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Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau shake hands with Queen Elizabeth II during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on November 25, 2015 in London, England.WPA Pool/Getty Images

Just hair and a famous last name? Justin Trudeau says those who underestimated him got left in the dust.

Since his election, he's talked about being a unifier. But on the BBC Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau seemed to blow a little sand in the faces of opponents like Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair, who dismissed him as a pretty face.

"There's an awful lot of people who sort of shrugged and said he has nothing but a name to go on, and found themselves slightly bewildered as I left them in the dust," Mr. Trudeau said in an interview with BBC television.

He said his name opened doors, but he was raised to believe he'd have to work two or three times as hard to walk through them. Canadians know that, he said. But he seemed a little less forgiving with his opponents.

Mr. Trudeau even answered questions about his government's decision to pull down the portrait of the Queen that the Conservative government had mounted at the headquarters of the Foreign Affairs department by saying it was a response to the Harper government's disrespect for artists, not an insult to the monarch. ‎The Liberals have replaced the portrait with paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan, which had previously adorned the same wall.

"There had been a long tradition of showcasing Canadian artists around the world, as you've certainly seen in our embassy here at Canada House," Mr. Trudeau said.

"So it was something that the previous government did as a, I think as a sign of its disrespect for the arts community, for which they had been famously accused, and I think rightly accused on many levels. So it was more about restoring Canada's place, and not meant at all as a disrespect to our Queen, who still adorns many, many, you know bank notes and others."

‎While Mr. Trudeau was clearly seeking to assure no insult to the Queen was intended, he no doubt misjudged the Conservatives' intent: Many inside Mr. Harper's government were keen on displaying symbols of the monarchy and its ties to Canada's colonial past.

Some Liberals, including Mr. Trudeau's Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, have described the restoration of the Pellans in the Queen's place as a "progressive" symbol.