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This Isn't Your Grandmother's Liberal Party

04/10/2013 08:21 EDT | Updated 06/10/2013 05:12 EDT
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Despite whatever neurosis may be at play (and there's a lot), at the heart of any politician is a profound desire to serve their community and country.

I was no exception. Although the increasing coarseness of our public life has greatly diminished the respect with which we hold our democratic institutions, I hold steadfast to the conviction that elected office is a profoundly noble and important calling.

As a senior ministerial advisor in the mid-1980s, I observed how rewarding being a member of cabinet and parliament could be. This truth is I wanted to be one of them when I grew up.

At age 48, I tried, but didn't get there.

While I don't have the temperament of a "natural politician", I felt that once I got over the hurdle of getting elected, I would make a pretty good parliamentarian. The hard reality is that getting elected is job one for any aspiring politician.

I thought I was a hotshot. After all, I was born and raised in a Quebec working class family and became "self-made." I've read widely, travelled to over 50 countries in the world, am fluently bilingual, been to every corner of Canada many times, and have lived in British Columbia for over a decade. My professional life has been varied and substantial. I have more than my share of battle scars and have seen both big success and big failure up close.

I ran as a Liberal because that's my philosophical natural home. I identify myself as a pragmatic centrist. I am a free-enterpriser with a strong sense of social justice; believe that strengthening national unity is an enduring imperative, and am an internationalist. I am a staunch supporter of the Charter of Rights, believe in a robust federal government that promotes and defends the national interest, and reason that there is no inherent contradiction between environmental protection and economic growth. In fact, they are and should be indissolubly connected.

Like many who ran under the Liberal banner in in 2012, I got my posterior handed to me in the most public of ways. Losing is never fun; but losing so publicly and ferociously is devastating. I was the first Liberal in memory to come in third in a riding where that spot was owned by the NDP. I was humbled like I never had been before. Despite the constant reminders from friends and loved ones that there were other factors beyond my control involved, losing is losing. Rationalizations notwithstanding, it was my name on the ballot, no one else's.

I first met the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff, in February 2009. I found myself as impressed with him in conversation as I was reading his substantial body of work. He was head and shoulders more qualified, was more broad-gauged, had more real-world experience, and had more insight into the issues in the world and in the country than any of the other party leaders. He's also a lovely human being.

I was relieved when Ignatieff announced the convening of a "Thinkers Conference" in Montreal, modelled after previous conferences in Kingston and Alymer. I was invited to attend, and on the first morning, I took the microphone to make a brief observation and ask a question.

Vancouver Island MP, Keith Martin, did the same. During the coffee break Keith and I were both approached by Pat Sobora, a stranger who I had not previously met. She was Ignatieff's "chief operating officer", and reminded me of that scary nun in the movie Doubt, played by Meryl Streep. She told us in no uncertain terms that MPs and candidates were not welcomed to ask any questions or make comments during the conference. I was taken aback, and Keith was livid beyond words. Why, I asked him, was I so dumb as to spend $5,000 of my own money to be there? The answer soon became clear; this was a public relations exercise, not a genuine effort to flesh-out anything.

At the conclusion of the conference, Ignatieff announced that a Liberal government would rescind the corporate tax cut, which was part of the budget that Liberals had voted for. Corporate taxes did not come up at all during two days of meetings. It was the one and only policy announcement he made coming out of the Montreal meeting.

A week into the election campaign, a large box came to the house. It was the "Family Pack", the campaign platform that only staffers and a few MPs had seen. I certainly hadn't, and like others, had to scramble to get up to speed while convincing myself that this was the best thing since sliced bread.

It wasn't. Just like the "Green Shift" before it, the party and its leaders were tone deaf to what really mattered to Canadians. Justin Trudeau will never make that mistake. He possesses a precious attribute that you can't learn and is indispensible to successful leadership: political judgment. In fact, not since Jean Chretien has a Liberal Party leader had it in such abundance.

In Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party there will be no tablets delivered to doorsteps a week into an election campaign. What the party stands for will certainly have Trudeau's imprinteur on it -- as it should. A strong sense of shared values will be woven into the fabric of this new enterprise.

Owing in no small measure to the resolve and courage of Bob Rae and the dynamism of Trudeau, today this is a different party. It is far more grounded, optimistic, forward-looking, and hopeful since anytime I can remember. It is also pragmatically focused on the economic and social policy bread-and-butter issues that move the dial on our collective well-being and standard of living.

The genius of Trudeau's approach is his direct appeal to Canadians, over the heads of the shrinking Liberal Grand Poobah class. A vast majority of Trudeau's audience are not and will not be actively engaged as partisans in any political formation. No, these are Canadians of all ages that want and need a breath of fresh air on our political culture and institutions.

Trudeau's remarkable reach and celebrity ensures that power returns to the people. Vested interests will take a back seat to Canada, for a change.

Cynicism, treating voters for fools, and ultra-partisanship and all that goes with it has become passé. We see this shift in the upcoming shellacking the government of British Columbia's Christy Clark is about to take at the hands of a positive and smart NDP leader, Adrian Dix.

A new culture and mindset is emerging where entitlement is being exorcised from the Liberal Party of Canada's DNA. Trudeau personifies a new attitude: Canada and the national interest are coming first. The country seems to believe -- with good reason -- that Justin Trudeau and this renewed party, free of its black eyes and self-doubt, is in this for the right reasons and for a noble purpose.

I believe that Canadians will unify around Trudeau, a remarkable individual that has connected on a visceral level with the country. I also have no doubt that his unifying force will rally our best and brightest again to the service of Canada.

As I was on a stage in the middle of the election "debates" in my riding, I vividly recall thinking of the Groucho Marx line: "I would not join any club that would have someone like me as a member." I need not have worried. The voters had no intention of issuing an invitation to me. Yet deep down, even today, I would love nothing more than to serve, especially at this moment in our history.

That's the compelling power of renewal and hope.

Justin Trudeau Through The Years