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Don't Blame Trudeau for Being Popular

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Justin Trudeau launched his campaign this week and did it as well as anyone I've seen in a long time. The cosmetics were slick, attractive, and even powerful. The broad themes were solid, and the delivery persuasive. He did it to packed houses in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.

Since Bob Rae's decision to sit out the leadership race, the media glare has been almost exclusively on Trudeau. The coverage of Trudeau's coming out party has blanketed the media. Before he announced, Trudeau was framed as a shining figure with massive appeal and the capacity to catapult the third place Liberal Party of Canada to new heights. That's certainly not his fault.

Other "prospective" leadership aspirants were quoted as saying that they will "wait to see what Justin decides" before making their decisions on whether to jump into the fray. That's not Trudeau's fault, either.

Much of the commentary -- including commentary from some Liberals -- has taken on a decidedly personal character. This is uncalled for, cheap, and I think tinged with more than a bit of envy. It's as if they think that somehow Trudeau is in control of the attention he has received.

What the attention signals to me is that there is a genuine thirst out there for positive engagement. And it isn't limited to the "next generation," but finds itself in people of all ages that are fed up with politics -- and Liberal politics -- as usual. It is ironic that the eldest son of a Liberal icon is the one to drive this message.

On his first few outings, Trudeau has shrewdly laid out his values in broad terms. He has answered direct questions on a variety of issues. That including yesterday, when on a visit to Calgary he tackled a touchy question directly when he said that any policy that divides and doesn't unite Canada is "unhelpful."

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Good for him. The National Energy Program has been an albatross around the neck of the Liberal Party for 30 years. Trudeau, very appropriately, refuses to carry that baggage, and shouldn't. Three decades later, neither should Liberals. He is turning the page, and that is precisely how it should be. I have heard of no other Liberal with the guts or intellectual integrity to tell it straight -- the NEP may have been well intentioned, but it was a mistake. Period.

Yet the narrative that has emerged from the pundit class has been almost solely focused on how "light" Trudeau has been on a wide variety of policy areas. How on earth do any of them know that? The fact is, they don't. But sadly, this is all too predictable.

Today Andrew Coyne writes in the National Post about the motherhood of the "middle class" as Trudeau's campaign theme. He's right about that, assuming of course there's nothing behind a substantive definition of what Trudeau's Liberals would do to help the middle class. But that's a wildly premature assumption. Six months is a long time and Trudeau has plenty of time to clearly define what he would propose to do to create a widely shared prosperity.

I have no doubt that Trudeau understands the economic importance of broadening the middle class. I also have no doubt that he understands how crucial they are to the political success of the Liberal Party.

However some cynics may deem the message of a more vibrant middle class, it was Aristotle who first figured that out when he wrote: "It is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both other classes."

I find it rather sad that the usual occupants of the cheap seats are beating up a guy for not articulating a detailed program in the first six hours of a six-month campaign. So far, he's the only one with the guts to step up, and put himself and his family out there. He is doing it with the full knowledge that he's a target, unfortunately even within his own party. Trudeau is doing it anyway because he believes in his party and has a profound commitment to Canada. There's nothing "entitled" about that. It shows strength of character and steadfastness that Canadians want and expect of their leaders.

It goes without saying that Liberals and Canadians need and deserve an intelligent conversation about the future. That includes specifics on some of the tough policy choices we must make. I have absolutely no doubt that will come from Trudeau in due course. What is as important -- to me at least -- is the essential character and values of the man. As far as Trudeau is concerned, I like what I see. A lot.

It's up to others now to step up and contribute substantively to the discussion, as my father used to tell me, or shut up.

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