01/21/2013 05:36 EST | Updated 03/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Trudeau's Celebrity Should Be Seen as a Plus


Last year, MP Dominic LeBlanc observed that the campaign to select the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada shouldn't be about raising one's profile, but a test of vision and ideas among leading politicians. He was right about that.

Nine people have officially registered as candidates. Only three of them are office holders. A rudimentary test for any aspiring political leader is the capacity to do in the first instance what any successful politician absolutely must: Get elected and re-elected. That doesn't diminish the impressive backgrounds of the six candidates. The country would be very well served with them in parliament, but not as party leader.

Joyce Murray is a capable and devoted MP. However, being the leader of a proud national party is incompatible with a policy of retreat from the field of political competition as a matter of short-term convenience. It is also incompatible with a policy of cutting access to world markets of Canada's strategic natural resources. The West Coast cannot be Canada's "Pacific Gateway" if that gate is closed shut. At least for me, Murray's positions on cooperation with the NDP and opposition to transporting Alberta oil to our West Coast eliminate her from consideration.

Marc Garneau and Justin Trudeau have a strong focus on the economy and are pragmatic, moderate, centrists. Both have demonstrated significant national reach that crosses social, economic, and political boundaries. That is another key measurement of successful political leadership. And both are unwavering in their confidence and belief in a strong Liberal Party. While the contrast could not be greater, Marc Garneau and Justin Trudeau have striking personal stories. Their campaigns to date have been substantive. They are smart, serious, tenacious, and dedicated public servants.

Garneau is a genuine Canadian hero, a man of great integrity, and remarkably credentialed and accomplished person in everything he has touched. His positions are sensible and realistic. However, Garneau's lack of broad appeal as a political leader and his less engaging disposition as a political practitioner, make him my second choice.

My first is Justin Trudeau.

None of the other eight candidates come close to generating the range and depth of national interest that Trudeau does. This is fundamental for someone who aspires to lead a third place party into first place and the highest elected office in the land.

Another fact of political life in our democracy is the ability to raise money. Lots of it. For a party like ours, financial strength is vital. For years, people have opened their wallets for Trudeau. His star power means that he will have coattails. Quality candidates will vie for an opportunity to run if he becomes leader. Attracting top people is a critical attribute of successful leadership.

Justin Trudeau's entire life -- from his very youngest days -- has been a unique and exceptional preparation for national political leadership. He was born and raised at the prime minister's residence. He sat at the knee and learned from one of the most remarkable Canadians of the 20th century.

The uniqueness of his upbringing provided him with a profound education. He interacted with exceptional people from around the world and in all conceivable walks of life. He socialized with heads of state, and broke bread in the far north with Inuit elders. To suggest that Trudeau isn't "experienced" is to ignore the fact that for much of his life he was a front row witness to history.

Some suggest that Trudeau's "celebrity" is somehow a disadvantage. Yet, that is an incredible asset that most political parties would kill for. His critics demonstrate a triteness and unbecoming envy. The pertinent question is what Trudeau has done with his celebrity. He could have done anything. The alternatives would have been considerably more lucrative, nowhere near as grueling, and wouldn't have subjected him and his family to a constant barrage of scrutiny, ridicule and attack. Instead, he has chosen public and national service every time. It has become his vocation.

Once he entered politics, the path was far from easy. Many in the Liberal establishment had no interest in seeing Justin Trudeau as a candidate. The riding of Outremont would have made sense; but they told Trudeau he wasn't welcome. Never a "yes man" to anyone, he ran in Papineau, a Bloc Quebecois fortress.

Only a 15 minute car ride from Outremont, Papineau is a world apart. It is a gritty working class place where people struggle every day. Every skin colour, language and religion imaginable is found there. These folks are the absolute salt of the earth. And they absolutely adore Justin Trudeau.

They don't care who his father was; they respect and have a deep appreciation for Trudeau because he's earned it. They know that he chose them instead of the life that he could have had as a rich dilettante trading on the family name. These are the kind of people that can't be bamboozled by phonies. With Trudeau, they found themselves the real deal.

Many Canadians have, too. Authenticity matters in a leader and with that, the ability to connect with people. That is the essence of effective political leadership.

Justin Trudeau has used his great gifts to do good and to encourage others to do good. His hopeful and optimistic message is already having a transformative impact on Canadian public life. He has a vibrant personality that people are naturally attracted to. It makes them want to help him, to support him, to believe in him and his causes. They sense in him compassion and empathy. They also see rock solid values that mirror theirs, and a character of steel.

Trudeau has the self-confidence of a man with firmly entrenched values, a focused discipline, and a steadfastness of purpose. Throughout his life, Trudeau has demonstrated a profound resilience that has fortified his will and self-confidence. He has been to every corner of the country and most of the world. He also has had an intimacy with tragic loss. A familiarity with pain imbued him with a strength and understanding of human frailty.

Apart from being a vigorous lifelong learner, Trudeau has earned two degrees and began work on a third. He has read widely on a broad range of topics and has an intimate understanding of the significant policy questions of our times. Already, Trudeau has staked out more substantive territory (oil sands, gateway, Quebec language laws, the Constitution, gun registry, foreign investment, trade, etc.) than all the other candidates combined.

For a great many Canadians, the Liberal Party of Canada has lost its compass. Those who once voted Liberal no longer know what the party stands for. They have lost confidence that the Liberal Party can be relevant to them and embodies their hopes and dreams. Trudeau's candidacy is predicated on changing that and reestablishing the bond with the middle class. He knows that for the Liberal Party to have a future, it must become a platform for the aspirations of Canadians.

At his core, Trudeau believes in pragmatic, non-ideological Liberalism. While other candidates talked about legalizing pot and a "national strategy" for everything under the sun, Trudeau's focus is on growing and expanding the economic pie. That's why productivity, innovation, competitiveness, trade, and education are recurring themes for him. All are vital to restoring a broadly shared prosperity and expanding the middle class.

Trudeau has the instincts and reflexes of a reformer. He's someone with a great impatience for a status quo that makes us weaker. He's offended by the proposition that we somehow cannot change for the better. Throughout his public life, Trudeau has shown a sophistication, finesse, and deep understanding for the Canada that is, and the Canada that he hopes to help shape. His values are his bedrock. His thinking on our economic, social and political future represents everything I entered public life to champion and why I proudly did so as a Liberal.

Leadership requires far more than a five-point plan. It takes the capacity to inspire hope, to motivate action, and to unify a nation around a shared purpose. Canada needs that kind of leadership. I am supporting Justin Trudeau because I know he possesses the matchless gift to provide it.

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