Justin Trudeau, the MP for Papineau and putative frontrunner for the leadership of the federal Liberal party, visited the University of Toronto’s St. George campus last Tuesday.
Trudeau, 40, spoke for approximately two hours, fielding questions from a crowd of nearly 400 students. The son of former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau returned often to the theme of generational change and the importance of youth involvement in reshaping the Liberal party.
“Obviously something is not working,” said Trudeau, suggesting his party tends to focus “too much on itself.”
He dismissed suggestions that the party needed “rebuilding,” instead stressing the “need to build a whole new Liberal party” to “reconnect with Canadians and recruit young Canadians who are conscious about what’s going on in the world, but feel disconnected.”
“I feel if I didn’t run, there wouldn’t be anyone strong enough to pull together this generation,” Trudeau added.
Students peppered Trudeau with a range of questions, asking him about his reasons for entering politics, healthcare costs, and youth unemployment and engagement in politics.
Asked by moderators Jonathan Scott and Semra Sevi to respond to attacks suggesting he’s unqualified to be prime minister, Trudeau noted his experience running non-profits and as a high-school history and French teacher.
Although he highlighted the need to avoid “divisive” US-style politics, Trudeau missed no opportunity to take a jab at Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, calling him a former “mail clerk” who joined a “right-wing lobby group” before climbing the ranks of the amalgamated Conservative party to
lead an “unhealthy” government. During a media scrum after the Q&A, Trudeau declined to speculate about his position at the head
of the leadership pack.
“That’s what the leadership
race is all about,” said Trudeau. “That’s what Canadians will get to see for themselves, in terms of who they want to represent them as head of the Liberal party.” Trudeau said he is looking forward to the contest.
The next day, Trudeau held a rally in the rural Ontario riding of Durham with provincial Liberal leadership candidate Kathleen Wynne, to lend support to local candidate Grant Humes, who is contesting a federal by-election set on November 26. As he was rallying the local Liberal volunteers, former MP Martha Hall Findlay launched her leadership race in Calgary.
“Allow me to say, ‘I told you so,’” Trudeau said. “I told you there would be a lot of very strong candidates getting into this race, who are going to bring forward tremendous ideas.”
Other candidates in the leadership race include Toronto constitutional expert Deborah Coyne; lawyer David Bertschi, who lost his bid for an Ottawa-area seat in 2011; Vancouver crown prosecutor
Alex Burton; former Liberal president for British Colombia David Merner; and Toronto economist Jonathan Mousley.
Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space, a Montreal MP and the Grit house leader, is widely expected to enter the race. Vancouver MP and former provincial environment minister Joyce Murray is also a rumoured contender, as is Toronto lawyer George Takach.