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Why Justin Trudeau Might Be More Popular Than His Dad

04/07/2013 11:10 EDT | Updated 06/07/2013 05:12 EDT
CP/HuffPost Canada

Glad I'm not Justin Trudeau -- opinions about your swirling everywhere. Too young? Experienced enough? Effective policy? Win government?

I sat with Justin in the House of Commons for over two years and possess no worries. He was a remarkably quick study, had the ability to dissect policy easily enough, and ultimately had a political acuity far greater than many of us. Yet observing everything now from a distance, I have come to the conclusion that Justin Trudeau is a more popular character than his father, Pierre. Already I can hear the disagreements, but I nevertheless think a case can made because of the times we are living in.

I was a young teenager in Calgary, Alberta when Pierre Trudeau entered his "Trudeau-mania" phase and the memories of that initial enthusiasm abide with me still (this was prior to the National Energy Program and other policy decisions that resulted in his alienating the West). I accompanied my father to listen to the flamboyant Prime Minister speak to a packed auditorium. There was something about him and it was unmistakable. Across the country he was a major celebrity.

But those were different times, and we were a different people. We looked for heroes and people we could believe in. Each region had their own, naturally, but Lester Pearson and his youthful cabinet members Jean Chretien, John Turner and Pierre Trudeau matched the mood of our Centennial spirit perfectly. We were a renewed nation -- young, exuberant with a new flag, aware of our expanding international influence, and capable of thinking we could do anything. Ottawa was essential to us then, as shared resource programs brought federal dollars to the expansions of regions across the country. Pearson won his Nobel Peace Prize and the middle-class was in expansion mode. Citizens still trusted politicians to a significant degree to keep the country's best interests at heart. I know -- I was there and was just one of millions who felt that youthful surge moving into adulthood.

So, really, in such a context Pierre Trudeau's popularity was a doable feat. For all his uniqueness, apparent youth, flair, and intelligence, we felt that way about ourselves, too, and in him we found our own potential.

Can anyone say this about our political or national context now? Not a chance. We are clearly jaundiced towards the political class across the board. The middle-class has begun its inevitable decline as economies around the world deal with the refuse of a greedy globalization. There are now very few citizens who appear confident in our future, youthful in spirit, or comfortable with their wallets. We reserve our collective adulation for sports stars and entertainers, but our collective disdain for political figures.

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Liberal Leadership Showcase: Justin Trudeau

In such a setting, Justin Trudeau's clear surge in momentum is all the more remarkable. In an age of disillusionment and diminishing returns, many Canadians find themselves somewhat surprised that they feel hope for change again. They find themselves even more surprised to feel that politics could be meaningful once more.

A while ago I asked Justin to come to London, Ontario to speak at a concert for Sudan we had organized. He packed the place, even though the venue (a church) had nothing to do with politics. I watched from the balcony as people from every single demographic vaulted to their feet when he challenged them to make a difference in the world as Canadians -- compelling stuff.

This isn't so much about Liberal leadership as it is about national renewal. You don't have to be a Liberal to appreciate that Canadians are weary of the present days of discontent and want something better for themselves and their country. That would be true even without a leadership contest. But the arrival of Justin Trudeau on the leadership stage has rekindled an inner youth we worried we had lost. And whether or not he wins the leadership of the party or the country, he has brought a new sense of life and possibility to much of the land.

There is where Stephen Harper must be careful with his negativity about Trudeau. If this country is, in fact, ready for renewal and a sense of optimism again, to flood the airwaves with negative vibes about one of its main causes is to undermine not only a new generation, but all Canadians. The patterned and habitual Conservative negative ads won't just offend one young MP from Quebec; they might very well turn off a country tired of such Machiavellian schemes. Such ads could easily assist in ushering in the change Canadians are looking for -- not just in politics but in their own aspirations -- and could in the end be the Conservatives' biggest downfall.