Justin Trudeau and his team are dismissing the notion that a coronation will hurt the Liberal Party.
In fact, Mr. Trudeau, who announced his leadership to great fanfare last week and so far has no competition, argues that the hotly contested 2006 Liberal leadership race led to deep divisions among Grits.
The party, he says, has to get past “its divisiveness and its navel-gazing and ‘who are you supporting in this? Who are you supporting in that?’ and pull together for the good of the country.”
There has been much commentary about whether anyone will run against the popular 40-year-old MP from Quebec and son of late prime minister Pierre Trudeau. It has led to suggestions that this will be a leadership contest with only one contestant, which will leave Mr. Trudeau untested and in the end fail to garner attention for the party and its policies.
The leadership contest is set for April in Toronto. It costs $75,000 to enter the race – a non-refundable sum that may cause some potential contenders to also think twice.
“You’ve got to think the 2006 leadership campaign was incredibly exciting, it was great for TV,” Mr. Trudeau said in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail. “Unfortunately one of the things it led to was a continued set of divisions in the party with people still in their camps and not necessarily together.”
Stéphane Dion, the former Chrétien cabinet minister, was the surprise winner in 2006 when he came up the middle, beating the two favourites, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff.
Mr. Trudeau, who was first elected in the 2008 campaign, supported former Toronto MP Gerard Kennedy in that leadership contest. Some Liberals never accepted Mr. Dion’s leadership and just after the 2008 election, which the Liberals lost to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, Mr. Dion stepped aside amid much pressure.
It was messy as Mr. Ignatieff took over and was later ratified leader at a convention in Vancouver in May 2009.
Despite his concerns about the divisiveness of a leadership contest, Mr. Trudeau says he understands there is a need “to fully test all the leadership candidates and measure their capacity to make tough decisions, to defend ideas and to share them.”
And he still believes he will have competition. “Absolutely, absolutely,” he said. There is some speculation that former astronaut Marc Garneau, also a Quebec Liberal MP, will contest the leadership. He would be the most serious threat to Mr. Trudeau.
But one of his closest political advisers, Dominic LeBlanc, says it’s not Mr. Trudeau’s problem if no one runs against him.
“You have to be careful, too, that somehow it’s Justin’s responsibility to generate other candidates or somehow it’s a judgment on him because people want to support him,” said Mr. LeBlanc, who announced Friday in his New Brunswick riding that he will not seek the leadership.
Mr. LeBlanc had tested the leadership waters just after Mr. Dion announced he was stepping down in the wake of the 2008 election and there was a lot of speculation that he would run this time around.
“If people want to support him, it says something about his leadership qualities,” said Mr. LeBlanc. “The idea that you run for the leadership because someone is or isn’t running, I think, is a very naive analysis.”
Mr. LeBlanc, 44, is a lifelong friend of Mr. Trudeau. His father, the late governor-general Roméo LeBlanc, and Mr. Trudeau’s father, were friends. Mr. LeBlanc said he decided against running, believing the “best thing I could do to support our political movement … was to work with Justin, to support Justin.”
For his part, Mr. Trudeau says that in the end the only thing that matters is not all the media attention but what a candidate has to say.
“Regardless of the little bits of extra attention that might have been generated this week compared to what other people might be able to draw in their first week, once you’re sitting around a table discussing policy … once you’re in a debate around issues that are of real importance, it doesn’t matter how many supporters you brought into the room,” he said. “What matters is what you have to say and how you’re willing to stand and defend your ideas.
“Let’s look at what people have to say and not how nice their hair is,” he adds.