For better or worse, Justin Trudeau is expected to announce next Tuesday that he will seek the leadership of the beleaguered Liberal Party in Canada.
Trudeau, the son of beloved former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, is the last, perhaps best, hope of an endangered party. As John Ibbitson noted in The Globe and Mail yesterday, Trudeau’s assets make him an almost prohibitive favorite.
At age 40, however, the Montréal-area MP has been a member of the House of Commons since just 2008, and he will face doubts that he’s seasoned enough to become prime minister.
If he wins the leadership, he’ll first face the task of winning back supporters from the New Democratic Party, who made such incredible inroads in the 2011 election under the late Jack Layton that they far eclipsed the Liberals to become the Official Opposition and the main alternative to prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party.
Currently, polls show the NDP, under new leader Thomas Mulcair, within striking distance of the Tories and Liberals trailing in distant third place. But a National Post poll today shows that the Trudeau-led Liberals would win 39% to just 32% for Harper and 20% for the NDP. Those numbers, I believe, represent a best-case scenario for Trudeau — when he really represents nothing more than nostalgia for his father and before he’s had to contend through a long leadership fight and go head-to-head against not only Harper, but Mulcair as well. Trudeau will have to sideline the NDP (or otherwise engineer a merger or alliance with the NDP) and then win not only a sizeable number of ridings in Quebéc, but also in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.
There will be much more to say in the months leading up to the leadership race — it doesn’t start until November 14 and it won’t end until April 14, 2013. Since the 2011 election that saw the Liberals reduced to just 34 seats, former (NDP) Ontario premier Bob Rae has served as interim leader.
There will a lot of rebuilding for whomever wins the leadership — and since Rae himself ruled out running for the leadership in a permanent capacity earlier in June, it’s seemed like the leadership is Trudeau’s for the taking, despite a number of candidates also expected to run — the most serious potential challengers to Trudeau include Dominic LeBlanc, a New Brunswick MP since 2000 and currently the party’s foreign affairs critic and, perhaps more intriguingly, Marc Garneau, a retired astronaut and former president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006, who has served as an MP since 2008, also from Montréal, and is the current Liberal House Leader. Each candidate will pay a $75,000 entry fee — it’s thought the steep price will limit the number of contenders to just serious challengers, and campaign spending will be capped at $950,000.
It’s difficult to fathom just how far the Liberals have fallen in just little over a decade.