When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his world debut at the G20 summit in Turkey this weekend, nothing he says is likely to matter much – provided he avoids the embarrassing whoppers on foreign affairs that marred his apprenticeship as Liberal Leader.
How he looks hobnobbing with world leaders, however, is likely to matter quite a lot.
No one much cared what Stephen Harper discussed with his Mexican and U.S. counterparts at his first foreign outing as prime minister in 2006. But the photos of a lumbering Mr. Harper in a hunting vest drew gasps of "What was he thinking?" back home. It was an inauspicious start abroad.
From his morning paddle on a mist-covered Bow River to the unveiling of his cabinet at Rideau Hall, Mr. Trudeau and his handlers have shown they know a thing or two about stagecraft. While our new Prime Minister might lay it on a bit thick sometimes, it's clear he comes by his flare for the theatrical naturally.
Liberal insiders insist that the ease and confidence with which he takes to the world stage will enhance his stature at home, and they're probably right. The new PM intends to make the most of the foreign podiums and photo ops afforded a Canadian head of government, starting in Turkey.
The curiosity factor alone promises to make Mr. Trudeau a sensation at the G20 and this month's Asia-Pacific, Commonwealth and United Nations climate summits – though he may have some explaining to do when he greets the Queen in Malta. The always well-briefed monarch will have heard that he has just removed her portrait from the entrance of the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion will likely have to get used to playing second fiddle as Mr. Trudeau saves the most visible foreign prerogatives for himself. His speechwriters may already be working on the address to the United Nations General Assembly that Mr. Trudeau will give next fall before a forum that Mr. Harper regularly shunned, once in favour of a trip to Tim Hortons.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Dion and whomever Mr. Trudeau appoints as his ambassador to the UN will be waging a campaign for a seat on the Security Council in 2018, if not sooner. Mr. Harper refused to curry favour with dictators and presided over Canada's first failure to win a seat on the select council in 2010. But Liberals insist the symbolism of such a seat is important to Canadians and fits with the new government's desired image as "helpful fixer" in global conflicts.
Apart from reading George Monbiot, the British climate-change activist and global doom columnist for The Guardian, Mr. Trudeau did not have any grounding in foreign policy before striking an advisory committee of experts on the topic in 2014. Schooled primarily by retired diplomats Michael Bell, Jeremy Kinsman and Ralph Lysyshyn, he has unsurprisingly come to embrace the traditional Liberal tenets of middle-power multilateralism.
Mr. Bell, Mr. Kinsman and Mr. Lysyshyn moved up the ranks of the foreign service under Mr. Trudeau's father and reached the pinnacle of their careers under Jean Chrétien. It is too early to know whether the latent anti-Americanism that underpinned Chrétien-era foreign policy is due for a comeback. But the new government intends to make a point of showing Canadians that its foreign policy is independent of that of the United States. Withdrawing Canadian fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State is meant as an early signal of that.
While Mr. Trudeau keeps his policy distance from Washington, he will draw Canada closer to Beijing. The influence of Chrétien-era advisers and the pro-China Desmarais family is likely to manifest itself in a more welcoming approach to investment here by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Canada will now join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a decision Mr. Harper dithered on. And a free-trade agreement with China could also be on the agenda soon.
The talk-to-everybody Chrétien approach also looms over Mr. Trudeau's plans for dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. MP Chrystia Freeland's occasional anti-Putin opinion pieces in The New York Times and elsewhere were not always appreciated among Mr. Trudeau's foreign-policy team. They hope the International Trade portfolio will now keep her otherwise occupied.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Trudeau will get to take the measure of each other at the G20 this weekend. No word yet on whether selfies will be involved.