Trudeau delivers a speech at Liberal election headquarters in Montreal on Oct. 20, 2015. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian PressIndeed, for all that his celebrity has boosted his political career, Trudeau's attributes are much different than his father's. He's made no secret that he's not the towering intellect his father was. But he's shown political smarts his father never had, says historian and former Liberal MP John English, Pierre Trudeau's biographer. As party president from 1979-80, English attended numerous rallies and events headlined by Trudeau senior. Yet he never actually met the man until years later because Trudeau, who hated the retail side of politics, never stuck around to meet his fans. By contrast, English was amazed to see the younger Trudeau at a recent rally, hanging around afterwards shaking hands and taking selfies with anyone and everyone. Whereas Pierre was "an introvert," English says Justin is "gregarious ... He just loves meeting people." As a politician, Trudeau himself says he takes after his late grandfather, longtime MP Jimmy Sinclair, rather than his dad. The elder Trudeau also had little time for the drudgery of party affairs. His son had no choice but to take an intimate interest in the mechanics of the party, rebuilding the decimated machine from the ground up, exorcising the ghosts of internecine feuds past, raising money, amassing a volunteer army, recruiting an impressive roster of candidates and putting together a coherent platform. Still, the younger Trudeau "is very much in the tradition of his father" when it comes to his values, his love of the outdoors, his physical fitness, his theatricality and his willingness to take risks, English says. And he proudly carries the torch of his father's legacy: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, bilingualism and multiculturalism. In his memoirs, Trudeau recounted his struggle to emerge from the long shadow cast by his father. But being the son of a man who's been ranked as one of the top five Canadian prime ministers has obviously not hurt his political fortunes. "Very clearly, Justin is there — and this isn't diminishing him — he's there because of his father," says English. That said, English believes Trudeau has emerged as a political force in his own right over the course of the marathon election, running a "flawless" campaign that has "stunning parallels" to the 1993 campaign that vaulted Jean Chretien into power: a underestimated but likeable leader exceeding low expectations, quelling qualms by emphasizing team and platform and offering hope for recession-battered voters with the promise of massive infrastructure investments. Party insiders put Trudeau's success down to four primary factors: the leader's strong performance in the leaders' debates; the decision to run modest deficits for three years, which allowed him to out-flank NDP Leader Tom Mulcair with pricey promises to stimulate the stagnant economy and give the middle class a tax cut; his steadfast refusal to respond in kind to nasty personal attacks by his opponents; and his appeal to Canadians' better natures in response to Harper's attempts to play to anti-Muslim sentiment. Whatever the precise recipe for success, English believes there was a "transformation" in Trudeau at some point in the campaign, a point at which he became "more self-confident, far more comfortable and relaxed, more himself." He exuded authenticity, sunny optimism and youthful energy, becoming in many ways the personification of the anti-Harper. In his university classes, English says his students know little about Pierre Trudeau; they already judge his son on his own merits. Now that Justin Trudeau is prime minister himself, the historian suspects it won't be long before others do the same, for better or worse.
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