It may be early days in the Liberal leadership campaign, but it’s not the first time Justin Trudeau has ever had to field questions about his famous name, as the first-born son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The proud Montrealer with deep B.C. roots sauntered through Chilliwack streets last week, the very essence of charisma and easy-going charm.
The visit to Chilliwack was partly for glad-handing, fundraising and building the Liberal support base, and partly a sincere tribute to former Liberal candidate Hal Singleton of Chilliwack. He made appearances at a private fundraising brunch, and a public event at the Coast Chilliwack Hotel.
Trudeau spoke candidly to The Progress in a one-on-one interview after the extremely successful fundraising brunch for the Liberal Party of Canada, which netted a whopping $15,000.
The 40-year-old leadership hopeful was happy to riff on what it’s like being a Trudeau, about the importance of spinning a national narrative, and how he intends to make Liberal inroads in the Tory-entrenched West.
So about the whole name thing. How does he deal with having the famous name?
His father was called “one of the most admired and most disliked” of all Canadian Prime Ministers by historian Michael Bliss, but the younger Trudeau is determined to be his own person.
“It’s a question I’ve been asked an awful lot but I’ll be honest with you it hasn’t just come up for the first time during this campaign,” Trudeau told The Progress.
It came up when he entered politics the first time, but also as a teacher, or a snowboard instructor at Whistler, or even on his first day of elementary school.
“It’s something that I have worn all my life and what I have developed is a capacity to be myself and to project what I stand for and who I am,” he said.
“People who are open to it rapidly learn that I am my own person. People who only want to condemn me for the sins of my father – or celebrate me for the successes of my father – are never going to get the full picture of who or what I am.”
He makes it clear his national campaign strategy is all about substance over flash, and strengthening the middle class in Canada is key, especially those who feel the pinch of the economy.
“We’ve had great growth in Canada but increasingly it’s something that’s not being distributed among the middle class,” he said. “People have seen incomes stagnate, costs go up, personal and household debts explode.
“People are having to borrow more and more. And they’re not buying flat screen TVs, they’re buying groceries with those credit card debts.”
“For me Canada is only strong as an economy when we have people who work hard day in and day out for their money, who prosper, who know they’re going to be retiring into security, who know that their kids will have opportunities to go to school and flourish and succeed — better even than the previous generation has.
“But that no longer holds true, and that’s what I am fighting for.”
Trudeau hammers away at the evils of regionalism, but it was his dad who became known as the “father of Western Alienation,” when he introduced the National Energy Progam in keeping with his federalist agenda.
It’s a truly national campaign he’s waging, and anyone who plays up differences will be seen as “tiresome” by the fed-up electorate, he said.
“It’s picking a narrative shared amongst all Canadians, and not choosing to play up success in one region as a way of leveraging votes in another region.
“I want truly want to be a leader for all Canadians, and specifically to make the Liberal party once again relevant right across the country.”
He’s trying to inject a little optimism into the Canadian discourse.
“We’re all tired of being cynical about politics,” he said.
Even though he’s only been campaigning since September, Trudeau was already called “the prohibitive favourite to beat” in the next election.
But Trudeau insisted he still has his work cut out for him to capture the Liberal leadership.
“It’s way too early. The next election is not tomorrow. The next election is in 2015 and before that I have awful lot of work to do to win over the confidence of Liberals and of Canadians.
But despite all his efforts to distance himself from bitter, regionalized politics, he ended up embroiled in them anyway last week.
In the media scrum after his speech on Thursday, he was cornered by Sun Media about comments he made two years ago on a Quebec TV show, where he suggested in French that Canada is better served by leaders from Quebec than Alberta.
On Friday he also had to answer those same questions in Vancouver. He back-pedaled on remarks he made about “Albertans controlling” the national agenda, saying the issue was being brought up and fed to the media by Conservatives concerned about the fate of an upcoming Calgary byelection.
Trudeau apologized, stating that it was “wrong” to use Alberta as shorthand for the Harper government, and he was sorry.