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What Justin Trudeau Could Learn From Rob Ford

10/30/2013 05:42 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Is there any doubt about who Rob Ford is?

There shouldn't be. From the moment he first ran for office, Rob Ford has been about "Stop the gravy train", even if he didn't articulate it that way in the beginning. He spent 10 years as a city councilor espousing the belief that spending at Toronto city hall is out of control and needs to be reined in. And when he ran for mayor, he did so for one purpose: to stop the gravy train. "Stop the gravy train" became the strategic filter that guided every action he took, every decision he made and everything he said.

What does Justin Trudeau stand for?

We know his father stood for a multicultural, independent Canada (hence the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). He was passionate about it, morally committed to it and he didn't care if there were people who didn't agree with him. But there is no clear picture of who Justin is other than a good-looking guy who seems bright, has lots of charisma and speaks in generalities. He creates the impression -- real or not -- that he is an empty suit.

Why does it matter? Not knowing who he is and what he stands for creates the impression that he has no focus to his thinking and no vision of what Canada should be. He doesn't seem to have the internal compass that Ford has to keep himself on track and on message. If Trudeau knew who he is as clearly as Ford does, his combination of focus, intellect, looks, name and charisma would be a winning formula.

Here is a case in point. Trudeau was interviewed on the radio by Evan Solomon of CBC about his declaration that Stephen Harper should testify under oath about the senate scandal. It was an interesting challenge by Trudeau because it had a great connection to the issue at hand: Harper has one story and the Duffy/Wallin duo have an opposing one. Getting the three of them to testify under oath makes each of them more accountable for the stories they tell because the consequences for lying under oath are so severe.

Solomon opened the interview by asking Trudeau why he wanted Harper to testify under oath. Trudeau's answer, and the rest of his interview, was an aimless walk in the forest, touching on a wide variety of vague issues, none of which seemed to have anything to do with Harper testifying under oath. At one point, Trudeau said "I don't want to get into a he said, she said situation", except that is exactly why the challenge to testify under oath is so powerful. With their feet held to the fire when under oath, Harper, Duffy and Wallin will be forced to stop playing "he said, she said" and tell the truth.

Often politicians will say they don't want to reveal themselves until election time because they just make themselves a target for the other parties. But there is a difference between defining yourself -- who you are and what you stand for -- and revealing your specific policies.

Rob Ford may be a one-trick pony. The people he hangs with may be unsavory and his driving habits may be a bit dangerous. But ask anyone in Toronto, friend or foe, what he stands for and everyone will say "Stop the gravy train". This clear articulation of who he is and what he stands for got him to the mayor's office of Canada's biggest city.

The lesson to all leaders -- political and corporate -- is to define yourself or you leave yourself vulnerable to others defining you. It's an art Stephen Harper has mastered and will use with vigor against Justin Trudeau come election time, unless Trudeau defines himself first.

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