Forty years ago, when I was a little kid growing up in Greece, all we knew about that far-away country called Canada was its "cool" and progressive society, its cold climate and the name of its famous prime minister. Most of us couldn't name the leaders of Australia or Mexico or even Japan, but almost everyone around me -- young or old -- knew exactly who Pierre Trudeau was.
Thirty years ago, when I showed up here as a young and very impressionable immigrant, that same famous man was still prime minister -- and, just by showing up on my television set every night, he very quickly became my ultimate leadership role model. I wanted to grow up and lead and inspire the way he did. I wanted to be as authentic as he was. I wanted to be as passionate, as compassionate, as determined, as tough, as witty and as creative as he was. I wanted to be able to magnetize so many and attract such energy and talent the way he did.
And then I grew up. I began to develop a bit of my own leadership brand. And as I started to feel stronger and more confident and more connected in this country, I decided I needed to find a way to meet that retired famous old man in Montreal and thank him for all that earlier inspiration and for having created such a beautiful home for me here. I was so looking forward to telling him all about that scared gay kid from a foreign land who felt so welcome and so perfectly absorbed by this gorgeous society.
Alas it wasn't meant to happen -- Pierre Trudeau died before I could figure out my path to him. On the day he died, 12 years ago this week, I sat down and wrote him a letter, titled "Au revoir dear teacher and friend I never met." It was a spontaneous and cathartic act and it just felt good to do it. But some years later that letter found its way to Justin Trudeau's inbox -- and we've been friends ever since.
This past week my friend Justin declared his ambition to become the leader for change in our country. Everyone seemed to be paying attention, all of a sudden. Millions of fascinated viewers and thousands of perspectives and questions: Is he ready? Does he have enough experience? Is it just the name? Is he too unconventional? Does he have real answers? Lots of debate, plenty of passion, incredible feeding frenzy by the media.
Justin is exactly what our country needs right now. For too long we've been starved for inspiration, for passion, for real engagement in the business of our beautiful nation. The last time we really cared, really paid attention and argued with each other about the good of our country was a long, long 25 years ago, when Brian Mulroney was negotiating the free trade deal!
Ever since those days of national passion we've been on a slow and steady decline towards complete apathy. Half of us don't bother to vote. Young people don't care if they ever vote. We've allowed slogans and one-liners to polarize us into a simplistic and superficial mix of government-haters and government-needers. We no longer expect to debate (and many of us wouldn't even understand) anything as complicated as a vision for our collective future as a nation -- and we seem perfectly satisfied with competent day-to-day management and very simply comprehensible promises. We have so tuned out as a nation -- and we really need to hit the "reset" button.
Justin may not have the most conventional politician's resume and may owe some of his early momentum to his family name -- but he has this amazing ability to captivate us, energize us, excite us, ignite anger in some of us and inspire our kids. He is authentic. He magnetizes. And he's got the passion, the energy, the stamina and the determination -- I was at that silly boxing match six months ago and just marvelled at all the symbolism.
We need someone to wake us up from our comfortable, apathetic slumber. We need to be thinking and debating about our future and our place in the world again. We need to be back on that world map, inspiring and magnetizing our future fellow citizens from far away places again.
Justin is already showing us the way to that "reset" button for our democracy. And if he doesn't have all the answers for us right now, he'll eventually surround himself with people who do -- because magnetic leaders like him are incredibly good at drawing the best minds to their circle.
As Brian Mulroney very wisely said a few days ago, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I think our beautiful nation is about to be energized again.