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Liberal leader and incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau is seen on stage at Liberal party headquarters in Montreal early Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015 after winning the 42nd Canadian general election.SEAN KILPATRICK/The Canadian Press

Canadians will now get a crash course on Justin Trudeau as prime minister.

That is not only because he will have to form a cabinet within weeks and eventually meet the House of Commons. The governing agenda is packed with items that will quickly define him.

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How will he conduct himself on the world stage? In three weeks, his plan to withdraw from the air strikes against Islamic State, and to accept more Syrian refugees will be of interest at the G20 summit. The APEC summit follows soon after, at which the leaders of the 11 other countries who have signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will want to know if Mr. Trudeau plans to ratify it.

Then there is the climate-change summit in early December. Mr. Trudeau has promised to base his plan on what provinces have done, but has provided precious little detail on how– and the Liberal platform commits to hammering out a federal-provincial deal within 90 days of the summit.

Back home, his platform promises a list of things "immediately," some of which are delicate, potentially critical, and vague. His promised review of environmental assessments, for example, is supposed to rework the way major energy projects such as pipelines are approved, and the balance he projects could send a key signal to potential investors. Mr. Trudeau the campaigner told Canadians both economy and environment could be protected. How will a prime minister Trudeau tip the balance?

Some of his central promises, such as revamping an array of child benefits into a single Canada Child Benefit, can wait for a first budget in the New Year. But he has promised enacting a middle-class tax cut will be his first legislation. It will presumably take time to create a revamped, bigger infrastructure program, but if he wants to look like he is working to get the economy rolling quickly – and he does – his government will have to start identifying priorities with premiers and mayors quickly.

And then there is style – and that is no inconsequential matter in politics. The clash of styles, and in some cases governing values, was a big part of the distinction that Mr. Trudeau drew with Mr. Harper. His style, Mr. Trudeau told us in the campaign, will be more open and more consultative, but what that means in the daily life of a sitting prime minister is not self-evident. He has promised open government, and a more open Parliament, and drew in youth supporters with that kind of talk. But new prime ministers are usually also concerned about imposing their authority.

He has already succeeded by upsetting expectations as a campaigner. In the summer, he seemed to have cratered. Just a few weeks ago, his odds of winning were a roll of the dice. On Monday night, as results poured in, it was clear he had established himself as the standard-bearer for change, squeezing out Tom Mulcair's NDP, and overturned last month's odds.

As a new leader, he sailed on a high for longer than just a honeymoon, then this year sank precipitously. It seemed then that many Canadians had made up their minds that Mr. Trudeau did not have the steel or gravitas, or maybe the smarts, of a prime minister. Then the same people, many at least, changed their minds enough to vote him in.

Canadians know Mr. Trudeau the campaigner, the 43-year-old who surprised with an economic-activist message and an expectations-beating performance, and surprised with a majority-government win.

Many voters knew the Trudeau name, his father, his familiar face, and had seen pictures of his family. But the public doubts, and revival, showed they were not really sure what he was, even if they knew who he was. If he was helped back up by the low expectations that Stephen Harper's Conservatives set for him, he still eluded the trap that caught his two predecessors, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

As results rolled in on Monday night, it was clear Mr. Trudeau had done something different.

In Atlantic Canada, where Mr. Trudeau was expected to win big, the party swept, winning seats that Liberals had not held since Kim Campbell's Conservatives were crushed in 1993, and rock-solid Tory bastions such has Fundy Royal, where Mr. Trudeau had the gall to campaign 10 days before the vote.

Only minutes after polls closed in Ontario and Quebec, TV networks declared Mr. Trudeau the next prime minister – catching even Liberals at his victory party off guard. In Quebec, Liberals were winning francophone-dominated ridings outside of Montreal, where they were left for dead in July. In Ontario, the Liberals took back the control of the GTA, and were on top. They won seats in the west, if mostly in pockets, at least outside B.C.

Mr. Trudeau rode a wave of change, of course, aided by the fact that he looked and felt, viscerally, like change from Mr. Harper, more so than Mr. Mulcair. But it was not that simple. His campaign was designed to give him solidity by giving him a message – that he would boost the economy and help the middle class.

The method surprised, too. He altered the campaign by taking a gamble on proposing deficits to pay for an expansion of infrastructure spending. His opponents did not expect that, or that it would be popular. It made him the candidate with a substantially different economic policy, an interventionist proposal that rang a bell with many worried voters. It also made him the candidate with the memorable plan – and being known for a plan gave him weight. And you can bet Mr. Mulcair was surprised that Mr. Trudeau clocked him once or twice in the first leaders' debate.

But he is still a surprise package, as Canadians start to imagine how he would govern.

Most know he promises deficits, an infrastructure-spending boom, and a very different style from Stephen Harper. He is a Trudeau, he is young, and can be a canny public performer. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is an unfamiliar idea. Those persistent questions raised about him were about how he would lead.

In opposition, and in the campaign, Mr. Trudeau stressed that he was surrounded by a team – behind the scenes are bright advisers such as former Dalton McGuinty aide Gerald Butts, but the Liberals highlighted experienced former ministers including Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison and Saskatchewan's Ralph Goodale, and star candidates such as businessman Bill Morneau and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair.

In government, the first question about the team will be who, as in which MPs will be named as cabinet ministers, but then there is also how, as in how he works with his cabinet. Mr. Harper was known for central control, and Mr. Trudeau called himself more collaborative. But prime ministers usually try to assert authority.

Now, Mr. Trudeau, while pledging to act as a first among equals, will find himself at the top making the final decisions. Canadians who thought they knew Trudeau the son are probably starting to imagine Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And one way or another, he is likely to surprise.

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