OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau first caught the public heartstrings in October 2000, when he delivered a moving, deeply felt eulogy for his legendary father, weaving an emotional spell from inside the cavernous Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal.
“Pierre Elliott Trudeau: The very words convey so many things to so many people,” he said.
“Statesman, intellectual, professor, adversary, outdoorsman, lawyer, journalist, author, prime minister. But more than anything, to me, he was Dad.”
Trudeau’s finishing flourish left many in tears:
“He left politics in ’84. But he came back for Meech. He came back for Charlottetown. He came back to remind us of who we are and we’re all capable of.
“But he won’t be coming back anymore. It’s all up to us, all of us, now.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. He has kept his promises and earned his sleep.
“I love you, Papa.”
With that single speech, Trudeau went from obscure high school teacher to the potential crown prince of a now-damaged dynasty.
With Bob Rae bowing himself out of the Liberal leadership race, starry-eyed Grits turn to Trudeau, heir to one of the country’s most intriguing politicians.
Justin Trudeau first tickled the public fancy on the day he was born.
It was Christmas Day, 1971, when Prime Minister Trudeau showed up at Ottawa’s Civic hospital to announce the arrival of his first-born. The symbolism became the subject of many a wisecrack and was only magnified when Alexandre (Sacha), Trudeau’s second son, was born on the same day.
The elder Trudeau did his best to keep his sons out of the limelight, especially after his messy split with wife Margaret in 1977.
The younger Trudeau was little known until his eulogy, although he was a low-key advocate for a number of causes, including avalanche safety. The latter came after his youngest brother, Michel, was swept to his death in a British Columbia snow slide in 1998.
But the lure of politics and the lustre of his name and heritage couldn’t be ignored.
He made his political bones in 2008, when he won a seat in the House of Commons for the Montreal riding of Papineau. He ignored suggestions that he find a safer seat and instead campaigned in a gritty, low-income, constituency that had been held by the Bloc Quebecois.
The rich man’s son and the inner-city voters made an unlikely alliance, but he proved it by being re-elected.
While some labelled him a lightweight in Parliament, he generally kept a low profile, although he was known to occasionally speak without thinking.
On one occasion he blurted out a curse in the Commons and apologized profusely.
Earlier this year, however, he agreed to a charity boxing match with Tory Senator Patrick Brazeau, a stocky former soldier and a karate black belt.
Brazeau was heavily favoured against the lanky Trudeau, but the Liberal deftly tagged his opponent over and over until the referee stopped the fight in the third round.
Suddenly, people saw echoes of Pierre Trudeau’s gritty doggedness and the glow was back on the heir.
But Trudeau himself says he’s not interested in the leadership. He knows from painful, personal experience the toll that politics can take on a family and says he wants to spend more time with his wife and two young sons.
He knows, though, that his name resonates with Canadians who seek a once and future king.
The mantle may be hard to refuse.