New Canadian PM Justin Trudeau comes full circle

Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with his mother Margaret as he arrived to give his victory speech in Montreal, Quebec, on Monday.
Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with his mother Margaret as he arrived to give his victory speech in Montreal, Quebec, on Monday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ex-premier's son has revived ailing Liberal Party amid new wave of Trudeau mania

OTTAWA • As a young man, Justin Trudeau continually sought respite from his father's long shadow.

He debated in university as Jason Tremblay, boxed as Justin St Clair and eventually settled on Canada's west coast - as far in Canada as he could get from being former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's eldest son and still be close to great skiing.

Now 43, Mr Trudeau has come full circle, reviving a moribund Liberal Party amid a new wave of the Trudeau mania that swept his father to power in 1968 - and he gets to move back into his childhood home.

Mr Trudeau's political role model is not so much his beloved "papa", but his maternal grandfather Jimmy Sinclair, a consummate glad- handing, baby-kissing Scottish immigrant to Canada and Rhodes scholar. Mr Trudeau held his final campaign event in the Vancouver constituency his grandfather represented from 1940 to 1958.

"He loved knocking on doors, getting out, meeting people, taking the time to really listen to what they had to say," he said.

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He loved knocking on doors, getting out, meeting people, taking the time to really listen to what they had to say.

MR JUSTIN TRUDEAU, on his maternal grandfather, politician Jimmy Sinclair

Mr Trudeau, born in Ottawa on Christmas Day 1971, was the product of a fairy-tale romance and secret wedding between his father Pierre and Ms Margaret Sinclair, a flower child three decades his junior. Two other boys would follow.

Young Justin met Princess Diana, world leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and attended events like Leonid Brezhnev's funeral.

His mother Margaret emerged as a celebrity, singing for Fidel Castro, dancing at Studio 54 and partying with the Rolling Stones, later dating Jack Nicholson and having a relationship with Teddy Kennedy. In her autobiography, she said she was so sexually attracted to Kennedy when they first met that "we couldn't even stand" near each other and "Pierre was not amused". The couple separated in 1977, later divorcing, leaving then prime minister Trudeau a doting, single dad.

The younger Mr Trudeau's career path was restless, studying several subjects, travelling the globe and teaching. He is a longtime boxer, an occasional beer drinker and has a tattoo of a globe with a Haida aboriginal raven on his left shoulder.

Mr Trudeau did not make his move into politics until 2007, then married, when he won a nomination in a poor Montreal district held by the separatist Bloc Quebecois. He won the seat in 2008 even as his party went down in defeat and was re-elected in 2011 as the Liberals suffered their worst defeat in history.

The party was hobbled, in his words, by a "lazy approach to grassroots voters, its neglect of youth and ethnic voters and its general sense of hubris and entitlement".

Mr Trudeau sought the leadership and won it handily in 2013. He quickly overtook Prime Minister Stephen Harper in popularity, baffling the Conservatives who considered him a lightweight.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'New Canadian PM comes full circle'. Print Edition | Subscribe