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lawrence martin

There's been a perception about Justin Trudeau that he's the mother's son, that much of the mettle from the father descended to the other boy, Alexandre. It's the reason, many Liberals have felt, that the party shouldn't invest future leadership hopes in Justin.

He's undisciplined, critics contend, light on policy and cavalier. Not everyone holds to the perception, but it was reinforced recently with his blatherings about Quebec's being justified in going its own way, given the Harper government's values. That brought down a hailstorm of abuse on the 40-year-old MP, for whom there's a lot of bile out there to begin with. This is Western Canada's time, the country's conservative time, and Pierre Trudeau, of course, symbolized other regions and other values. Thirty years on, Prairie people still haven't got over the national energy program. They still react with wrath to the Trudeau name.

And so when they heard that Pierre Trudeau's kid was going into the ring against tattooed, tough-guy Tory Senator Patrick Brazeau, they were licking their chops. They could picture him getting bloodied. A Trudeau on the canvas! The ultimate humiliation.

As we know, the opposite happened. "Trudeau celebrates Earth Hour by knocking Brazeau's lights out," said one online post.

The boxing match, while done for charity, was a fitting metaphor for our lowbrow politics. Verbal abuse verges on fisticuffs, so why not take it that extra step. The Trudeau-Brazeau fight could touch off a trend, here and abroad.

The most significant part of Saturday's bout was not that all the Trudeau haters had to eat crow. It was the image transformation of Justin from mother's boy to father's son and all that this could entail.

It was daring for Justin to put himself in the position he did. He knew, as he told me with an air of cockiness a couple of days before the match, that Mr. Brazeau wasn't as tough as people were saying. But it was still a gamble. He risked bringing humiliation not only on himself but on the family name. He risked a lasting career setback.

Entering the ring required his father's confidence, courage and penchant for risk taking. There's a steeliness to Justin I've noticed over the years, a sense of belief, of purpose, and no sense that he's one to crumble under pressure. His boxing skills came from his father, a martial arts enthusiast, as well.

Before entering the ring, he might have imagined his dad in the gunslinger pose or on the reviewing stand in Montreal on election eve 1968, standing alone and defiant as separatist demonstrators hurled projectiles at him. After the match, he was on Justin's mind. "Je t'aime, papa," he wrote.

Justin has had his growing pains, moments of naiveté, immaturity and winginess. But his potential is considerable. He's strong in the languages and he has star-power charisma and, as he showed in the fight, it's more than pretty-boy charisma.

The passions run deep. We saw it recently when he jumped to his feet in the House of Commons and rudely attacked the Environment Minister, using a synonym for the word excrement for the government's treatment of opposition members who wished to attend a climate-change summit.

It wasn't a staged moment. It was a reflex action. But like his ill-advised words on Quebec's leaving, it got him into trouble. Many were starting to write him off. But a boxing match with "a star is reborn" story line changes that. It may come to be seen as a defining career moment.

For the Liberal Party, Bob Rae is doing a very impressive job as pro tem pilot. But given his age, his baggage and Thomas Mulcair's ascendancy to the NDP throne, chances of rebirth under him are remote. If the party is to rise again, it may well be that it needs someone of daunting name and spirit to remind the country of its daunting days.