Justin Trudeau is officially in the race to lead the Liberal Party of Canada. Following weeks of speculation, the eldest son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced his candidacy at a rally of several hundred supporters in his home riding of Papineau on Oct. 2. Trudeau’s official declaration, however, preceded the rally in the form of a YouTube video that amassed over 21,600 views in 16 hours.
The Liberal Party has been under the stewardship of interim leader Bob Rae since the resignation of its previous leader, Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff resigned following the May 2011 federal election, in which the Liberal Party won the lowest seat count in its history.
“We need to prove that we Liberals have learned from the past, but that we are 100 per cent focused on the future—and not the future of the party, the future of this country,” Trudeau said at the rally.
Trudeau’s address praised Canadian diversity and emphasized the need to strengthen and empower the middle class in order to jump start the economy and foster community relations. He also criticized the approaches of other major federal parties.
“What is the response from the NDP? To sow regional resentment, and blame the successful. The Conservative answer? Privilege one sector over all others, and promise that wealth will trickle down eventually,” Trudeau said. “Both are tidy ideological answers to complex and difficult questions. The only thing they have in common is that they are both equally wrong.”
Trudeau also acknowledged the issue of Quebec nationalism. In his speech, he emphasized the need for national unity.
“Quebeckers have always chosen Canada because we know it is the land of our ancestors, who built this country from east to west,” Trudeau said. “They were here to write the first chapters of the great Canadian history of courage, liberty, and hope. Will we put this history aside now because people of other languages came after us with the same dream of building a better country? Of course not. Our contribution to Canada is far from over.”
Throughout the rally, Trudeau displayed his characteristic charisma.
“When was the last time you had a leader you actually trusted?” Trudeau asked. “Not just the nebulous ‘trust to govern competently,’ but actually trusted, the way you trust a friend to pick your kids up from school, or a neighbour to keep your spare front door key. Real trust—that’s a respect that has to be earned, step by step.”
Trudeau’s critics have questioned his short participation in politics. He addressed this in a press conference following the rally.
“This is why we have a campaign—to answer these questions [of experience] and to show that the Liberal party merits confidence as an option for government,” Trudeau said in French. “That is not something that can be answered in a speech, but in the field, all over Canada.”
Trudeau also ruled out a coalition or a joint nomination with the NDP or the Green Party of Canada.
“I believe in an option that is not polarized around the edges, that is not bound to an ideology but is looking for the best possible way to serve all Canadians,” he said.
“[A coalition] is not necessary,” Trudeau continued in French. “Canadians need a party that will speak for all of Canada, not like the Conservatives, who draw an X over Quebec, not like Mr. Mulcair, who has drawn an X over Alberta.”
Following the party’s defeat in the 2011 elections, many have called for renewal in policy and leadership in the Liberal Party. William Cusano, former member and former first vice-president of the National Assembly of Quebec, pointed to Trudeau as an option to reinvigorate the party.
“[In the Liberal Party,] a lot has been done in one way for many years, from the top” Cusano told the Tribune. “I have a lot of confidence that with Justin, [the approach] is going to be from the day-to-day, up. That’s why I’m here.”
Some McGill students who were present at the rally said they enjoyed the opportunity to hear Trudeau speak and learn more about the candidate.
“I’m a big Liberal supporter, and though personally I think Martha Hall Findlay would be my favourite [candidate], Trudeau impressed me a lot tonight,” John Power, U3 arts, said. “[Trudeau presented] a lot of very pro-federalist points—and that’s what I like about the Liberals. I also liked how he focused on youth really early into his speech.”
“I think one of the big challenges in this type of [rally] is: How do you capture the incredible diversity of Canada while at the same time […] articulate what it is to be Canadian?” Gregory Frame, U3 political science, added. “And I think he walked that line very well.”
The race for the leadership of the Liberal Party will officially begin on Nov. 13, and the next leader of the party will be announced on April 13, 2013.