By Jason Menard
What’s in a name? And does carrying one of the iconic surnames of Canadian politics hold any sway in today’s day and age? Justin Trudeau is hankering to find out, but chances are any victory he’ll enjoy in an upcoming federal election will be more due to geography than genealogy.
Love him or hate him – and there are few Canadians who are indifferent – it would be hard to vote against Pierre Yves Elliot Trudeau as the most dynamic politician ever produced in the Great White North. Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 until 1984, Trudeau guided this country through both its most defining and divisive period – ushering in the Constitution and dealing with the ramifications of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution and the October Crisis.
To this day, the name Trudeau inspires reverence in some and utter disgust in others. And it is into a wide and powerful wake that his son Justin has officially thrown himself, in announcing his intention to run as a Liberal candidate in the next federal election.
To his credit, the younger Trudeau has taken his time coming to this announcement. To many, the public’s seeds of interest were planted during Prime Minister Trudeau’s state funeral in 2000, wherein Justin delivered a compelling speech that prompted many to see that the elder’s gift for oratory had passed to his offspring. At that time, speculation began that Justin was planning a foray into politics – something he continually brushed aside as a concept that was before its time.
Seven years later, the time is now. The writing was on the wall even during the Liberal leadership convention where Justin was a dominant presence in the failed bid of Gerard Kennedy, and eventually joined Kennedy in throwing his support behind the eventual victor Stéphane Dion.
And now, Canadian politics again has the name Trudeau as part of its vocabulary. The question is, does that matter?
In certain levels of politics, name recognition carries an enormous amount of weight. Municipal politics, for sure, is one forum where a familiar name can sway those voters who haven’t taken an active interest in the issues or candidates. But federally the equation changes. At the federal level there’s a delicate balance between voting for the candidate and the party. In fact, we’ve seen recent examples of parties that have specifically counseled for strategic voting in order to keep a less-than-savoury party out of power.
So does the Trudeau name matter? In the end, no. But what it does do is put an enormous amount of pressure on Pierre’s eldest. It can be argued that Justin enters the political fray as an outsider with limited political experience, in addition to being the ultimate insider, privy to a familiarity that can only be bred by being born into the arena.
Because of that, there is a heightened requirement for the younger Trudeau to show that there’s more to him than a pretty face and iconic name. He will have to work harder than most to ensure that his policies are firm, the research behind them is solid, and his ability to clearly and directly express his points is at its peak.
To start, Trudeau has to win back a long-assumed riding for his party. After speculation that he would be parachuted into the safer confines of Outremont, a Liberal – and federalist – stronghold, Justin will now run in the Papineau riding of Montreal. In fact, he’s literally taking baby steps in his progression — according to the Government of Canada Website, it’s the smallest riding in all of Canada at only nine square kilometers in size.
However, it’s a riding that after years of Liberal rule fell into Bloc hands during the last election. Since 1957 the riding has been officially Liberal – and prior to that it was held by an Independent Liberal Adrien Munier (who later joined the official ranks). Only in 1949 did a candidate with Conservative leanings win the riding – Montreal mayor Camillien Houde. In the 2006 election, Bloc candidate Vivian Barbot wrested power for Liberal incumbent Pierre Pettigrew by less than 1,000 votes.
So with almost 50 years of Liberal ties – and a continued preference for left-leaning parties, it’s not as if Trudeau has been thrown into the lion’s den. It’s the perfect, safe, choice for the Liberal party to find out what’s in a name.
A teacher by trade, Justin now has time to learn the job on his own. Because as familiar as his name may be, when it comes to federal politics one’s birth certificate can only get you so far. And if he doesn’t believe it, he can turn to another former Montreal MP with political family ties for confirmation – Paul Martin.
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