It may not the Trudeau-mania his father inspired in the late 1960s, but Justin Trudeau, considered the frontrunner in the current race for leader of the federal Liberal Party, proved he can also draw a crowd—even in a staunchly conservative area like Kelowna.
About 300 people packed the ballroom at UBC Okanagan Tuesday night— many standing to hear the Papineau, Que., MP and son of the late former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Others, who could not get in, watched on television monitors outside the room.
And many came away liking what they heard.
“He has that same communicative style,” said Tim Krupa, president of the UBCO Young Liberals of Canada. “That sort of charisma hasn’t been seen in Canadian politics since his father.”
Krupa said the younger Trudeau’s popularity does not just stem from his famous last name, good looks or age, but because he is talking about issues other politicians in this country are not talking about, issues such as ideals in politics, the erosion of democracy and removing political labels such as right and left.
And, said Krupa, Trudeau is motivating young people to sit up and take notice.
“There’s no doubt he’s the front runner in the leadership race. But anyone who thinks this is a coronation is not watching. This race is about ideas.”
Krupa said both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair should be taking notice or they may pay a heavy price at the polls in 2015 federal next election.
Trudeau is running for the leadership against eight other candidates, including veteran MPs Marc Garneau and Joyce Murray, former MPs Martha Hall Findlay and Martin Cauchon, lawyers George Takach, David Bertschi and Deborah Coyne, who is also the mother of Trudeau’s half-sister, and retired Canadian Forces lieutenant colonel Karen McCrimmon.
On Sunday, the nine squared off in their first debate in Vancouver and appeared to agree on most issues.
Where there was disagreement, however, was on the issue of co-operating with the Opposition NDP to topple the ruling Conservatives.
While Murray is in favour of working with the NDP, Trudeau is opposed, saying both the Conservatives and the NDP are too ideologically driven.
“He feels when you govern ideologically, you govern blindly,” said Krupa. “The Liberal attitude is that it’s okay to pull the best evidence-based policies from the left and right, as opposed to governing strictly ideologically.”
Curtis Tse, financial coordinator of the UBC Students’ Union Okanagan said he was happy to see Trudeau speak at UBCO.
While he felt the candidate’s answers were “very generic,” especially pertaining to questions about true open access to post-secondary education in Canada, Tse was happy to hear it is a priority for Trudeau.
Trudeau is his party’s spokesman for post-secondary education issues.
Like Krupa, Tse liked Trudeau’s opposition to left and right labels, noting he repeatedly talked instead about Canadians working for Canadians.
He also repeatedly reminded his audience that the once-mighty Liberal Party has now dropped to third place in the House of Commons, with just 35 MPs.
Saying his is a party in trouble, Trudeau added it needs to be relevant to all voters across the country. Local Liberal organizers hope he can help lead that resurgence here, noting the Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal riding association only has 160 members but nearly twice that number showed up to hear Trudeau speak Tuesday night.
Tse said he spotted several Conservative supporters in the audience, which he described as split roughly 60-40 in favour of students and young people versus older people.
“Some of the people there were even too young to vote,” he said, noting Trudeau’s popularity.
During his appearance, Justin Trudeau was asked about his famous father and said that while he agreed with some of his father’s policies, he did not agree with all of them.
Asked what he learned about politics from his father, he joked that he did learn that when leaving the Interior of B.C., one should always wave with all five fingers, a reference to Pierre Trudeau’s famous one-finger salute to protestors through the window of a train he and his sons were on in Salmon Arm in 1982.
Justin Trudeau’s appearance at UBCO followed that of another of the Liberal leadership candidate there the night before.
On Monday, Hall Findlay spoke to about 40 people—mostly students— and presented herself as the candidate of substance in the race.
She said it will be important for Canadians who vote for the next Liberal leader—the Internet election will be open to all Canadians regardless of whether they belong to the Liberal Party or not—to consider what the person they vote for has done.
Hall Findlay, an international lawyer and former competitive skier, sat as an Ontario MP from 2008 to 2011 and served as Opposition critic in three different portfolios. She also ran for the leadership in 2006 but lost to Stephane Dion.
She said while most of the current leadership candidates agree on most of the issues, the environment is a top priority for them.
She said she wants to see a “price on pollution” as a way of helping protect the environment, noting that would not just be a carbon tax as there are many forms of pollution that need to be dealt with.
Trudeau has also been vocal on the issue of the environment in the past. Both he and Hall Findlay saying they support pipelines to bring oil from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to the West Coast for export.
But the pipelines must be built in proper and responsible ways, they say, and there must be accountability and transparency to the plans and they must have pubic support.
Both feel the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project is not the right type of pipeline project.
Hall Findlay said she does not believe the Enbridge proposal has “the social capital” needed to succeed and if the Conservative government tries to push it through there will be public push back.
The Liberal leadership vote will take place in April with the winner replacing interim leader Bob Rae.