For the last couple of years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hit the road in January to talk to Canadians.
Town halls are scheduled at local arenas, gymnasiums or university campuses in communities across the country. Notices are put out. Anyone can come. It’s first come, first serve.
People can ask anything they want.
Based on the town halls last week in Kamloops and Regina, the questions are definitely not vetted.
Many people opt for questions about specific policy areas like tuition fees for international students, pipelines, Indigenous rights, immigration, the state of the economy and health care.
Others simply want to know a bit more about the man behind the title. One child, for instance, asked Trudeau in Regina what his favourite toy was growing up.
The answer: Stretch Armstrong, a large, gel-filled action figure who apparently doesn’t mix well with radiators.
There’s one question, though, that has stuck with me in the days following these most recent town halls.
It was asked by a man in Kamloops at the first town hall the prime minister did this year.
He wanted to know whether Trudeau ever “laughed like an ordinary man?”
The question appeared to catch the prime minister off-guard.
Yes, he said, he laughs just like others do.
On the surface, it might seem like a simple question — silly even, even though there is no such thing as a silly question.
But, dig a little deeper and one will find it carries a few important insights.
For one thing, it confirms what people in the Ottawa bubble sometimes forget: for the majority of Canadians, the prime minister is a being who lives in the nation’s capital.
He or she is a person who is seen on TV. They are an other — a celebrity-type figure, even — who is very much removed from the day-to-day lives of most Canadians.
They are not an “ordinary” person, despite how relatable they try to make themselves and regardless of the demands from voters that they be ordinary.
This perception is an important reminder to those of us who interact with powerful people, such as prime ministers or presidents, on a regular basis.
It’s a reminder that I, myself, have been fortunate to receive more than once in my career: once when a family member asked me whether we could go some place where they would see the prime minister.
It happened again when the prime minister happened to stop by a friend of mine’s workplace. She talked about his visit for days.
You see, even bureaucrats in Ottawa don’t often get to engage with those who work in the inner sanctum of Parliament Hill.
For politicians, recognizing that not everyone sees them like an average Joe is important, too — especially in an election year.
You see, politicians trying to connect with those outside of the Ottawa bubble is a trend that goes into overtime during an election year.
Over the course of the next few months, politicians of all stripes will spend countless hours trying to make themselves more relatable to everyday Canadians.
There will be photo-ops at Tim Hortons. Some might try and show they’re the person who people will want to “grab a beer with.”
Dances will be had. Jokes will be cracked. Conversations at kitchen tables will be documented.
Cynics will disregard these events as photo-ops where the only take-away is who gets the best, or in some cases, the worst photo for social media.
Others argue they allow politicians and others in attendance to show their human side and remind people that politicians are people, too.
They juggle families and work responsibilities. They have good days and bad days, restful nights and sleepless nights.
They cry and they laugh.
They are in fact, ordinary people who are simply leading extraordinary lives.