Greg Weston: Justin Trudeau, long shot with a short resumé
Liberals could be 'rolling the dice for a miracle'
The Conservative operatives sipping pints at a capital watering hole laughingly announce they are forming "Tories for Trudeau" to help ensure Justin wins the current federal Liberal leadership race.
Across the room, a Liberal organizer backing Trudeau’s bid for the Grit crown takes the Conservative gag in stride, but later concedes to me his party is "rolling the dice for a miracle."
"I keep telling people in the party that Justin may be a long shot for winning the next election, but he’s the best shot we’ve got, so we need to get behind him."
Ordinarily, being considered a long shot by your own supporters, and the best shot for the competition, is not exactly the ringing endorsement one might expect of a candidate for future prime minister.
Yet, Trudeau continues to draw packed Liberal gatherings across the country, and recent public opinion polls suggest that if an election were held today, ordinary Canadian voters are being wowed in sufficient numbers to put the Liberal Party back in contention for power.
But what exactly are Canadians being wowed by?
Pollsters say the apparent popularity of a Trudeau-led Liberal Party may reflect a growing fatigue with the Conservatives, and almost certainly points to unstable NDP support ready to shift camps with little coaxing.
There’s no question Trudeau’s iconic name, the handsome boyish looks, the often youthful flippancy — it all adds up to star-power and some refreshing relief from the daily growl of attack-dog politics under Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
But beyond all that, is Trudeau more than a pretty face?
Light on gravitas
The candidate to lead the Liberal Party and possibly the country has never managed anything larger than a school classroom, and his government experience is largely warming the backbenches.
As for depth and gravitas, he recently gave a revealing interview with CBC Radio host Evan Solomon on The House.
"I think voters are looking for real people, not spun, sound-bited and massively controlled politicians," Trudeau said.
For example, when he once opined in a French-language interview that the country would be better off being run by Quebecers than by Albertans?
Oh, heavens, no! Trudeau says.
If you’re looking for real, unspun politicians: "What you need to look at is what someone is actually saying … throughout their speeches, throughout their presentations."
Was it a mistake to make the comment in the first place? Solomon asks.
"Absolutely, because it allowed the Conservatives to … make campaigns out of negativity and the past when I want to talk positive about the future."
Most of the major candidates running for the Liberal leadership are in some way trying to distance themselves from the party’s past.
But Trudeau seems to be trying to distance himself from himself, last week calling the long-gun registry a "failure" that he would not revive, even though he has voted more than a dozen times to save it.
About that coalition ...
If there is anything he has said on the record that may come back to bite Trudeau in the long run, it is his enthusiasm for the 2008 almost-coalition government.
It was the day the Liberals inked a deal with the NDP, backed by the unwritten support of the separatist Bloc Québécois, to topple the newly elected minority Conservative government and replace it with a coalition that would have made Stéphane Dion prime minister.
Trudeau rose in the Commons to make one of his first speeches ever in Parliament, calling the coalition deal a "large, important day of respect and co-operation of which we can all be proud. I would like to congratulate the members of the Bloc for being part of that."
Trudeau’s embrace of the ultimately failed coalition is likely already sitting in a Conservative Party file of fodder for future attack ads, should he win the Liberal leadership.
In the CBC interview, Trudeau was asked if his pretty-boy image was his biggest challenge.
"No," said Trudeau. "My biggest challenge is getting people to know everything that I am, and everything that I’m not."
In politics, as in life, it’s best to be careful what you wish for.