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A week from today, hundreds of guests will file into Montreal's elaborately frescoed Saint Léon de Westmount church, a stone edifice set amid leafy, genteel lower Westmount. Taking their seats on rose-embellished pews, guests will be serenaded by the 45 voices of Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal, a Montreal boy's choir. Minutes later, 26-year-old Caroline Mulroney will climb the short flight of steps.

Some 500 heads will turn to watch her father, the controversial former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, lead her down the aisle to her waiting groom, Andrew Lapham -- the 28-year-old son of left-leaning Harper's magazine editor Lewis Lapham.

Billed as Canada's society wedding of the year, the Mulroney-Lapham marriage has Montreal buzzing, despite the Mulroneys' best efforts to keep the guest list under wraps. Confirmed invitees include George and Barbara Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy (he declined), and rumoured well-wishers include former British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, Queen Noor of Jordan and TV personality Kathy Lee Gifford.

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The bride is part of an emerging pack of political progeny -- with names like Trudeau, Clark, Chretien and Turner -- for whom this week marks a bittersweet historical moment. On the eve of Caroline Mulroney's talked-about wedding, Pierre Trudeau's sons, Alexandre (Sacha) and Justin, care for their ailing father in Montreal.

The Canadian public is intimately connected to these children. Two years ago the whole country mourned when the third Trudeau brother, Michel, died in a freak avalanche. "We knew them all as small children. We saw some of them born. We followed them for a while, then we lost track, and now they're attracting more attention," says Bonnie Brownlee, former executive assistant to the Mulroney family. "Like their parents or not, these kids are part of this country's psyche."

"The Trudeau children are special," adds Ottawa author Charlotte Gray. "To lose a brother and then support two parents, who each in their different ways fell apart, make us see them as very impressive individuals. They're not children any more. Caroline's still a kid, really. Getting married, dressing up and being a princess for a day."

Stanley Hartt, a former deputy minister of finance and chief of staff for Mulroney, adds that Canadians are justifiably proud of most of these kids, because like Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., they seem to have their heads screwed on right.

They also reflect their parents. Take Jean and Aline Chretien's lawyer-trained daughter, France, who married André Desmarais, son of Paul Desmarais of Power Corp. Or Joe and Maureen Clark's daughter, Catherine, who has a University of Toronto degree in fine arts and is working at Hill & Knowlton in Toronto doing government relations. The Trudeau boys, Justin and Sacha, are a teacher and a documentary filmmaker respectively, carving places both in the culture and in their father's beloved great outdoors.

The Mulroney kids are interested in finance, and have all attended college in the U.S. Young Nicholas is currently ensconced at Hotchkiss in Connecticut. The two eldest, Caroline and Ben, are training to be lawyers. She's in New York. He's articling at his dad's law firm, Ogilvy Renault in Quebec City. Third child Mark is finishing up at Duke, and has lined up a job with a Wall Street investment bank.

Certainly, politicians' children have a leg-up because of their parents' connections. And that rankles some observers. "With new progeny being paraded around, we're back into Camelot a bit," says veteran commentator Allan Fotheringham. "You'll notice John Kennedy sent all his kids to high-priced American universities, and now the Mulroneys are going to Duke and Harvard. It's partially to keep them away from the nasty press gallery, but there's real cachet in being a graduate of Stanford." (As is John Turner's eldest daughter, Elizabeth.)

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United in wedlock, Caroline Mulroney and Andrew Lapham will become the poster couple for this glamorous generation of political progeny. Caroline, who did her undergraduate work at Harvard, is a third-year student at New York University's law school. She has taken a shine to public-interest law, similar to NYU graduate JFK Jr. But unlike the late young Kennedy, who twice failed the bar exam, Caroline is by all accounts a distinguished student.

According to a university official, Caroline received a public-interest committee grant from the law school last year and just finished a summer internship at the New York Attorney-General's office. Until recently, she was living in a studio apartment in the heart of Greenwich Village on Mercer Street. Located above the Young Organic Market, her apartment is just a few blocks from the law school. The old bohemian village is now packed with yuppies, the only people who can afford the sky-high rents. Caroline's old place recently rented for $2,795 (U.S.).

Her uptown tastes are in keeping with her choice of mate. Andrew Lapham also grew up around wealth, on 72nd Street on the Upper East Side, just a block away from Central Park. His well-known father is not only Harper's editor and columnist but author of sardonic books such as Money and Class in America and Lapham's Rules of Influence on what he considers the sad state of American culture and political life. His targets have often included friends of Brian Mulroney, such as former U.S. President George Bush, who is expected to attend the wedding.

But the Laphams are also long-time grandees of the shipping industry, and Andrew seems destined to follow more in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was appointed chairman of the executive committee of Bankers Trust Co. in 1959, and later became vice-chairman of the bank.

Andrew graduated from Princeton with a degree in history and landed in the mergers-and-acquisitions department of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, one of Wall Street's biggest investment houses. It was during his time at Morgan Stanley that Andrew and Caroline met -- around the same time, Caroline was at rival Bear Stearns. Andrew went to work at the smaller Gryphon Investors Inc. and then took a job as an associate at Odyssey Investment Partners. In June 1999, he became a chief executive officer of SL New Media, his own company. SL's primary asset is Web site rehabmanager.com, a health-care Web site that charges consumers a flat fee for informational videos.

Andrew and Caroline aren't talking publicly about their future plans, but the two recently rented an apartment together in the West Village about a 10-minute walk from Caroline's old apartment. Indeed, the nuptials are Brian Mulroney's free-trade dream: American boy with good bloodlines meets eminently suitable Canadian girl with political pedigree and Ivy League schooling.

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As a result of the guest list, the nuptials will take place amid tight security. Everyone, right down to the white-robed choirboys who will sing at the ceremony, has been required to submit identification, complete with dates of birth, to the organizers.

"Mr. Bush will obviously come here with his own bodyguards, but the RCMP will be involved [in security]too," said Constable Michel Blackburn, spokesman for the RCMP in Quebec.

The family is being very tight-lipped about the whole affair, trying to guard Caroline's privacy. "The family is going to try and make sure everything unfolds in a civilized way. It's supposed to be a joyful occasion," said Mulroney spokesperson Luc Lavoie.

Charlotte Gray remarks that Canada's political offspring are the human embodiment of their parent's values. "The Mulroney kids reflect their parents sort of North American business outlook. They go to universities which will look best on CVs and then they've carried on to Wall Street." They're kids who have always moved in rich circles and have spent a lot of time in Palm Beach (where they have a vacation home). They've always had American friends. And, according to Gray, they've always been taught to think America is the promised land.

"The Trudeau kids," Gray continues, "on the other hand, are certainly not Americanized. They don't have a lot of rich-kid toys or friends.

"Catherine Clark, I see her as glamorous, but in an old-fashioned way, wearing pearls. She's very straight. A strong Canadian nationalist. She worked at city hall here. She has a degree in fine arts from U of T. She's not pretentious."

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Caroline, says Gray, might be quite shy, or private, but she moves in big-money circles, what her future father-in-law calls the equestrian class. "She's very much a member of the designer-label society. That does not seem to attract the Trudeau kids."

Caroline Mulroney's public presence hardly begins with this wedding. Her first encounter with the press came in July 1991 at the annual meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven industrial countries in London, where in the absence of any hard news, the London papers suddenly went gaga over Mila and her lissome daughter. "Even the glamorous Mrs. Mulroney," gushed the Sunday Times, "was overshadowed by her striking 17-year-old daughter Caroline, who was also in white with a black and gold shawl beneath her long dark hair."

Such attention led to accusations that the prime minister was using his daughter to attract sympathy at a time when his political fortunes were fading. In general, though, the Canadian press (unlike the American) hasn't historically spent much time scrutinizing the lives of political progeny, says Bonnie Brownlee.

"We never actually bothered as much with some of the kids and 'where are they now'. Maybe we're just being too polite, too Canadian. But lately we've been taking note," says Brownlee, pointing out the impact Catherine Clark made when she accompanied her dad a few years back on the campaign trail.

Caroline Mulroney's wedding will certainly be an event worthy of an "equestrian-class" bride. The celebrations will be spread over an entire weekend in Montreal, unfolding in some of the city's poshest spots.

After the vows, the wedding party decamps to the opulent surroundings of the Windsor ballrooms in downtown Montreal, with gilded, 20-foot-high ceilings and crystal chandeliers -- ballrooms that have been graced by the likes of Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and the Queen when she was still Princess Elizabeth. One of the rooms will be decorated with an elaborate interior garden and fountains.

(The Windsor hotel building also happens to house the offices of the blue-chip law firm McCarthy Tetrault. One of its lawyers, Gerald Tremblay, defended Brian Mulroney during the Airbus affair.)

On Sunday, about 300 out-of-town guests are expected for brunch at the Ritz Carlton hotel, the swank European-style landmark on Sherbrooke St. The spot has a long association with Brian Mulroney, and has been one of his favorite haunts. In the 1970s, when he worked at the nearby headquarters of Iron Ore Co., he was a regular for lunch and often dropped by the hotel bar after work. He also named Fernand Roberge, former president and part-owner of the hotel, a senator in 1993 (he has since resigned).

Aside from the Mulroneys, will any other Canadian political offspring be attendance next Saturday? No one knows, and Brownlee -- who does -- won't say.

"One thing about that whole generation is that they are very happy to see each other. Only these kids can understand the situations and the lifestyles that they've lived. . . . They will form their own pack."

GEN NEXT

Ben Mulroney (1): Born March 1976. Studied at Duke in Raleigh, South Carolina, and then went to Laval law school, his dad's alma mater. Articling at Quebec City branch of law firm Ogilvy Renault. Had women swooning when he appeared mid-May at the Progressive Conservative convention in Quebec. On the masthead as a contributor for the new magazine, Fresh, to be launched this fall. Mark Mulroney (2): Born spring 1979. Finishing his last year at Duke. Friends say he has already lined up a job at a big-name investment bank in New York. Like Ben, he's got a wry sense of humour, and Mark is considered the entrepreneur of the clan. Nicholas Mulroney (3): Born Sept. 4, 1985, near the end of his dad's first full year as PM. He's now at the elite Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, the same institution his sister's soon-to-be father-in-law (Lewis Lapham) attended. When still in office, Brian Mulroney stirred up the sleepy town around Hotchkiss when he, his wife and entourage arrived in three Connecticut National Guard helicopters to attend opening ceremonies when son Ben was a senior there. Justin Trudeau (4): Born Dec. 25, 1971, the first of three boys for Pierre Trudeau and ex-wife Margaret Trudeau Kemper. Lives in Vancouver and teaches junior high at a private school. Alexandre ('Sacha') Trudeau (5): Born Dec. 25, 1973. B.A. in philosophy from McGill, basic training in the Canadian Armed Forces. Studied German in Berlin. He shows great promise as a documentary filmmaker. Catherine Clark (6): Born Nov. 6, 1976, to Maureen and Joe Clark, who called her 'Muffy.' Fine-arts degree from University of Toronto. Poised and gregarious, she raised eyebrows when she accompanied her father on his Progressive Conservative leadership campaign two years ago. Of all the PM offspring, she may be the one to get into the political game. France Chrétien (7, seated between her parents): Born in 1958, the eldest of Jean and Aline Chrétien's three children. She is a lawyer who married André Desmarais, the son of Paul Desmarais of the aptly named Power Corporation of Quebec. Caroline Mulroney (not pictured): Born June 11, 1974, first child of Brian and Mila Mulroney. Completed four-year political science degree at Harvard, and worked two years at New York investment bank Bear Stearns. Studious and serious, she is entering her third year of law at New York University, and marries Andrew Lapham in one week.

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