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Justin Trudeau grapples with his ‘authenticity’ as the race begins

Justin Trudeau says he wants to build a new Liberal Party, not rebuild the old one.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Ask Justin Trudeau what his biggest weakness is – and prepare for a long wait.

At the end of the first week of his bid to become Liberal leader – a week that saw the 40-year-old politician drawing big crowds and treated like a rock star from Richmond, B.C., to tiny Dieppe, N.B. – he is almost at a loss to come up with an answer.

"Sometimes I'm impulsive about the things I say," Mr. Trudeau told The Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview. "I try to answer the questions that are asked. … It has to do with my authenticity. Has it got me in trouble? Yes. Will it get me in trouble? Yes."

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The long pause says a lot about the young Trudeau – he is über-confident working the crowds that have flocked to events this week, but he's surrounded by the people who love him. No one is asking the tough questions around policy that might trip him up – yet.

Not that he sees it that way. He sees himself being treated differently than other politicians, with immediate demands for substance beneath the style. "Everybody is asking me policy questions," Mr. Trudeau said. "What were Harper's policy ideas in 2006 – five modest policy proposals …"

As for Stephen Harper's policies now, Mr. Trudeau says they are dividing the country, as are NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's.

"Mr. Harper put an X over Quebec and is anchoring himself in the West. Mr. Mulcair has recently put an X over Alberta and is pandering for votes in Quebec and Ontario," Mr. Trudeau said. "That is not the right solution no matter how successful you are at being elected."

Under "my watch," he said, "you will not hear a Liberal … saying one thing in one corner of the country and another thing in another corner of the country. You will not hear me using the wealth of one corner of the country as a whipping boy to earn votes in another part of the country."

Mr. Harper, he said, is "proof" that you can get elected, even to a majority, through the "strategy of division, micro-targeting of envy and mistrust."

On this Friday, Mr. Trudeau is with his good friend and political colleague Dominic LeBlanc, 44, the Liberal MP for the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour.

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They are sitting on the deck of Mr. LeBlanc's late father's home overlooking the Northumberland Strait as a lobster boat drifts by, the bridge to PEI way off in the distance.

These two men, with their famous political last names, have been friends all their lives just as their fathers were – Romeo LeBlanc, the former governor-general, and Pierre Trudeau, the former prime minister. In fact, Mr. Trudeau was an honorary pallbearer at Romeo LeBlanc's funeral; Mr. LeBlanc was an honorary pallbearer at Pierre Trudeau's.

Earlier this summer, Mr. Trudeau and his family spent two weeks with Mr. LeBlanc and his family at the cottage. And it was over beers at Captain Dan's, a pub in nearby Shediac, that the two MPs talked over their ideas for Canada and about their prospective leadership bids. It was decided that Mr. Trudeau would run and Mr. LeBlanc would be his key supporter.

"A lot focused on the country more than the candidacy," Mr. LeBlanc said. "It wasn't a discussion of the mechanics [of trying to win the leadership] at all.…That conversation reminded me of times we have had here as family over the decades."

Mr. Trudeau and his two younger brothers would come up to the LeBlanc cottage with their father in the summers as kids. So it was by design that Mr. Trudeau ended his first week in New Brunswick with Mr. LeBlanc, by his side on stage, throwing his support behind his friend.

"It shows the generational shift … it also shows the importance of friendship," Mr. Trudeau said. "Dominic is the first person I have shared a stage with and made a joint announcement with … for me doing it first with Dominic was really, really important."

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He said other MPs will follow, though he added that he still expects a race for the leadership and not a coronation. Indeed, there is a long way to go before the April vote – and a long way to build the Liberal Party, which is desperately in need of new faces, money and ideas.

Mr. Trudeau is clear that he wants to "build" a new Liberal Party, not "rebuild" the old one. The patterns of the last years "as a party have led to our downfall," he said, pointing to the wars between factions, the top-down structure that excluded people and the "disconnect with Canadians in places that were connected to us."

"We've completely lost a lot of our natural constituencies because we cease to speak with them and speak for them and listen to them and that is something we have to turn around," he said – noting, for example, that new Canadians and those in rural Canada used to support the party.

A poll released Friday shows that Mr. Trudeau could certainly expand the Liberal base and that he – and his famous name – are no longer a liability in Quebec.

Throughout his life he has had to learn how to deal with his last name. "There are people out there who hate me automatically – they dislike me intensely automatically. There are people out there who like me automatically," he said. "I have to know how to discount both of them … and just be centred around myself."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More


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