The son of a man who brought glamour and excitement to Canadian politics in the late 1960s is favored to become Canada's next prime minister in Monday’s elections, which could spell the end of a decade of Conservative rule under Stephen Harper.
Justin Trudeau, the son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, is leading in the polls, apparently tapping into an appetite for change among many Canadians, with promises to cut taxes for the middle class and increase them for the wealthy. He plans to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure, running deficits for three years to do so. And he has pledged to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.
The 43-year-old Justin Trudeau channels the star power — if not quite the political heft — of his father, who swept to power in 1968 on a wave of support dubbed Trudeaumania.
Pierre Trudeau, who was prime minister until 1984, with a short interruption, remains one of Canada’s most internationally known politicians, his charisma often drawing comparisons to John F. Kennedy. A bachelor when he became prime minister, he dated actresses Barbra Streisand and Kim Cattrall.
At age 51 while in office, he married 22-year-old Margaret Sinclair, who earned notoriety as first lady for partying with the Rolling Stones and at New York's Studio 54. They had three sons, including Justin Trudeau, the eldest. The couple divorced when Justin Trudeau was 6, and the boys were raised by their father, who died in 2000.
If he wins, Justin Trudeau, who has three young children with former model and television host Sophie Gregoire, would become the second-youngest prime minister in Canada's history, despite a thin resume. A former teacher who sported long hair until recently, Trudeau has been an opposition member of Parliament since 2008.
Antonia Maioni, a political science professor at Montreal's McGill University, said the room changes when Trudeau enters.
"It's like a celebrity thing. Bill Clinton had that. Not many people or politicians can do that. Mr. Trudeau can do that. That's why now you hear the Conservatives say it's not a popularity contest," she said. "Mr. Trudeau can raise that kind of excitement in a room. But let's be frank. He does not have a lot of political experience."
The Conservatives have blitzed the country with TV ads targeting Trudeau, saying "He's just not ready."
But many Canadians seem ready to take a chance on him. "He brought the Liberals back from the dead," said Robert Bothwell, a Canadian history professor at the University of Toronto. "The Liberal Party was on the verge of extinction, and if they hadn't pulled themselves together this election, they would have ended up like the British Liberals."
Just four years ago, Canada’s Liberals, beset by years of infighting and ineffective leaders, had their worst electoral defeat, coming in third behind the traditionally weaker left-of-center New Democratic Party. But Trudeau increased his share of the vote in his Montreal district. In 2013 he became the sixth Liberal leader in seven years and has worked to rid the party of its sense of entitlement.
Analysts say that what Trudeau may lack in his father's intellectual depth, he makes up for in approachability.
"There's a puppylike quality to him, and that's not Pierre," Bothwell said. "His father was just not at ease with dealing with crowds or pressing the flesh, but looking at Justin, it comes really natural to him, and that's a big difference. Pierre had magnetism and was fascinating and beautiful to watch, but he didn't want them to get close."
Even if the Liberals win the most seats, they're unlikely to secure a majority. They would likely rely on New Democratic Party support in exchange for policy concessions.
Liberals governed Canada for 69 years during the 20th century. Pierre Trudeau called for a "just society" and ran the country with a panache not seen before from a Canadian leader. He is responsible for Canada's version of the Bill of Rights and is credited with opening the door wide to immigration.
Harper has worked to dismantle that legacy in ways practical and symbolic. When the updated guide to Canada for new immigrants was published in 2009, it was widely noted that social programs such as universal health care were de-emphasized as points of pride for Canadians. Instead, the guide emphasized traditional Canadian symbols such as the British monarchy and the armed forces.
A victory for the Liberals would crush Harper's goal of displacing them as Canada's natural party.
"To lose to Justin Trudeau would be devastating to Stephen Harper on a real personal level," said Gerry Nicholls, who worked under Harper at a conservative think tank. "Harper wanted to undo all of the things that Pierre Trudeau did, and now he's facing his son, who wants to bring back all of those Trudeau values and traditions to Canada."
The Associated Press