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Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau and executive assistant Louis-Alexandre Lanthier during a campaign stop in St-Bruno, Quebec, February 21, 2013. (Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail)
Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau and executive assistant Louis-Alexandre Lanthier during a campaign stop in St-Bruno, Quebec, February 21, 2013. (Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail)

LIBERALS

Inside Justin Trudeau's war room Add to ...

(Ms. Murray has been advocating that the Liberals join forces with the NDP and the Green Party in the next election, and she has avoided direct attacks on other candidates.)

Mr. Trudeau: “Do I want to be that pointed, to talk about positive campaigns? Because in this context, people might see this as a dig at Marc [Garneau, who has been critical of Mr. Trudeau’s lack of experience], and I don’t necessarily want to highlight that. I don’t want to necessarily even engage – I don’t think I need to.”

The Pierre paradox

It’s an undeniable plus for a politician when much of the country literally remembers the day you were born. It was Christmas day, 1971; Pierre Trudeau was still Prime Minister, still married to Margaret Sinclair, and they were both global media darlings. To many Canadians, the Trudeau boys – Justin, Alexandre and Michel – were something like family.

After getting his education degree and teaching at West Point Grey Academy in B.C., Justin Trudeau leapt back into the public eye in the fall of 2000, when he gave a stirring eulogy at his father’s funeral.

The moment was a bit like Barack Obama’s at the 2008 Democratic Party convention – a single speech that creates great expectations – and Mr. Trudeau is not unaware of the parallel: In many ways he wants to do for the Liberals what Mr. Obama did for his own party.

But in Mr. Trudeau’s case it also gave the sense that he was inheriting his father’s mantle, a legacy about which Canadians – especially in Quebec and the Western provinces – are sharply divided.

The question is whether the reinvention of the broken Liberals as a 21st-century party really can be led by the golden child of its past.

Anyone who wants to vote for the leadership, party member or not, has to sign up by the end of this weekend. When the figures are released showing how many supporters each campaign has collected, it might reveal whether Mr. Trudeau really is unstoppable.

Downplaying the sense of dynasty, he likes to portray himself as an underdog, saying the Liberal brass didn’t really want him in Ottawa and didn’t help him become the party’s candidate in the riding of Papineau in 2008.

In 2011, he held on in the face of the NDP’s Orange Wave. On the road, he tells the grim joke that at least the Liberals, now down to 35 MPs in Ottawa, are guaranteed at least one seat – “because I won’t lose my riding of Papineau.”

Brand Gen X wants no squabbles

Mr. Trudeau has distanced himself from the fights that undermined the Liberal Party over the past decade. His campaign team is basically stripped of veterans of the Jean Chrétien-Paul Martin wars, including Liberal stalwarts who had wanted to be front and centre.

Instead, its core are people in their 30s and 40s whom Mr. Trudeau touts as friends, chief among them Mr. Butts and his campaign organizer, Katie Telford. It’s not a coincidence that they both got their political grooming not in Ottawa but at Queen’s Park in Ontario.

Mr. Trudeau’s political career basically began when he was 19 and met Mr. Butts at McGill University – they had height (over six feet) and Habs fandom in common, but very different backgrounds, since Mr. Butts was the son of a coal miner from Cape Breton.

“Gerry is my best friend,” Mr. Trudeau says in an interview at the Champlain Mall in Brossard, Que. “He and I have been talking about the possibility and the potential of politics all my life.”

Mr. Butts left his position as Canadian president of the World Wildlife Fund to work on the race. “Justin and I are both very traditional philosophical liberals,” he says in an interview, “in that the individual is paramount and government ought to be in the business of expanding opportunities for individuals.”

Politically, they draw their lessons from the victories of Mr. Obama, who came to power at the age of 47, and Tony Blair, who took over at 10 Downing St. at 43. Those campaigns show, Mr. Butts says, that the traditional levers of government have become ineffective and the only way to make change is to “develop and maintain a national, grassroots, volunteer movement.”

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