On Monday, October 19, Canada elected 43-year old Justin Trudeau its new Prime Minister when his Liberal Party trounced the ruling Conservatives. Strikingly handsome, the 6-feet 2-inches Justin Trudeau is the son of one of the most charismatic and consequential prime ministers in Canada's history - Pierre Trudeau, who was the premier for 15 years (1968-79, 1980-84). Pierre Trudeau is considered by many as the father of modern Canada.
Pierre Trudeau first came into prominence in 1967. Visiting Expo67 in Montreal, on July 24, 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle addressed the crowd from the balcony of Montreal City Hall and, uttered the phrase, "Vive le Québec libre!" ("Long live free Quebec!") to thunderous applause. That was the slogan of the Quebecer separatists. Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson condemned de Gaulle's comment and said, “Canadians do not need to be liberated.”
De Gaulle became a persona non grata in Canada, cut short his visit and left. An obscure Canadian Minister of Justice, Pierre Trudeau, himself a Francophone and a Montrealer, wondered how the French would react if a Canadian Prime Minister went to France and declared: “Brittany to the Bretons,” earning de Gaulle's lifelong enmity. Riding a wave of “Trudeaumania” within nine months, Pierre Trudeau became Canada's 15th prime minister.
French Canadian Pierre Trudeau repeatedly thwarted attempts by Quebecers to secede from Canada. Pierre Trudeau brought the 1976 Olympics to Montreal. When Trudeau, at age 52, married the 30-years younger Anglo Canadian Margaret Joan Sinclair in 1971, it was dubbed a political marriage. That was unfair. Pierre Trudeau's father, Charles Trudeau, had also married an Anglo Canadian, Grace Elliot. Pierre and Margaret's first child, Justin Pierre James Trudeau, was born on December 25, 1971.
Although Justin's parents “loved each other incredibly, passionately, completely,” the 30 year age difference took its toll. They separated in 1977 and divorced in 1984. After retiring from politics in 1984, Pierre Trudeau raised his children in relative privacy in Montreal. Justin Trudeau was an excellent amateur boxer. Justin earned his B.A. in Literature (1994) from the prestigious McGill University in Montreal, his father's hometown, and Bachelor of Education degree (1998) from the prestigious University of British Columbia, Vancouver, his mother's hometown.
Justin taught French and Math in a high school in Vancouver for four years (1998-2002). He studied engineering at the University of Montreal (2002-2004) and enrolled in a Master's program in Environmental Geography at McGill before leaving academia for politics.
Canadians first caught a glimpse of their future prime minister when Justin delivered a passionate eulogy at his father's state funeral in October 2000. He exhorted Canada to imbibe Pierre Trudeau's idealism. He concluded the eulogy by altering the last line from Robert Frost's famous poem: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/He has kept his promise and earned his sleep.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) received numerous requests for the rebroadcast of Justin's eulogy. In 2003, CBC listed the eulogy among the “significant events from the past 50 years.”
On October 14, 2008, Justin Trudeau won a seat in the Canadian parliament from Papineau, a poor section of Montreal. He was reelected in 2011 and 2015. Justin Trudeau won the Liberal Party leadership contest in 2013 with 80 percent votes. On October 19, 2015, Trudeau led the Liberals to a landslide victory in the federal election, winning 184 of the 338 seats, with 39.5 percent of the popular vote.
Conservative Party's “Just Not Ready” portrayal of Justin Trudeau backfired. In televised debates, the fluently bilingual Trudeau impressed Canadians with his passionate and articulate advocacy of liberal causes. He stuck to his controversial positions, calling for the legalisation of marijuana and refusing to apologise for smoking it. After the Boston Marathon bombing, he called for studying the “root cause” of terrorism. He advocated women's right to wear niqabs at citizenship ceremonies, and for convicted terrorists' right to retain their Canadian citizenship.
The Liberals countered the Conservatives' negative ads by showing Trudeau in a classroom exuding pride as a teacher, and “conceding” that he was not ready – to see Canada languish economically!
Canada will be a different country under Justin Trudeau. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved Canada further to the right than its people are. Low taxes, more austerity and balancing the budget at all cost were the mainstay of Harper's platform. He denied climate change. Too hawkish on foreign policy, Harper was an interventionist, more pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian than even the US.
Justin Trudeau believes in deficit spending for fixing creaking infrastructure, and favours tackling climate change head-on. He will pull out Canadian planes bombing ISIS. He will bring Canada back to being an honest broker that the world admired.
With polls showing him losing, Harper resorted to Islamophobia. He opposed a woman's right to wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies: “When we join the Canadian family, we should not hide our identity. Never will I say to my daughter that a woman has to cover her face because she's a woman."
Trudeau addressed Harper's xenophobia directly: "The same rhetoric that led to a 'none is too many' immigration policy toward Jews in the 30s and 40s is being used to raise fears against Muslims today." "One of the fears I have is that we have a government that is stoking fears and fomenting anxiety around Muslim Canadians by conflating fears about terrorism with fears about people who look different or sound different. That's the one thing I'm really against."
In his victory speech, Trudeau recounted the story of a Muslim mother he met on the campaign trail who handed him her baby daughter: "She said she's voting for us because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life and that her government will protect those rights. To her I say this: You and your fellow citizens have chosen a new government - a government that believes deeply in the diversity of this country. . . My friends, we beat fear with hope, we beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together."
Pierre Trudeau would have been proud!
The writer is a Rhodes Scholar.