10/21/2015 08:17 EDT | Updated 10/21/2016 05:12 EDT

Justin Trudeau's Victory Trumps His Father's


"People expect what they expect," says Vaibhav Mehta, "But they never realize the possibility of surprise beyond expectations." It is a sentiment that, just as good as any, describes what happened on Election Night 2015. Justin Trudeau accomplished what many thought impossible, or at the very least improbable.

Regardless of what one may have thought of the remarkable results, it reminded everyone that the Canadian people, subtle and polite as they are, hold within them the seeds of quiet revolution, occasionally teaching us that even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder.

Almost every prediction was wrong.

Virtually no one expected the early signs of Red Tide on the East coast to transform into a tsunami by the time the evening was over. Watching Stephen Harper at the end of it all was something like reading Donna Tartt's observation in her The Secret History: "How quickly he fell; how soon it was over." A watered-down version of that fate described the outcome for Thomas Mulcair. Things didn't go as expected.

I sat in the House of Commons with the party leaders for a number of years and came to know their traits. When Justin Trudeau was elected in 2008 it was clear to everyone that he could never be destined for the backbenches. Out of the ashes of that difficult campaign for the Liberals rose a kind of phoenix that would lead to their redemption.

They sat Justin Trudeau directly behind me in the House and for almost three years I got a ringside view of his development. His rhetoric, at times bawdy, nevertheless carried intensity in the Parliamentary chamber. I was asked more frequently than I could count whether he was the real deal or just his father's son. My answer was always the same: both.

The Conservatives knew from his very first day that they would, at some point, face him in a greater capacity than what he held at present. They couched their nervousness of him in words of belittlement, and then, in one of the sad ironies of politics, would bring a constituent over to him and ask for his autograph. Those of us around him just shook our heads -- in mild disgust for how he was treated, and of quiet respect for his signing every autograph.

People never thought he'd win his Papineau riding during his first campaign against a popular Bloc member -- yet he did. When he took up the challenge for charity by stepping into the ring with celebrated fighter and senator Patrick Brezeau, Conservatives said he be KO'd in the first round and couldn't win -- yet he did. By the time Justin won the Liberal leadership it was clear the seeds of determination and leadership resided in him.

And now we know the rest of the story.

When one Conservative operative said at the campaign's outset that he hoped Trudeau would wear his pants to the first debate, he represented the hollow tones of the government's bravado and irreverence. The Liberal leader not only arrived well-attired, but with a sense of respect for the Canadian people and their distinctiveness that the government had never understood in their entire nine years of office.

By the time the leaders moved into the Munk debate on Canada's role in the world, Trudeau was already putting to bed the notion that he just wasn't ready for the job. It now appears that Trudeau and his young team were far more composed than Harper and his experienced professionals. In a great irony, he was rising and the others weren't.

It does us well to remember -- those of us who can -- what advantages Pierre Trudeau, Justin's father, had going into his first election for prime minister. In 1968 the country was still lost in the glow and pride of the Centennial year that had just ended. Trudeau was replacing Lester Pearson, who was retiring after significant accomplishments as PM. Pierre's win was hardly surprising, and the forces arrayed around him had already been in the previous government.

The son had precious little of these advantages. He was leading a party many had said was just one election away from extinction. They had been decimated in previous campaigns and left broke as a result. When Stephen Harper called for the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history, pundits spoke of how the Prime Minister would have an extra few rounds to pummel the youngster in the business of politics.

We now know how foolish that was, just as we understand that, perhaps without realizing it at first, the Canadian people were longing for a change that they couldn't quite describe but which resonated in their collective spirit once Justin Trudeau called it forth. What the son accomplished was infinitely more complex and difficult than his father's first win and yet it was just as stellar.

Bruce Anderson, writer and pollster, on election night made the striking claim that this had been a "campaign for the ages." Seasoned heads on the television set nodded in affirmation.

It turns out that Justin Trudeau caught the spirit of citizens and mood of the country just right. But a far greater task lies before him: to lift a noble people even higher in their pursuit of prosperity, equality of opportunity and compassion.

Judging from his election performance, we shouldn't put it past him.


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