Justin Trudeau proposed an ambitious but vague agenda for Canada as he formally launched his Liberal leadership campaign, laying out his values and dreams – but no concrete proposals – in his pitch for the support of the country’s middle class.
In a speech to an overflowing crowd in his riding of Papineau, Mr. Trudeau referred glowingly to the heritage of his famous father, but also vowed to focus solely on the future as he embarks on a prolonged effort to revive the battered Liberal Party.
The 40-year-old Liberal MP is obviously hoping to attract a diverse crowd of young Canadians of all origins to his campaign, making it clear there is much “hard, honest work” ahead for the Liberal Party.
Mr. Trudeau was introduced by his wife, Sophie Grégoire, and picked up his two young children at the end of his 25-minute speech. Ms. Grégoire spoke of her family’s upcoming “sacrifice,” but proclaimed that it was for a “noble cause.”
Mr. Trudeau tried to speak directly to middle-class Canadians, stating that families today are stuck with stagnating incomes, rising costs and growing debt loads. Proclaiming his love for Canada, he said that national unity is at stake, arguing the country cannot afford to favour one industry or region at the expense of the others.
“It is the middle class, not the political class, that unites this country. It is the middle class that makes this country great,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of dividing Canadians and treating them with suspicion, while attacking the NDP for its opposition to wealth and economic success. In so doing, he presented the Liberal Party as a middle-ground alternative in the next election.
Still, Mr. Trudeau offered few concrete solutions for the issues facing Canada, insisting instead on the values that govern his politics and dreams for the future. He spoke of Canada’s ethnic diversity in glowing terms, and received much applause as he mentioned the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, introduced in 1982 by his late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
Mr. Trudeau’s speech was a clear acknowledgment that the Liberal Party has much work to do to reclaim the support of young Canadians, immigrants and suburban families, who have largely migrated to other parties in recent elections.
“I believe that I can bring new forces to bear on old problems, I can convince a new generation of Canadians that their country needs them,” he said.
When he broached specific issues, his proposals were vague, promising only to conjugate economic growth with a healthy environment, for example, and to ensure that the less fortunate in society all have a chance at success.
“It is time for all of us to come together and get down to the very serious, very adult business of building a better country,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau tried to cool expectations that he can do wonders for the Liberal Party in short order, stating the party must reconnect with Canadians and put an end to its self-aggrandizing tendencies.
“I do not present myself as a man with all the answers,” he said. “In fact, I think we’ve had quite enough of that kind of politics.”
He also issued a call to Liberals to put an end to the long-standing infighting that has marred the party over the last decade.
“When Canadians tune in, we need to prove to them that we Liberals have learned from the past, that we are 100 per cent focused on the future,” he said. “And not the future of our party, the future of our country.”
Former Trudeau cabinet minister Marc Lalonde and Don Boudria, who served in Jean Chrétien’s cabinet, attended the campaign launch – as did former MP Navdeep Bains.
Addressing reporters after his speech, Mr. Trudeau ruled out a formal merger with the NDP in the future.
“Will the Liberal Party in the future work with all parties when it finds agreement? Absolutely. Is there going to be formal co-operation? No,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, was not present at the launch, but he does have the support of his brother Sacha as a senior adviser. He mentioned that he chose Oct. 2 for the event because it would have been the 37th birthday of his brother Michel, who died in an avalanche.
“Every day, I think about him and I remember not to take anything for granted, to live my life fully, and to always be faithful to myself,” he said in the most emotional part of his speech.
The Liberal leadership will be decided in Ottawa on April 14. It is still unclear whether other Liberal MPs will jump into the fray, but former astronaut Marc Garneau is working to put together a bid.