Justin Trudeau says revealing what makes political leaders tick is just as important as disclosing the minutiae of the policies they'd implement.
That's why the Liberal leader says he's bared some intimate details of his life in a new memoir, Common Ground, which hits bookstores today.
The book chronicles the highs and lows of Trudeau's 42 years: growing up as the eldest son of a prime minister, enduring the lurid publicity surrounding his parents' divorce, coping with his mother's mental illness and struggling to find his way out from his famous father's lengthy shadow.
It does not reveal any new specifics of the platform on which the Liberals intend to run; that will come during the next election, a year from now, and Trudeau says he won't be rushed just because NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has already begun unveiling key planks of his platform.
For now, Trudeau says he wants Canadians to understand the life experiences that have shaped him and his values.
And he wants to build trust with Canadians through his willingness to share some intimate, often painful, memories.
"Understanding someone's vision and (thought) process is as important, if not more important, than having a detailed blueprint of every last thing they're going to do," Trudeau said in an interview.
"I think that any individual is obviously the sum of their experiences and what they've learned and how they've been shaped by the life they've led."
Trudeau, whose detractors dismiss him as an insubstantial, intellectual featherweight, said some people advised him the book would flop unless it was a "policy-heavy" tome. But judging from the saturation coverage it's received so far, that seems unlikely.
The book is surprisingly candid about some of the most painful episodes in Trudeau's life – his parents' divorce, his awkward, insecure teen years, the deaths of youngest brother Michel and his father, Pierre – but he suggested Canadians expect that from him.
Having grown up in the public eye, "I've gotten very, very comfortable understanding that people have a sense of familiarity with me that means that they're willing to ask questions that are perhaps more personal than they would of a different public figure."
Trudeau also wanted the book to explain what motivates him to want to become prime minister, beyond the caricature peddled by political opponents: "He was born at 24 Sussex and feels he should somehow be given the keys to go back."
As he was writing the book, Trudeau said he was well aware the Conservative attack machine might try to spin various anecdotes – his admission that he was an indifferent student comes to mind –to make him look bad. But he felt Canadians deserved and expected an honest accounting of his life to date.
"I trust that Canadians are going to read it and see a whole person who is dedicated to serving this country."
Part of that whole person, Trudeau admits in the book, is someone who tends to needlessly give ammunition to his political opponents when he tries "to be too clever or witty"– as he did a couple of weeks ago when he argued that Canada should provide more humanitarian assistance to Iraq rather than "trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are."
In the interview, he was unapologetic about demonstrating an approach to politics that is "both thoughtful and real" and predicted Canadians will see through the spin his rivals put on it.
"The fact is, I have a speaking style that sometimes my opponents will leap on to try and twist or try and amplify. I trust Canadians."
Trudeau acknowledges in the book that much of political life is "merde" – or crap, to use a more polite English word. Given that and his first-hand knowledge of the destructive power of politics on family life, one wonders why he relented on his initial determination not to seek the Liberal leadership.
"I was not intending to put my family through what I had been through, not at that point, not with the family as young as it was," he said.
But after thinking long and hard about what he had to offer, what he believed the country needed and the role models in public service he'd grown up with, Trudeau said: "I knew that being a good parent to my kids wasn't just about being there to tuck them in at night, every night. It was also about knowing that I'm doing everything I possibly can to make sure that their world, the world they grow up in, will give them opportunities and fairness and be a better place."
His three children – Xavier, 7, Ella-Grace, 5, and infant Hadrien – are too young to understand politics. But when they say grace before dinner, Trudeau said the two eldest "think of all the people who aren't as lucky as we are and (say) thank you Daddy for helping them out."
"That's how they understand my job, that I am working hard to help people, and that explains (to them) why random strangers are nice to me and come up and shake my hand and sometimes want to take pictures with me."
His kids' impression of the job "puts the extra pressure on me to make sure that what I'm doing is actually helping people and not just trying to outsmart or knock down my opponent."
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