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A Canadian Political Dynasty Emerges as Justin Trudeau Ascends to Power

There is something cinematic about Trudeau, who grew up at the prime ministerial residence in Ottawa shaking hands with the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Fidel Castro, returning to his old stomping grounds.

by Rachel Browne
Oct 20 2015, 7:50pm

Jaime Espinoza/The Canadian Press

A sweeping victory for Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party last night has ushered Canada into a new political era — and the world can't help but take notice.

Trudeau, eldest son of Canada's most recognizable prime minister Pierre Trudeau, has created Canada's first political dynasty and will be the country's second youngest leader at age 43.

At the start of the longest election Canada has seen since the 19th century, it seemed almost impossible that this man, often dismissed by his opponents as naive and out of touch, would cinch a majority government from Stephen Harper, the hard-nose, icy Conservative who led the country over the last decade.

But there is something cinematic about Trudeau, who grew up at the prime ministerial residence in Ottawa shaking hands with the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Fidel Castro, returning to his old stomping grounds, this time with a family of his own.

It's a legacy that he has at times embraced, but also distanced himself from as he forges his own political path. For many observers, however, the younger Trudeau doesn't exude his father's wit and intelligence.

Still, he's already conjured up the kind of sentiments that haven't been expressed toward a Canadian leader since Trudeau Senior, who was known for his charisma and striking features that induced "Trudeaumania" and garnered comparisons to John F Kennedy.

Trudeau at a VICE Canada town hall/Anthony Tuccitto

Shortly after Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister with a majority government backing him, the UK's Daily Mirror ran a piece: Is Justin Trudeau the sexiest politician in the world?

"Trudeau Jr has luscious brown hair, spellbinding eyes and eyebrows that, we're reliably informed, are 'entirely on point,'" the article gushed. Soon after, NBC invited readers to Meet Justin Trudeau: Canada's Liberal, Boxing, Strip-Teasing New PM.

Trudeau's mother, Margaret Sinclair, also comes from a line of prominent politicians, and made headlines herself during her rocky marriage to Pierre Trudeau, who was 30 years her senior. She often frequented New York's famed Studio 54 and partied with Mick Jagger.

Although Justin grew up in the shadow of his father's political career, he chose a different path and studied English literature and education.

It wasn't until after his father died in 2000, when he was in his late twenties, that he began to seriously consider a career in politics. Perhaps the moment that thrust him into the public spotlight was during the eulogy he gave at his father's funeral.

Standing at the front of a cathedral in Montreal with a red rose on his lapel, the young Trudeau recounted a trip he took with his father to the North Pole when he was six years old. "It was a very glamorous destination. But the best thing about it was that I was going to be spending lots of time with my dad, because in Ottawa, he just worked so hard," he told the crowded church.

He describes being bundled up in a snowsuit and driven around Canada's northernmost point, disappointed and bored because his father had to work. But when he pulled up to a red building, he looked inside and saw a figure hunched over a cluttered work table.

"He was wearing a red suit with a furry white trim. And that's when I understood just how powerful and wonderful my father was," he said as the audience erupted and stifled back tears. Many Canadian media outlets heralded him a rising star in Ottawa, oozing with charm and poise, just like his father.

A young Justin Trudeau meets British PM Margaret Thatcher in 1980 with his father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, when he was prime minister/Lawrence Harris/AP 

But not everyone was so convinced. One National Post columnist decried his tribute as "a treacly overacted embarrassment" that was "far too calculated to be trustworthy."

Two years later, he made the cover of Maclean's magazine with the headline, "When I run" that featured an image of him looking somberly into the distance while clutching the collars of a dark peacoat.

"I'm far from a finished product," he conceded to the reporter while sipping a Canadian Club whiskey and ginger. "I haven't accomplished anything."

"I'm a moderately engaging, reasonably intelligent 30-year-old, who's had an interesting life — like someone who was raised by wolves, or the person that cultivated an extremely large pumpkin."

Then in 2008, he was elected Member of Parliament in a riding in Montreal, his first foray into federal politics. Over the years, he built his reputation as a strong voice for his party — elected party leader in 2013 — but made headlines for every offbeat remark. Last year, when he announced his party did not support the Conservative's plan to join the coalition against the so-called Islamic State, he joked that Harper was just "whipping out his CF-18s" to show the rest of the world how big they were.

Trudeau family/Graham Hughes/CP

It's remarks like this, along with publicity stunts like stripping and boxing for charity, that prompted harsh campaign ads from Harper, that declared the young, inexperienced Trudeau was "just not ready" for the demanding role of prime minister.

That strategy seemed to work at first, but Trudeau managed to harness the negativity and turn it on its head. At his victory speech in Montreal Monday night, he assured the country he was ready and that "sunny ways" were imminent.

"A positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn't a naive dream," he bellowed. 'It can be a powerful force for change."  

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne