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Justin Trudeau delivers his final speech of the Liberal Party leadership race in Toronto on April 6, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Justin Trudeau delivers his final speech of the Liberal Party leadership race in Toronto on April 6, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

John Ibbitson: Trudeau’s showcase performance low on substance, high on hope Add to ...

In a barn-burner of a speech utterly devoid of substance, Justin Trudeau asked Liberals to make him leader and Canadians to make him prime minister because he stands for progress.

“Progress,” he told a room overwhelmingly filled with his supporters at the Liberal leadership showcase. “That is the core value of the Liberal Party.”

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If you were looking for more substance in Mr. Trudeau’s final address before voting begins to choose the new leader, you will have found none of it. Not even fuzzy promises to protect the economy without abandoning a social conscience. There were vague commitments to preserving both jobs and the planet, while healing regional words and re-engaging Quebec in the life of the nation.

There were jibes at the “negative, divisive politics” of the Conservatives and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s decision “that if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.”

But mostly Justin was all about Justin.

He promised not to go negative: “Those who think we need to win at any cost, whatever the means, are mistaken.”

He pledged to protect the middle class, the young, Quebeckers, the environment, Canada’s reputation in the world.

How? Who knows?

What was most interesting was that he did not run away from the fact that he was only on that stage because he was Pierre Trudeau’s son. He embraced it.

“I have lived and breathed every square kilometre of this country from the day I was born,” he reminded everyone. The subtext: As the son of a prime minister – of that prime minister – he understands Canada in a way no one else has understood it.

This, though it remained unspoken, was the core of the message: I have grown up in this country like no other person ever has. I understand Canada like no one else. I can govern it better than anyone else.

Coming from anyone else, this would be laughable. But Justin Trudeau is not like anyone else. He is Justin Trudeau. That is all. That is everything. It is the Liberal hope. It is their last hope.

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