting pounded every day on the ethics report.”
Canada’s ethics commissioner ruled Dec. 20 that Trudeau broke conflict of interest rules when he accepted a 2015 vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island, the first prime minister found to have committed such a transgression. The Aga Khan is the title held by the leader of the Ismaili branch of Shi’ite Islam.
While the finding has resonated with some, including a woman who asked him on Tuesday how it felt to be the first prime minister found guilty of a crime, most of the questions lobbed at Trudeau at the town halls have been fawning, and even his calm response to hecklers wins praise.
“It is his show, his sweet spot, and it must gall the opposition that he is still treated like a celebrity in those settings,” a Toronto Star columnist wrote, noting the difficulty Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer has getting such positive attention.
With three town halls still to go, the opposition party has taken to social media to object to Trudeau’s at times light-hearted tone with attendees.
“Justin Trudeau is the first Canadian prime minister to break a federal law while in office. Then he refused to appear at the Ethics Committee to explain himself. Now, he is laughing about it. How does that make you feel?” the Conservative Party tweeted on Thursday.
The Conservatives say they plan to keep the ethics violations front and center when the House of Commons returns Jan. 29.
Trudeau’s approval rating still hovers around 50 percent, according to Ipsos, levels similar to when he took office, despite a 2017 backlash from small businesses over tax changes and opposition accusations that Trudeau and his multi-millionaire Finance Minister Bill Morneau are out-of-touch elites.
(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Richard Chang)