Now that Justin Trudeau is going to be PM, will he channel his dad?

Justin Trudeau is set to officially become prime minister, but the question is whether the political lessons he learned being around his father will be of any use to him.

Trudeau has more experience in the halls of Canadian power than most rookie PMs

Pierre Trudeau, left, waves to a crowd of supporters after winning the Liberal Leadership June 4, 1968. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, right, puts his hand on his heart as he arrives to Liberal election headquarters in Montreal on Oct. 20, 2015. (Harold Herschell and Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prompted by campaign attack ads, the arguments about Justin Trudeau's readiness to lead the country continue.

But as the son of the man who led the country for almost 16 years, Trudeau has more experience in the upper echelons of Canadian political power than most rookie PMs — certainly more than Stephen Harper did when he became prime minister in 2006.

The nagging question, of course, is whether the political lessons he might have gleaned from being around his father as a boy – he was 12 when Pierre Trudeau left office — will be of any use to him now.

"In the narrow sense of what he witnessed when his father was prime minister, I think it's limited," says Claude Denis, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa.

Nonetheless, people who worked with the elder Trudeau say that Justin likely learned the value of discipline and respect for dissenting opinions under his father's long tutelage – and just maybe the political benefit of the occasional provocative quip.

At ease among the world's elite

When Justin Trudeau officially assumes the top post on Nov. 4, it will be 47 years after his father first became prime minister.

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      The family name helped galvanize Liberal Party interest in the younger Trudeau back in the mid-2000s and gave him instant name recognition among Canadian voters once his prime ministerial ambitions became clear.

      But he will likely have to rely on more than name cachet to confront the many challenges ahead, which include Canada's continuing role in the Syrian conflict and setting out our environmental policy in the lead-up to the Paris climate change conference in November.

      Some observers have suggested that travelling the world with his dad during the 1970s and early '80s will help inform his international diplomacy. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, dismisses the idea.

      "I don't put any stock in that. He was very young," says Wiseman. "He went with his father to South Africa, I recall, when Mandela was alive, but he was a little kid. He was concentrating on playing. I don't think that will be a factor at all."

      But even if he was quite young, just being in the company of heads of state such as Mandela and Margaret Thatcher should make him comfortable in that milieu now, says Denis.

      "All his life, he's lived in a world where he could think of world leaders as actual people," says Denis.

      "That could certainly help him in conducting diplomacy and making Canada's voice heard. But he'll need substance to back that up, which has to come from something other than his ease among the world's elite."


      Justin is seen here as an eight-year-old in London in the company of his father and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. (Lawrence Harris/Associated Press)
      In his 2014 memoir Common Ground, Justin Trudeau acknowledged that being on planes with his dad and his closest advisers gave him an insight into how policy was made.

      "The most valuable part of these trips with my father was the chance to watch how he made decisions. He was always asking questions and challenging people around him about their opinions," Trudeau wrote.

      Patrick Gossage, who was Pierre Trudeau's press secretary in the late 1970s and early '80s, believes that watching his father in meetings with ministers at 24 Sussex Drive would have made an impression on Justin.

      "He would have been around to witness the way Trudeau worked with his cabinet," says Gossage, who states that despite his reputation as an iconoclast, Pierre Trudeau placed great stock in the insight and input of his staff.

      "There are lots of books by Trudeau cabinet ministers, and they were all just amazed at how he ran cabinet meetings and got the best out of everybody and listened — how decisions were made as a team rather than one man imposing his will."

      In a lengthy profile in The Globe and Mail earlier this month, Justin Trudeau revealed that the one time he asked his father directly for advice on a potential political career, Pierre couldn't give him a concise answer.

      Justin says he only later realized that over the years, his father had inadvertently shown him that to be an effective politician you have "to be a good, complete person. And not worry about what you do when you're down in the polls and you have to react to this or that."

      Talking about respect

      Observers have said that Justin Trudeau's genuine pleasure in meeting people (and agreeing to selfies) was one of the reasons he won over so many Canadian voters. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
      Among the themes of Justin Trudeau's election campaign were the ideas of inclusivity and civil discourse.

      These appear to be long-held beliefs. In his eulogy at his father's funeral back in 2000, Trudeau told the story of having lunch with his father in the parliamentary cafeteria during the elder Trudeau's time in office.

      In an attempt to amuse his father, Justin made a joke about one of his political opponents, Joe Clark, who was eating nearby. Unimpressed with his son's jape, Pierre took Justin over and introduced him to Clark — in so doing reinforcing the idea that even his political opponents were deserving of respect.

      In an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge on the night Justin won the election, Clark, a former prime minister himself, acknowledged that the younger Trudeau had run a campaign that emphasized inclusivity and respect for differing views.

      But he warned that running a country can also derail the best of intentions.

      "Being a prime minister can be confining — leading your party, leading your government, even a majority government, can be confining, and [Justin] is going to have to ensure that he is true to that promise" of respect, said Clark.

      A penchant for pithy quips?

      A number of observers have pointed out one thing that differentiates Justin Trudeau from his father is that the former appears a lot more comfortable pressing the flesh.

      Trudeau has said he will swear in his cabinet on Nov. 4. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

      Gossage says that despite his self-confidence, Pierre Trudeau disliked the retail side of politics, and when he was irritated with detractors, he could be quite snappish.

      The younger Trudeau seems a more patient sort than his father, but the University of Ottawa's Denis says that as Justin delves deeper into the role of PM, we may see flashes of Pierre's impetuousness.

      The elder Trudeau's most defiant quips – "Just watch me" chief among them — signaled to people that he was "a dynamic leader and someone who had a lot of self-confidence and wouldn't be stepped on," says Denis.

      He says Canadians got a taste of Justin's sharp tongue last October, when he criticized Canada's decision to join coalition airstrikes in Iraq as a case of the government "trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are."

      While the comment was derided by the Conservatives as juvenile, Denis believes it ultimately had a positive impact for the young Trudeau.

      "It reminds me a lot of his father, in that he pushed the envelope of what is say-able. That comment probably helped Justin more than it hurt him, because it plays into his image as fresh and young and dynamic."


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