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Liberal MP Justin Trudeau makes his way across the front lawn of Parliament Hill on June 19, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau makes his way across the front lawn of Parliament Hill on June 19, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Lysiane Gagnon

Is Justin Trudeau really the Liberals’ best option? Add to ...

If the Toronto Liberal intelligentsia believe that Justin Trudeau, being a Trudeau and a Quebecker, can revive their party’s fortunes in Quebec, they are mightily wrong. (One might also wonder if anybody can save the Liberal Party of Canada now that the NDP occupies the centre-left, but this is another question.)

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Justin’s surname is as much a liability in French-speaking Quebec as it is in Alberta. Personally, I find this hostility regrettable and irrational to boot, but the reality is that more than anybody else, Trudeau Senior remains the nemesis not only of the sovereigntists but of all of Quebec’s “soft” nationalists.

Any mention of the former prime minister provokes even more anger and resentment in Quebec than in Alberta, where people still fume over the infamous national energy program, which was seen as a violation of the province’s right to control its natural resources.

The buzz that surrounds Justin Trudeau in the English-Canadian media doesn’t exist in Quebec. The possibility of his running for the Liberal leadership didn’t raise a whiff of public interest, let alone excitement. The handful of commentators who bothered to write about his possible candidacy were either skeptical or negative.

“The effort to drive the 40-year-old to jump before his time,” columnist Michael Den Tandt wrote in Montreal’s The Gazette, “is a sign of party desperation.”

But isn’t it strange that a man who will turn 41 in December is considered too young to lead a party? Pierre Elliott Trudeau was only nine years older when he won the Liberal crown in 1968. What this indicates is that, indeed, Justin Trudeau exudes juvenile charm, lightness and immaturity, as if he were not actually approaching middle age, well past the age of Peter Pan.

His aura is made of the most superficial assets: a famous father and handsome looks. In a carefully scripted marketing stunt designed to show he had the steely courage of his father, he fought in a boxing match against Senator Patrick Brazeau and won. The gullible parliamentary press, too happy to escape the lugubrious corridors and the boring debates of the House of Commons, transformed this silly match into a big event.

Yet Mr. Trudeau remains a lightweight. A former high-school teacher with unimpressive professional baggage, he lacks gravitas and substance. He has never offered the public debate anything but clichés inspired by the lamest political correctness.

As Mr. Den Tandt asks, “What has he ever said or written that’s substantial, original or politically powerful?” Well, there is at least one remark of his that was original – when he childishly mused that he’d rather join the Quebec sovereigntists than live in a Harper-dominated Canada.

In a confrontation with Bob Rae, the older and wiser politician would have crushed him at every step of a leadership race. (Not coincidentally, Mr. Trudeau considered running only after Mr. Rae had opted out.) In a televised match, Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair would eat him alive.

But maybe Mr. Trudeau is the only prince-in-waiting the Liberal Party has.

He has charisma, he is bilingual, he is kind, honest and charming. On a more profound level, he revealed himself as a brave, hard-working politician when he took the risk of running in the working-class riding of Papineau in Montreal, until then a bastion of the Bloc Québécois. He twice won against all odds and managed to survive the orange wave that swept the province in the last federal election.

The Liberals successively tried a successful businessman, Paul Martin, and two bright public intellectuals, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, and look what happened. Maybe the Liberals should opt for an entirely different personality. Or maybe the party is doomed, whoever the leader is.

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