Greg Weston: Justin Trudeau can fill a room but can he win an election?

Trudeau is out to prove that he is more than a pretty face and a famous name — but is his charisma enough to set the Liberals up for a return to power?

Justin Trudeau may be the right guy to reach Liberals sitting on the sidelines

Montreal - Liberal MP Justin Trudeau announces his bid for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada 36:53

The launch of Justin Trudeau’s campaign to prove he is more than a pretty face and a famous name suggests he may indeed have the right stuff to win the leadership of the Liberal party.

Whether he has what it will take to win the next election is an entirely different issue.

His campaign kickoff in Montreal was well choreographed, nicely scripted, and decidedly nothing close to an outbreak of Trudeaumania Jr.

In a clever move intended to show he is his own man, Trudeau never mentioned his famous father or mother, and the backdrop signage in the room was all about "Justin."

Canadians tuning into the speech to hear where Trudeau stands on pressing issues of the day learned that he "absolutely loves Canada;" the nation needs a foreign policy "that can bring us hope;" and that the economic future of the country lies with the middle class.

No matter. He said it all with apparent conviction, and most importantly for a political launch party, he made no grievous mistakes.

Confronting the inconvenient truth that he hasn’t said much of substance on most major policy issues, Trudeau offered that he is not presenting himself "as a man with all the answers."

One of the questions he has yet to answer is how, exactly, a Trudeau-led Liberal party would win the next election.

The Conservatives have won the past two elections by asking voters whom they would trust to have a steady hand on the tiller through potentially dangerous economic seas.

The Liberals under Justin Trudeau would likely compete for votes against Tom Mulcair and the NDP, Greg Weston writes. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

On that score, voters have been thoroughly underwhelmed by both of the last two Liberal leaders, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae likely isn’t running for the permanent job in large part because he couldn’t shake a lot of negative economic baggage he picked up as Ontario premier more than 25 years ago.

That is not to say the strongest economic credentials necessarily make for the strongest leadership — witness Paul Martin and John Turner.

But so far, Justin Trudeau has yet to make a convincing case he would be either a strong leader or a steady hand on the economy.

Rebuilding the Liberal Party

If Trudeau’s campaign speech made anything clear, it is that he is coming from the deep left of the Liberal party.

As Liberal leader, that would put him and his party competing for the same turf as Tom Mulcair and the New Democrats, a potential vote-split that could elect mostly Conservatives.

Truth is, a lot of Liberals who saw their party decimated in the past two elections aren’t expecting Trudeau — or any other leadership candidate currently on the horizon — to lead the party to sweeping  victory the next time out at the polls.

They would settle for someone who can best help rebuild the party, inspire the base back into action, save the furniture in the next election, and set up the Liberals for a possible return to power in some future campaign.

For that, Trudeau may just be their guy.

Whoever wins the leadership will be condemned to a gruelling life on the rubber-chicken circuit for at least two years, coaxing wayward Liberals back to the fold and recruiting a new generation to the cause.

Trudeau is a youthful 40, energetic and in top physical shape — witness his boxing prowess.

The combination of his famous name and charisma have a certain crowd appeal that can fill a banquet hall with partisans like none of the others likely to run for the leadership.

The new Liberal leader is going to have to raise a huge amount of money as the party gets hit with a double punch in the pocketbook.

The leadership race is sure to suck a lot of cash from Liberal pockets, at the same time as the Harper government is turning off the tap of public financing to all political parties.

Trudeau has the power of social media at his back — at last count, he has over 150,000 followers on Twitter alone.

Finally, one of the nicest guys in federal politics, Trudeau seems to have much of the national media eating out of his hand.

Some Liberal strategists are calling Trudeau’s candidacy for the leadership the party’s Hail Mary play, a potentially game-winning football pass that has little chance of completion.

Whatever the final outcome, Trudeau is off to a running start.