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Canada’s PM-designate Justin Trudeau: A son with a plus factor

columns Updated: Oct 30, 2015 23:15 IST
Justin Trudeau

Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau speaks in Montreal after winning the general elections. (AFP Photo)

During this election season in Canada, visitors searching for material about the ruling Conservative Party found that a missing link would take them to an error page that read: Like Justin Trudeau, this page is…Just Not Ready.

After Liberal Party leader Trudeau secured a majority in the Canadian House of Commons, you could argue the ones who were not prepared for Trudeaumania were the incumbent Conservatives, who were swept out of power after nine years.

While Trudeau will form his government in the week ahead, he has already attracted attention worldwide. Quicker than you can say cheesecake, much of that has been about his hunk quotient. “He’s pretty hot, like actually hot, not just politician-hot,” Gawker drooled. “A smoking hot syrupy fox,” went E!, yet another of those weighty political journals. NBC described him as Canada’s ‘Boxing, Strip-Teasing New PM’. The Drudge Report had just that image: The tattooed Trudeau putting up his dukes. In many ways, Trudeau’s been objectified, as that other red meat, one that’s not necessarily carcinogenic. While some may have had a beef with that, his ability to control the image generated through the campaign brought home the bacon.

That’s an image he may have to live with after a campaign based mostly on personal charm. He played the greatest hits from the Obama album, or even the Modi playbook, with selfies and photos of a crush of crowds at rallies. Carefully controlled photography was distributed to the media; which resembled stock shots of idyllic visions. He was armed with the right moves as he shook a leg doing the bhangra, or the Lion Dance for a Chinese New Year celebration or gyrating to Trinidadian soca music.

The Trudeau name, of course, mattered and he may have cemented Canada’s first dynasty, but that never defined him. In April 2007, he formally entered electoral politics, winning his party’s nomination to contest the riding of Papineau in Quebec. Yes, despite being a legendary PM’s progeny, he actually went through the equivalent of a party primary in what was far from a safe seat. At that time, the Canadian national daily, the Globe and Mail quoted him as saying: “I am carrying the Trudeau name, yes, I am also carrying my own name. What was achieved here was to demonstrate that I’m not just a last name.” It wasn’t about leveraging a legacy.

In that sense, Justin Trudeau is also the anti-Hillary Clinton, without that overweening sense of entitlement. He went ballot boxing with his own gloves.

You could argue the theme of the shiny, happy people-person that Trudeau transmitted during the campaign was the anti-Trump message. As he vowed in his victory speech, Canada wasn’t satisfied with good enough, but wanted ‘better’. This being Canada, where you almost expect a candidate to apologise for winning, he didn’t use the word ‘great.’

There’s good cheer for India as well. Trudeau and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an informal interaction in Ottawa this April, and seemed to have developed a rapport. They may meet again in November on the sidelines of global summits. Trudeau has also accepted an invitation to visit India.

But there are also grounds for concern. The Trudeau Liberals aren’t enamoured of trade pacts and India has two pending with Canada. Also, the Liberals have been given to being hostage to virulent elements espousing Khalistan. In fact, the elder Trudeau’s government offered shelter to self-described refugees from Punjab during those violent years of the early 1980s. It also ignored warning signs of extremism, leading to the Kanishka bombing in 1985. As recently as 2010, one Liberal MP, now re-elected in the Trudeau wave, tabled a resolution in the Canadian Parliament calling for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to be recognised as genocide.

Whether this sunny Trudeau can dispose of this baggage will be a critical issue for India. For now, he seems to have surmounted the surname. And brought a level, good-humoured approach that shows politics doesn’t have to be ugly as usual, taking the nasty out of dynasty.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs. The views expressed are personal.