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David Bertschi's Liberal Leadership Run: Unknown Candidate Says 'Just Watch Me'

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Sitting in the boardroom of his suburban law office in Ottawa, the 52-year-old lawyer says with a straight face that he is convinced he can beat <a href=Justin Trudeau and win the leadership of the federal Liberal Party of Canada. (HuffPost/CP)" />
Sitting in the boardroom of his suburban law office in Ottawa, the 52-year-old lawyer says with a straight face that he is convinced he can beat Justin Trudeau and win the leadership of the federal Liberal Party of Canada. (HuffPost/CP)

Bold? Crazy? Both?

For outsiders, David Bertschi's run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, which he'll announce Wednesday night, will seem a head-scratcher.

Sitting in the boardroom of his suburban law office in Ottawa, the 52-year-old lawyer says with a straight face that he is convinced he can beat Justin Trudeau.

He leans his body into the table, hands gesticulating in the air, as he swats away suggestions he's an unknown to most Canadians and faces an impossible challenge taking on the Trudeau juggernaut.

"I've shown leadership in private enterprise and charities, I've shown leadership in everything I have done," he said.

So, he'll put up the $75,000 fee to enter the race, even as much better known Grits sit the thing out. He launches his bid Wednesday night in Orléans, a suburb east of Ottawa, while Canada's media are preoccupied with the fallout of another political race south of the border, guaranteeing limited -- if any -- coverage.

"You have to make the hard decisions. You have to stay with it, and I think I can contribute a lot to the Liberal party," he told The Huffington Post Canada on the eve of his leadership campaign's official launch.

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A Liberal for 30 years, Bertschi said he is deeply involved with his community and has the business chops for the job. He built a million-dollar company that has created jobs, he added, referring to his firm, Bertschi Orth Smith LLP.

This Liberal leadership race should not be about "self-appointed elites" picking a leader and pushing him or her to run for office before they are ready, Bertschi said. Rather, it's about rebuilding the party at the grassroots and starting with the foundation, he said.

"You don't just grab a brass ring and hope that someone is going to bring you to nirvana. And I think that is what is happening at the moment," he said, referring obliquely to Trudeau.

Bertschi mentions Trudeau's 163,000 Twitter followers, only to mock his fanbase: "Justin Bieber has 28 million followers on Twitter, but I don't think he should be running the Liberal Party at this time."

Trudeau is a wonderful "young" man, Bertschi added. (At 40, Trudeau is 12 years younger than the Ottawa lawyer, a father of six young adults).

"I think it is a little early for Justin," he said.

Canadians want a political leader with a broad background who can understand the policy issues, someone who can independently analyze the information they are given, someone "with a backbone," he said.

"They want someone who can add value to the job as opposed to someone who just graduated and wants to be running the country."

Trudeau told HuffPost he likes Bertschi and has met him many times, having fundraised for him and attended events at his home.

"I've always felt that he was a man with good ideas, a man who was very reasonable and well regarded in the community for his work as a lawyer," Trudeau said Wednesday. "He's a serious contender, he's a serious opponent and he has a lot of things to say and I look forward to exchanging with him on the campaign trail."

Despite Trudeau's lack of life experience, he does have something Bertschi lacks: experience in public office.

Bertschi has run for office only once, in 2011, as the Liberal candidate for Ottawa-Orléans, a francophone-heavy riding the Tories won in 2006. He lost by 3,936 votes.

"I had the fifth highest [Liberal] vote in the country," he said proudly of his nearly 25,000 votes. "I increased the Liberal vote, the most of any, numerically, candidate in the country."

The loss doesn't matter, he said, noting Canadians don't want a career politician as leader.

A self-described underdog, Bertschi said his path to victory begins with policy proposals he'll unveil during the campaign, including balance in the economy, a national health-care plan involving the provinces and a plan that builds on the Kelowna Accord.

He said he also is laser-focused on the political ground game.

"No one is going to outwork me on the ground as a candidate. I can guarantee you that," he said.

A child from Sainte-Adèle, Que., Bertschi moved with his mother and younger sister to Montreal when he was eight. Growing up in a single-parent home, Bertschi said, he knew he had less than his schoolmates but never felt he faced any barriers or lacked any opportunities for summer employment or post-secondary education if he was willing to work hard.

"One of the reasons I am running is because I believe that the fabric of our society is slowly deteriorating under Stephen Harper and his government, and they fail to appreciate and understand how real people live and what challenges they face," he said.

But as an unknown, can David Bertschi lead the federal Liberal Party out of the political wilderness?

"How many people knew Pierre Trudeau before Pierre Trudeau was the minister of justice?" Bertschi asked. "So let's just watch me and see how we do."

Like Huffington Post Canada's Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's reporter page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter for all the latest news from Parliament Hill.

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