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Trudeau heir fulfills great expectations as Liberals triumph in Canada

Nicholas Kamm, AFP | Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau arrives on stage in Montreal on October 20, 2015, after winning the general election.

Justin Trudeau led his Liberal Party to a resounding election victory on Monday, following in the footsteps of his storied father to become Canada’s next prime minister.


Trudeau was just four months old when then US president Richard Nixon predicted his destiny at a state dinner in Ottawa in 1972.

"Tonight we'll dispense with the formalities. I'd like to toast the future prime minister of Canada: to Justin Pierre Trudeau," Nixon told diners, among them the toddler’s father and then Canadian leader, Pierre Trudeau.

Forty-three years later, the forecast proved right as the scion of the Trudeau dynasty carried his Liberal Party to power in parliamentary elections, gaining an outright majority of seats and ousting the ruling Conservatives.

Monday’s vote signalled a remarkable turnaround for Canada’s traditional party of government, which had slipped to an embarrassing third position in the last election, plagued by scandals and infighting.

It also marked an astonishing success for the Liberals’ well-coiffed leader, who had been widely mocked by opponents on the campaign trail for his boyish looks and thin curriculum.

Trudeau, 43, now has the chance to restore his late father’s Liberal legacy, which has been under siege during a decade of Conservative rule under Stephen Harper.

‘Maple 3’

The architect of Canada's version of the Bill of Rights, Pierre Trudeau remains to this day one of the few Canadian politicians known around the world. He rose to power in 1968 on a wave of support dubbed “Trudeaumania”, drawing comparisons with John F. Kennedy.

Harper fought hard to reverse the image of a Liberal Canada, cutting corporate and sales taxes and removing Canada from a climate change agreement.

The younger Trudeau wants to put Canada back on the course his father set, pledging to hike taxes on the rich and run deficits for three years to boost government spending and shore up a shaky economy.

Following in the family tradition, he is expected to push for the multiculturalism that has become an integral part of Canadian national identity, and put an end to Harper's divisive attempts to enforce a ban on Muslim face veils at citizenship ceremonies.

'No one in their wildest dreams imagined such a large victory'

Trudeau spent much of his childhood in the public eye, and was codenamed “Maple 3” by his family’s security detail.

But despite his grandiose beginnings, he projects a more casual persona than his glamorous father, who dated movie stars such as Barbra Streisand, married, had children and divorced while serving as prime minister, with a brief interruption, between 1968 and 1984.

The young Trudeau disappeared from view for several years after going to university, working as a snowboard instructor and nightclub bouncer before starting a career in teaching.

He first captured national attention in 2000 with a moving eulogy at his father's state funeral, which was broadcast live. He challenged the country to cement Pierre Trudeau's vision of a united and multicultural Canada, moving many people to tears.

But it would be eight years later before Trudeau ran for office, winning a hard-fought seat in Parliament representing a working class district of Montreal. By then, Harper had been in power for two years, intent on putting a distinctly more conservative face on the nation of 35 million people.


‘People person’

The Liberals, beset by corruption scandals, political infighting and ineffective leadership, had their worst electoral defeat in 2011 when they came in third behind the left-of-centre New Democratic Party.

But Trudeau increased his share of the vote in his own district and quickly rose to become the hope of his party. He became Liberal leader in 2013 and has worked to shed the party of its sense of entitlement, projecting an approachability that belied his privileged background.

"He has an aura. He's very personable. People like Justin. He projects sincerity and interest and openness," said Stephen Clarkson, a political economy professor at the University of Toronto.

In his memoir "Common Ground," Trudeau discussed his turbulent upbringing. His mother, Margaret, was 22 years old when she married the 51-year-old prime minister in 1971, and she quickly earned a reputation for partying with the Rolling Stones. The couple had three sons but separated when Justin was six.

Justin Trudeau and his brothers were raised by his father. His mother battled depression, particularly after the death of her son Michel, Justin's brother, in an avalanche in 1998.

Trudeau, the second youngest prime minister in Canada's history, now brings his own young family to Sussex Drive, the official residence of the prime minister in Ottawa. He is married to former Quebec television host Sophie Grégoire and has three children, aged between 1 and 8.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Trudeau generates the same excitement among his supporters that a young Barak Obama did in the US in 2008, along with the big expectations for sweeping change that will be difficult to meet.

"There is no doubt about it, Justin is fabulous with people. He's a great people person," Wiseman said. "Barack Obama used to enter a room and it just changed."

And like Obama, he said, "There is a lot of hope invested in Justin."

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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