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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 ...

The other aim is to find candidates to run under the Liberal banner in 338 ridings in the next election. His campaign is gathering resumés and seeking organizers adapted to the Trudeau campaigning mode.

“It’s a big testing ground for a new way of doing politics.”

He answers criticisms about the vagueness of his platform by saying that he wants to wait for a general election before putting out all his policy planks, after having received more input from party supporters. (He reminds a crowd at Dawson College in Montreal that the Liberal Party’s famous Red Book came out for the 1993 general election, not during Jean Chrétien’s 1990 leadership campaign.)

What he will be specific about are his plans to change the rules of the political game in Ottawa. The basic concept has been bandied about by many parties in the past – decentralizing power away from the Prime Minister’s Office and back into the hands of MPs.

The way to actually make it happen this time around, according to Mr. Trudeau, is to ensure that all Liberal candidates in the next election are chosen through open nomination contests.

Then, if he wins the election, Mr. Trudeau vows to give all of his MPs the ability to vote freely according to the wishes of their constituents, except on confidence measures.

“I want to set things up right away so that, regardless of what I might want to do once I attain power … like everyone else, I have bound my hands by bringing in a group of people who are deeply responsible and responsive to people in their ridings, and freer to disagree with the executive branch of government as legislators.”

He is convinced that his approach offers a refreshing contrast to the Harper government’s “politics of division” and a growing cynicism in the country. He even feels that his views are set to attract support out West, where the populist visions of the old Reform Party remain a part of the popular culture.

While he welcomes comparisons between his strategies and Mr. Obama’s emphasis on citizen engagement, he vows to learn from the U.S. President’s struggles in his first mandate: “Obama’s big mistake, or the big challenge he faced following the 2008 election, was … keeping mobilized these millions of people who came out to vote for him in the first place.”

To say he can do better certainly demonstrates Mr. Trudeau’s growing self-confidence. But it’s also, he says, the way that his leadership campaign can be the model for an eventual Liberal government.

“It’s a hugely idealistic approach, and it flies exactly in the face of everything that we have gotten to believe of politics recently,” he says.

“It’s a gamble, but it’s a gamble that is predicated on everything that I have seen and lived across the country.”

In a few days, Canadians will get a clue of how well his first bet is paying off – not only if Mr. Trudeau talks as good a game as his surname promises, but whether he can start winning at it, too.

THE TRUDEAU TEAM

Gerald Butts

Position: Senior strategist

Past job: Former principal secretary to ex-Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, former president of WWF-Canada

Tasks: Develops policy, prepares debates and speeches, oversees daily briefings

Katie Telford

Position: Campaign manager

Past job: Senior official in the offices of former Ontario minister Gerard Kennedy and former federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion

Tasks: Oversees the entire campaign organization, including schedules, tours and volunteers

Mike McNair

Position: Policy adviser

Past job: Senior adviser to former Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff

Tasks: Policy adviser, conducts daily briefings with an emphasis on English-language media

Robert Asselin

Position: Strategist and policy adviser

Past job: Senior official in the offices of former prime minister Paul Martin and various Liberal ministers

Tasks: Debate preparation, policy development, conducts daily media briefings and writes French-language speeches

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