Justin Trudeau’s name could be advantageous, but only if his leadership is worthy of it


If you were to speak of Justin Trudeau’s charisma and character, you would know he is his father’s son. Justin will tell you however that he is not his father, Pierre Trudeau, the beloved former Prime Minister of Canada during the 70’s and 80’s.

Pierre’s son Justin fulfilled part of what some would call his destiny by winning the Liberal Party leadership race this past weekend (with 80% of the vote). People are already wondering whether a new generation of “Trudeaumania” will take hold.

If Justin is to follow in his father’s footsteps and become Prime Minister, it will be a far more difficult task than when his father was first elected in 1968.

Back then, the Liberal Party was already considered the natural governing party of Canada having ruled the country for 31 of the previous 42 years. Pierre Trudeau also had the luxury of succeeding Lester B. Pearson, one of the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.

Son Justin might have inherited his father’s name, but he didn’t take over the same Liberal Party. Less than two years ago, then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff oversaw the worst defeat in party history.

In the general election of 2011, The Liberal Party not only lost the election to the Conservatives, but they lost their status as the official opposition to the orange crush of the NDP. The Liberals were relegated to a third place finish for the first time in Canadian history.

Now with two years remaining until the next election, Justin Trudeau has time to pick up the pieces and re-establish the Liberals as the natural governing party it used to be, but it will not be easy.

A National Poll that was taken before the conclusion of the Liberal leadership race showed Trudeau with a slight lead over Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Some might consider these numbers to be a good sign, but they’re based more on Trudeau’s name than his policies. Justin has spoken very little on the policies he supports.

The Liberal Party stood divided following the three consecutive majority governments of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien; the party took a slight shift to the center of the political spectrum as a result. Thanks to the policies of the Liberal leaders who followed, they are now considered Canada’s centrist party.

Some say the beginning of the Liberal fall from grace came from years of party infighting and its perception that they no longer speak with progressive voices. These realities can explain why the NDP has done so well of late.

Pierre Trudeau with son Justin at a 1987 Montreal Expos game
Pierre Trudeau with son Justin at a 1987 Montreal Expos game (Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press)

Unlike his father, Justin has more than one party to contend with. As Liberal delegates were casting their votes, the New Democrats were hosting their policy convention in Montreal.

The NDP voted overwhelmingly to strip socialism from the preamble to the party constitution. This action might have angered some hardcore democratic socialists, but they say it was necessary to modernize the party and appeal more to liberals and progressive conservatives. Either way, it’s clear the NDP have no intention of bowing down to the newly elected Liberal leader.

Justin’s Father is famous for the “just society” speech he gave when he accepted the leadership of the Liberal Party back in 68’. It is not yet clear whether Justin Trudeau will remember his father’s words and bring the Liberals back to its more progressive roots or remould the party into a yet unknown mixture of progressive/conservative policies.

Canada has become an increasingly polarized country under Harper. If Trudeau decides to stick to the middle ground, it may come back to haunt him much to the delight of the Conservatives and NDP.

Trudeau and his Liberals have an uphill battle to be sure, but if there is anyone who can turn the party around, it’s his name him. Good leadership doesn’t come from someone’s genetic makeup (just look at the Bush family), but it if it did, Justin would have an abundance of it from both sides of his family.

The new Liberal leader will spend the next two years honing his skills, rebuilding the party and reaching out to Canadians. At the same time we can’t deny that his name could be advantageous come election time, but only if his leadership is worthy of it.

The media will undoubtedly concentrate on Trudeau’s attention grabbing name, not just because of his father’s accomplishments, but because of Stephen Harper’s public disapproval of him. Pierre Trudeau is regarded as the reason why Harper got into politics on the other side in the first place. It seems like something only Hollywood could make up.

If Justin plays his cards right and he is able to use all the media attention to his advantage. He just might outdo his dad. For better or for worse, the Liberal Party has finally found a leader who can unite them and his name just happens to be Trudeau.



  1. A great deal of media energy has been mobilized in promotion of the idea that Canada has suddenly shifted to the far-right. Given that about 60% of Canadian voters didn’t vote for the Reform (excuse me, ‘Conservative’) Party; that some of those that DID vote Conservative were former Liberal voters (centrists) reacting to specific events, and finally, given all the regional complexities which led to the NDP surge in Quebec (which is now subsiding)…It seems unlikely that majority Canada is much farther to either cultural extreme than it was before. Harper’s main advantage is that nobody really understood the implications of an unrestricted Conservative majority – now that those implications are obvious (no, this is not the ‘Tory’ party of Canadian tradition, but far-right Reform with a paint job), people are reacting. Too far to the radical left, the mainstream fiscal conservatives panic – too far to the radical right, mainstream social progressives panic. The equilibrium point in Canada has always returned to somewhere in the ideological center which is why the Liberals (for better or worse) have spent so much more time in power than the other parties. Culturally, Canadians don’t like extremes.

  2. I’m glad to see someone else feels that Harper is polarizing Canada. With his droolworthy attention to U.S. policies, I’m not surprised, given what is going on over there.

    I’m not sure how sticking to the middle ground might come back to haunt Trudeau — what did you mean by that?

    I was hoping to see Marc Garneau get the vote, although I have nothing at all against Justin Trudeau. The PCs came back from a hammering and I don’t see why the Liberals can’t do the same — IF they can get their act together.

    • Given that Canada is more polarized, it’s not unthinkable that the votes will land on the left and right and not in the middle where the Liberals currently are. Canada is a progressive country, always has been. If Trudeau and the Liberals try to cater to conservative voters, the NDP will get most of the progressive voters, just like 2011.

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