What a pity that Justin Trudeau’s victory speech had to come after Jean Chrétien and Bob Rae addressed the Liberals gathered in Ottawa to celebrate the end of the leadership race. The contrast was terrible.
The former prime minister embodied political experience and wisdom, and the crowd roared with laughter at his jokes. Mr. Rae, the departing interim leader of the party, exuded maturity and self-confidence. Who knows if the party would be in the same sorry state if the delegates had had the good sense to elect him leader in 2006?
Then this charming young man came on stage, looking like a student in a model Parliament, trying to fit into a suit much too large for him. He delivered in a rather flat tone a speech filled with goodwill and platitudes. It didn’t help that Mr. Trudeau, at the relatively ripe age of 41, looks so much younger.
As he spoke, one couldn’t help thinking about how his father would have sounded on the same podium. And of course the difference was crushing. The allure. The style. The eloquence. The culture. The steely mind. The intellectual authority that even his adversaries admired.
Yes, I know, comparisons are unfair – especially in this case, since Justin Trudeau is more his mother’s son than his father’s. He inherited Margaret Sinclair’s sentimentality and gracious smile, her generosity and her natural ability to connect with people. He is everything his father wasn’t, at least as a public persona. The problem is that, so far, there’s no sign that he has what his father had – leadership and vision.
Still, this doesn’t prevent his more frenetic supporters from heralding the birth of a dynasty. A few months ago, the Toronto Star excitedly pointed out that Justin’s son, Xavier, was born on an “auspicious date,” the 88th anniversary of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s birth. Xavier for prime minister in 2050?
What’s certain is that Justin Trudeau is blessed with incredibly good luck. Try holding two little kids in your arms, including a rambunctious five-year-old boy, without losing your balance and looking gauche. He did, and the resulting photo was fabulous. Even his wife, who had just rushed to the stage to bring him the children, was perfectly composed and prettier than ever.
In his speech, Mr. Trudeau made a special appeal to Quebeckers, urging them to join their fellow Canadians to build a better country. It’s the kind of pitch that Stephen Harper, among others, used to no avail. The new Liberal Leader wisely abstained from flirting with the soft nationalist vote by wading into murky constitutional terrain – his priority is to bring back into the Liberal fold the non-separatist voters lost to the NDP.
Now that he’s finished riding on his family name, he wants to be known by his first name, for what he is. Especially in Quebec as in the West, where Pierre Trudeau left sour memories, he makes a point of distancing himself (with all due respect) from his father on some issues. Will this work?
All we know is that for now, Justin Trudeau raises no hostility in Quebec, just polite indifference. My guess, though, is that many Quebeckers may come to like him, for the simple reason that this young, non-confrontational and hard-working family man is, indeed, likeable. In an era when people are fed up with traditional politicians, Justin Trudeau’s main asset is that he is the very opposite of a traditional politician.