Is it time to gather round Trudeau?

The Liberal’s star attraction has the name and the buzz. But who is in his inner circle?

Time to gather round

Mike Choi

When Justin Trudeau stood in front of a Liberal crowd in a Winnipeg restaurant and bar early this month, it was no surprise that he easily grabbed and held the room’s attention. After all, the approximately 150 party members and potential supporters at the Pony Corral, a dockside establishment on the Red River not far from the University of Manitoba, had turned out expressly to hear the Montreal MP with the famous last name who is arguably the Liberals’ sole star attraction these days. But Neil Johnston, the local party organizer behind the event, said if the way Trudeau went over with the partisan patrons was predictable, the impression he evidently made on servers and cooks was less expected. They stopped working to listen, too. “The kitchen staff, they were probably recent immigrants,” Johnston said, “and they were talking about it afterwards.”

The spread of Trudeau’s celebrity well beyond the desperate, diminished ranks of Liberal stalwarts is what makes him by far the party’s most closely watched personality as it slowly ramps up to choose a new leader. Interim leader Bob Rae’s decision not to try to win the job for real next spring has left the eldest son of the late Pierre Trudeau strikingly isolated as the only putative candidate capable of generating serious buzz. Still, even Liberals galvanized by the scion’s sizzle wonder if there’s enough substance beneath it. And that leaves party insiders unusually curious about exactly which veteran strategists might gather around Trudeau to lend their experience to his excitement—assuming he relents and reverses his stated position that as the 40-year-old father of two young children this is the wrong time for him to attempt the leadership leap.

So far there is no obvious Team Trudeau waiting in the wings. Among well-known Liberal organizers, Bruce Young, a Vancouver-based consultant with Earnscliffe Strategy Group and a veteran of many federal and B.C. Liberal campaigns, is one of the more outspoken Trudeau enthusiasts. Young, an aide to Paul Martin during his brief prime-ministership, got to know Trudeau when they were both working on Gerard Kennedy’s run for the Liberal leadership back in 2006, the race Stéphane Dion eventually won. “To be frank, my initial read on Justin Trudeau was that he was well-known and useful in politics because of who his father was,” Young said. “After spending actual time with him, I found out that he’s tough as nails, whip smart, and not to be underestimated.” As a B.C. Liberal, he emphasizes the fact that Trudeau spent several years studying at the University of British Columbia and then teaching high school in Vancouver.

From Trudeau’s vantage point, the possible field of candidates brings complex personal and political calculations into play. New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, an old family friend who is very close to Trudeau’s brother Alexandre, might run. If he doesn’t, some likely LeBlanc backers would be expected to switch to Trudeau. The link to Kennedy is perhaps even more intriguing to insiders. He lost his Toronto seat in the 2011 election to the NDP, but has not ruled out contesting the leadership again.

Among strategists and rank-and-file Liberals, there is overlap between potential support for Trudeau and Kennedy. (Trudeau was recently the marquee draw at a Liberal fundraiser Kennedy hosted in his former Toronto riding.) The two men were introduced years ago by Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and now president and CEO of the environmental group WWF-Canada. Liberals who know them both say Butts and Kennedy are good friends. However, Butts has been close to Trudeau since they met as McGill University students—and is widely assumed to be a key private source of advice on his next move.

It’s not likely Trudeau will make that move until he mulls over his options this summer. The party’s leadership vote is slated for April next year. Voting will be open not only to card-carrying Liberals but also to a new category of registered supporters. That’s a huge change from the former system, in which delegates cast ballots at a final convention. Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison said the new rules mean candidates can afford to wait longer to jump in. “In the past,” Brison said, “a latecomer would be at a significant disadvantage because all the potential delegates would be sewed up.” The new voting rules open the possibility of a late charge by a contender able to sign up many members and supporters, perhaps mainly through social media, rather than by relying on organizers working in the trenches across the country.

When it comes to social-media impact, Trudeau has few rivals in Ottawa. He boasts nearly 140,000 Twitter followers, compared to fewer than 6,000 for fellow Montreal MP Marc Garneau, for instance, and under 5,000 for Kennedy. Of course, an online following shouldn’t be a substitute for a compelling, serious message. What Trudeau’s might be, though, remains largely undefined. He’s associated more with style than substance. His official role in the House, Johnston noted, is as Liberal caucus critic for post-secondary education, youth and amateur sport. “It’s not,” he said, “economics or foreign policy.” If indeed Trudeau bows to growing pressure and runs for leader, the first challenge facing the team he will need to assemble is to fill in those nagging doubts.




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Is it time to gather round Trudeau?

  1. Are we really going to start judging popularity by the # of Twitter followers a politician has? That’s a pretty sketchy gauge. By that measure, Wherry would be more likely to win the Liberal Leadership. It should also be noted that Stephen Harper has over 229,000 followers.

    • Yeah, but sockpuppets don’t count.

      • My, you’re getting wittier by the day!

    • There’s a big difference between Trudeau and Harper on Twitter. Trudeau actually connects with followers making frequent personal posts. Harper makes an official statement once every couple of weeks. If Trudeau was leader of the Liberal party his involvement in the social media could pay off (which will never happen for Harper who has the personality of a block of wood.)

      BTW, here’s a recent post from Trudeau: “Kelly McParland makes some GREAT points here:”

      NP: Kelly McParland: Some helpful suggestions for would-be Liberal leaders

      http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/25/kelly-mcparland-some-helpful-suggestions-for-would-be-liberal-leaders/

      Trudeau comes across open-minded, well-informed and intelligent. It would be a mistake to write him off until actually seeing him in action in a leadership race (if he decides to run.)

      • I’m not arguing that JT’s not a “social media maven”, I’m saying it doesn’t matter. The MSM *loves* to overstate the importance of social media, especially Twitter. How many people do you think changed their votes during the last election due to something on Twitter? 10? 20?

        Youtube might have some klout, but that’s just TV ads on the Internet. With Facebook you can at least extract some demographic data from your “fans”, and you can guarantee they’ll see you’re message.

        The lifespan of a Tweet is much shorter than a FB post, and you’ve also got to consider that almost half of anybodies Twitter followers are non-human bots (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/companies-twitter-followers-robots_n_1581775.html)

        • JT’s tweets are also forwarded to his Facebook page. Harper has 76k FB followers to Trudeau’s 45k. Given how the new media allows people to interact, and people of all ages are connecting to it, its influence could surpass that of the old media a lot quicker than one might imagine.

          Given the lack of money the Liberals have and the free broadcasting available over YouTube, the party would be wise to become social media pioneers in getting their message out. (Sort of like guerrilla warfare to counter Harper’s barrage of old-media attack-ad shellfire.)

          • You can’t even leave a post on Harper’s Facebook page.

  2. I wish the media would STFU about JT, it isn’t going to happen, so stop it.

    • I wish people would quit bitching and moaning about the coverage JT is getting. The medium is the message. People want to read about this or else the media wouldn’t be covering it. Besides that people are largely ignorant of what JT’s actual leadership capabilities actually are considering he hasn’t run for leadership yet!

      • I agree it’s like wishing the media wouldn’t pay attention to a Kennedy in the US. Charisma is charisma, period.
        Reminds me of the fact that the other day some people were discussing Pete Sampras, the tennis player — one of the greatest players ever, but he didn’t have an ounce of charisma, and that’s just life. He got way less attention than lesser players who were telegenic (e.g., Agassi).

  3. JustinT = HOPE

  4. We already have a celebrity president in the United States. Why not Canada. Afterall there has not been any serious policy out of the Liberal party in 20 years. Why start now. The picture as the lead to this column says it all. A celebrity name trying to run a herd of cats known as the Liberal party. Yikes!

    • Actually the Liberal Party is responsible for the relatively strong position of the Canadian economy according to The Economist: “Much of the country’s resilience stems from policies—such as bank regulation and sound public finances—which predate Mr Harper.”
      http://www.economist.com/node/16060113

      Unfortunately, resting on the laurels of others is not good enough. Now the economy is facing serious difficulties: productivity is falling (#17 OECD), inequality is rising, 500,000 good-paying jobs are lost, $20B Liberal-era trade surpluses have turned to $50B trade deficits (-3% GDP, 3 years in a row.)

      The Liberals turned Canada’s finances around making us the lowest-debt country of the G7; now we have fallen to the middle behind Germany and the UK tied with France. (According to the IMF 2011 numbers.)

      Harper’s “serious policy” is to bet our entire economy on resources because we are presently in a commodities boom. This is not only absurd for a developed country in the 21st century, it is ignorant of the fact that such booms eventually turn to busts. I think I prefer moderate knowledge-based policy over sheer incompetence.

      • You’re right, Paul Martin as FM and the Liberal party of the 1990′s is a huge reason Canada has weathered the global economic hurricane as well as it did, and everyone should thank them.

        Izzy too may have done even better on the economy than Harper, but I’ll tell you who wouldn’t have; Pierre Trudeau or his son.

        PET was an arrogant bully who couldn’t get his head out of the economic
        ideologies he picked up as a callow youth. Justin is a flashy neophyte
        who functions mainly as a improvised nostalgia piece for the old
        quasi-leftish; the ones who once knelt at the ersatz alter of his
        golden-calf father, and want to resurrect the glory days of their hollow
        god once more.

        We’d be far better off to stick with Harper. Heck, even Mulcair would be better, and that’s not saying much.

        • A lot of people are making assumptions about what policy Trudeau would put forward if he were leader (or running for leader.) I’ve been following him on Twitter/Facebook and I don’t know his position on the economic spectrum. (Which means he doesn’t have one or is holding his cards close to his vest.)

          A smart leader would put together a team to create a good platform and winning strategy that represents the party’s views. Ignatieff and Dion failed because of overbearing leadership that muddled strategy and policy.

          I think Trudeau is smarter than what many people give him credit for. When he mused he might rather live in a separate Quebec to Harper’s version of Canada these words actually resonated with many Quebecers and Canadians outside Quebec. It was like when Americans considered emigrating to Canada when Bush won a second term. The right-leading pundits who were ranting and raving over the remark just didn’t get it.

          • I agree with Ron that we shouldn’t automatically assume that Justin will have the same approach to economic issues that his father had. I’m willing to give JT the benefit of the doubt.

  5. How unbelievably shallow and desperately superficial for anyone to suggest the cure for what ails the “Liberal” party is to insert as leader the son of the man who began it’s ruination. Not based on any substantial intellect or vision, but simply because of the name he was born with. How terribly sad, bordering on the pathetic. I wonder if the media would still be championing this half-wit celebrity if his name was Castro… probably. How myopically isolated, arrogant and ignorant does one have to be in order to believe that somehow the name Trudeau would be a unifying force in the nation. Why not bring back Dion or Ignatieff and change they’re names to Trudeau, Stephan Dion Trudeau or Micheal (the count) Trudeau… better yet, just change the name of the “Liberals” to the Trudeau Party. Talk about living in the past.

    • Actually Trudeau is young, handsome, charismatic and able to attract media attention. In politics, that in itself is a very positive thing. Jack Layton was able to defeat the Liberals and the Bloc (when no one seen it coming) because of he was a leader the people liked. It’s foolish to claim Trudeau has no intellect or vision. No one will find out what he is made of until he actually runs for the leadership position. He may have what it takes; he may not.

      • JT is also both book-smart and intuitive, very important for a successful politician. And there’s his incredibly photogenic wife and family. I really hope he’s ready because it seems like Canada is ready (pining, actually) for him.

        • I think it’s bad timing for Trudeau to take the leadership — for his own personal advancement anyway. Rae hasn’t done the party any favors in public perception, and so far as I can see, the party has really just been treading water. Muclair seems to be fairly dynamic and is starting to catch on with Canadians. If JT takes the leadership now, I don’t think he’ll be able to do enough to bring the party out of third place, and with the expectations liberal party members seem to have of him, they’ll immediately turn around and eat him.

          Basically, I personally haven’t seen any indications that the Liberals are beyond looking for a quick fix yet. Maybe that’s because I’m not really involved with the party, but my current impression is mostly that Liberals are thinking all they need for things to be right again is to pick the right leader.

          Of course, that does bring up the question of what would it take to change that impression? I think one of the things that would really help is some evidence of focus. The question has been asked of what does the Liberal party stand for, and to my mind the answer is that they stand for pragmatism — the policy that works best for the country, regardless of what side of the political spectrum it comes from. But I haven’t seen the party ever really acknowledge that stance.. or any stance. Which lets them get defined as simply seeking power. (Which isn’t helped by so-called supporters like Kinsella posting things such as “Liberals being Liberals, we prize one thing above all: Winning.”)

          So for me, it’d take some evidence, and by such I mean a media campaign, acknowledging that what they were doing before wasn’t working. That they’ve redefined themselves as a party seeking the best solutions for *all* Canadians. And that they’re paying attention.

          For some reason I picture an ad with the final tag line in that ubiquitous “serious woman”‘s voice saying “Were a new Liberal Party of Canada. And we’re Listening.”

          • Oh Thwim, I think Martin’s “media campaign” on the sponsorship stuff was more than adequate, thank you very much. No, I hear you and understand you but I don’t agree. If the Liberals cannot get some excitement, some clear indication of change and relevance, some innovation, they are gonzo. And I happen to be a Liberal, and not NDP, so that’s not really the way I want to go. Justin excites people, and youth seem to relate to him. That’s important. Liberals may be far away from forming government for an election or two, but I do think if the next leader is a Marc Garneau — brilliant but unexciting to youth today — we will disappear. As the next couple of years play out, and I have no crystal ball, I do think the right and left are going to show very clearly why Canadians prefer the centre. If JT wants to just be PM, this is not the right time for him. If he can see his way as strengthening the party, leading serious and innovative policy changes, over the next few years, Liberals may survive. Or maybe we will build a whole new kind of party. I am not a big fan of the LPC machine. And I also don’t agree that Rae has harmed the party, or that Warren Kinsella damages the Liberals — personally I think the articles put out by Jordan Owens and Adam Goldenberg recently are more divisive and damaging that Warren’s. I sure hope the LPC can stop the in-fighting and get behind someone, or I’m just going to have to find a new way. And I’m too old for that, Thwim.

          • Oh Thwim, I think Martin’s “media campaign” on the sponsorship stuff was more than adequate, thank you very much. No, I hear you and understand you but I don’t agree. If the Liberals cannot get some excitement, some clear indication of change and relevance, some innovation, they are gonzo. And I happen to be a Liberal, and not NDP, so that’s not really the way I want to go. Justin excites people, and youth seem to relate to him. That’s important. Liberals may be far away from forming government for an election or two, but I do think if the next leader is a Marc Garneau — brilliant but unexciting to youth today — we will disappear. As the next couple of years play out, and I have no crystal ball, I do think the right and left are going to show very clearly why Canadians prefer the centre. If JT wants to just be PM, this is not the right time for him. If he can see his way as strengthening the party, leading serious and innovative policy changes, over the next few years, Liberals may survive. Or maybe we will build a whole new kind of party. I am not a big fan of the LPC machine. And I also don’t agree that Rae has harmed the party, or that Warren Kinsella damages the Liberals — personally I think the articles put out by Jordan Owens and Adam Goldenberg recently are more divisive and damaging that Warren’s. I sure hope the LPC can stop the in-fighting and get behind someone, or I’m just going to have to find a new way. And I’m too old for that, Thwim.

        • Wow patchouli, hopefully you were being sarcastic, because otherwise that was an incredibly creepy post.

          • No, I guess I was being “creepy.” How so? Do tell.

          • No, I guess I was being “creepy.” How so? Do tell.

          • You can’t see that?
            I’ll quote you; “JT is also both book-smart and intuitive, very important for a
            successful politician. And there’s his incredibly photogenic wife and
            family. I really hope he’s ready because it seems like Canada is ready
            (pining, actually) for him”.

            There do you see how creepy that is now? no?

            “He’s pretty”, “he’s book-smart (not wise though apparently)”, “I think his wife is nice”, “Canada wants someone who looks hot”.

            It’s downright bordering on fascist cult-of-personality dribble.
            We’re looking for a leader, not the next Canadian Idol.

            It`s what happened in the States; they could have had Hillary, but they all swooned for the photogenic but novitiate Obama, and look at the hash he`s made of it now.

  6. The media loves Trudeaus kid for one reason only, because of his name. That is also the only reason Justine gets any attention at all, because of his name. Very cultish! If sliding down bannisters, pirouetting, looking backwards and growing various styles of facial hair is what Canadians are looking for in a PM then Trudeaus kid is your man. Ben Mulroney has a lot of the same “skills” as Trudeaus kid, but I don’t believe any of those “skills” would qualify him for the role of PM… The name Trudeau and a dubious celebrity inheritance are not requirements most people look for in a PM… unless of course you are desperate, shallow, superficial, and with a pathological desire for the past. In the end there is only one reason “Liberals” and media “Liberals” are championing Trudeaus kid as the new messiah… because his name is Trudeau, and that is truly pathetic.

    • They also love him because he’s cute and has charisma, I guess. Are those good qualities in a PM? Not sure, but I do know that the above picture struck me as definitely not prime ministerial.

  7. If he himself thinks he’s not ready, then he probably isn’t. The media should STFU already. There are plenty of examples of reporters for the MSM indicating they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    Just because vacuous, addle-brained people want him, does not make him a good candidate.

    Trudeau 2.0 is NOT an upgrade: look what daddy did. We’re still recovering.

  8. Anybody who has been at this year’s Liberal convention knows that these days it is a lot more like a heard of cats. There were a lot of students and these days old family connections mean a lot less, since coming to the convention is very easy.
    I think that in this cycle in Liberal party old political alliances will mean a lot less than dirty old public appeal. No Ignatieff blunders this time.

    • herd

  9. Trudeaus’ lack of the right stuff required to lead a modern liberal democracy is best illustrated by his completely banal attitude towards tryanny. He’s openly professed admiration for his fathers’ “friend” Fidel Castro, in spite of the fact that all that separates Castro from the likes of Stalin and Hitler is the numbers. Castro was an acolyte of Stalin. Stalin slaughtered millions. More than Hitler, actually. We rightly wouldn’t give an admirer of Hitler the keys to 24 Sussex, nor would we a neo-Nazi. Why would we suppose that someone who openly admires a murderous Marxist tyrant should be the leader of a Canadian political party? Why would we even give him the time of day? That this isn’t a regular question for Trudeau himself, says a lot about the media and ourselves, sadly.

  10. Mr. Geddes. I am awaiting an article on how JT walked on water. I am sure it is comming. . .

  11. Why, why, why doesn’t this self-aggrandizing, talentless, little twit go away??? Maybe it wouBilld help if the Canadian press would stop treating him as if he were royalty. With thanks to a previous post, “banal” is exactly the word I would use to describe him.

  12. Gosh, we hate Trudeau because those conservative members are just so sterling in their political mannerisms, and tactics. Conservative members are in our face almost daily for one horrendous crime after another, and yet those diehard conservative fans still want them running the country. Anyone see where Harper’s scumverment just awarded three million to a PEI company that is being bought by an American company in California. Sure, feel free to give my tax dollars, from my meagre pay cheque to an American. NP

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