Being Trudeau

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With less than two weeks to go to the federal election, the polls suggest that we now have a two party race between the Liberals and the Conservatives – everything old is new again. Though there is still some uncertainty as to who will win, it is quite possible that Justin Trudeau, whose opponents have spent two years trying to label as ‘not ready’ will be Canada’s next Prime Minister. In a country uncomfortable with political dynasties, Trudeau looks likely to found one.

Despite having lived his entire life in public, there are many people who are still grappling with who Trudeau is and what he stands for. He, of course, is the son of one of Canada’s most controversial Prime Ministers – you either love Pierre or you hate him. Indeed the younger Trudeau first stepped into the glare of public attention with his moving eulogy at his father’s funeral.

Tragedy has followed Justin Trudeau for much of his life. While he was born to wealthy parents and enjoyed the opportunities that being the son of a PM beings, Trudeau also faced the very public breakdown of his parents’ marriage and his mother’s subsequent revelations of her bi-polar disorder. As a young man, he lost his brother to a wilderness accident, the body never found.

For a long time, Trudeau eschewed politics, pursuing careers in teaching and acting and later chairing the Board of the youth organization, Katimavik. When he did finally enter the political sphere, he choose to run, not in a safe upper class Liberal seat, but in working class Papineau where he defeated an incumbent Bloc MP and held the seat in the face of collapsing Liberal fortunes.

When the time was right – when the party was at its lowest point – his ascension to leadership was a more or less foregone conclusion. A few ran against him; none of them had a chance. Was it a mere coronation by a desperate party seeking past glory? Perhaps but I think that gives Trudeau too little credit. His careful choices set up his triumph and he has shown an ability to push the edge of controversy without ever falling over.

There is, I think, much more to Mr. Trudeau than meets the eye. One friend of mine suggests that Mr. Trudeau isn’t that bright himself but may be good at surrounding himself with bright people. My own feeling is that Mr. Trudeau is not as articulate as his opponents, not as practiced in that deep-voiced gravitas that people sometimes mistake for seriousness. He has a tendency to be glib. Yet he is quite capable of making statements that resonate with many people. It is clear he knows what he believes and can work with others to achieve it. There are, after all, different kinds of smart.

Maybe we shouldn’t forget that Mr. Trudeau is an actor, used to presenting a very careful image of himself. He has had a chance to work with and observe hundreds of accomplished politicians and statesmen. I am reminded a bit of Jean Chretien whose own public persona hid the sharp mind and instincts of a practiced politician.

And Trudeau succeeded in doing what previous leaders could not accomplish – he healed the divisions in his own party. The fact that both former PMs, Martin and Chretien, have campaigned with him is a testimony to that.

Maybe Brian Mulroney said it best: It is a mistake to underestimate Justin Trudeau. Perhaps Harper and Mulcair should have followed that advice because ready or not, here he comes.

And that’s ten minutes.

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