Justin Trudeau has been in the public eye virtually from the day he was born, on Christmas Day 1971, to parents with rock-star status. But does he have what it takes to lead the country?
The Conservatives’ attack ads say the eldest son of Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Sinclair is “just not ready” to be prime minister.
On the other hand, former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, whose son Ben and Justin were friends, warns that those who underestimate young Trudeau “do so at their own peril.”
We put the question to Marc Miller, 42, the Liberal Party candidate in the newly delineated riding of Ville-Marie-Le-Sud-Ouest-Île-des-Sœurs, who’s known Justin Trudeau since their high-school days at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf.
Miller studied political science at Université de Montréal, earning an M.A. with a thesis on globalization, before his law degree at McGill.
A lawyer on leave from Stikeman-Elliott, specializing in mergers and acquisitions, Miller remembers that Justin had just moved from Ottawa in 1984 and was starting high school.
“He asked me for a pencil. We’ve been best of friends ever since, for 31 years,” he says, recalling that they had travelled together in Africa with a “tight group of friends” for several months.
When Trudeau decided to take the plunge in 2007 and run in Montreal’s Papineau riding, Miller was there to help. He continued to work with him to rebuild the party and raise funds.
“I believe in the man. I know his strengths, weaknesses. People criticize him for not having done anything, but he’s cleaned up the Liberal Party and he’s put a breath of fresh air in it.
“We have a new, rejuvenated party with money, volunteers, and a new vision, and I’m proud of that,” he said, at his campaign offices on Notre Dame. Trudeau’s leadership “in part inspired me to run. I’ve seen a guy that can do grassroots politics and I haven’t seen that in many other politicians.”
He chose the riding, which includes downtown Ville Marie, working-class Saint-Henri, Pointe St. Charles, Little Burgundy, and prosperous Nun’s Island, because “it’s a typical downtown riding with every issue – except agrarian reform.”
The list includes a host of urban ills, such as homelessness, prostitution, under-employment, infrastructure and access to health care, which he says is the number one issue.
“Getting rid of Harper is number two, and third are concerns with debt, access to employment and the tie-in to education.”
The top-down approach is not the Liberal way, but Miller believes “we can give people a push and a nudge and allow them to have the same kick at the can as everyone else.
“We have the beginnings of an economic plan – increasing the childcare benefit for those who need it, tax cut for the middle class — that will allow some Canadians to have a fair shot. That’s really what touches me.”
Action on education and health care, areas of shared jurisdiction, requires from a prime minister the ability to work with provincial premiers, “and that’s one of the refreshing perspectives that Justin brings.”
He credits Stephen Harper with being a “very good politician” but “a singularly poor prime minister.”
“People need a prime minister who inspires, brings people together, and I don’t believe Mr. Harper has done that. It’s a secretive government, with no clarity from elected members. They’re puppets of Mr. Harper.
He contrasts this with Trudeau’s collaborative approach. “Justin is committed to having people who are the voices of their ridings in Ottawa, and not of Justin Trudeau.
“We need to vote against the politics of fear, which is very dangerous and very divisive. We need to bring back a party that can work with others. We have a party that can play with other parties and make sure that we do things that are right for Canadians,” Miller maintains.
A recent aggregate result of polls by threehundredeight.com indicates the Liberal candidate has a 61 percent probability of winning, which is no slam-dunk.
His opponents are lawyer and social activist Allison Turner, running for the NDP, veteran environmentalist Daniel Green, deputy leader of the Green Party, Montreal city councilor Steve Shanihan for the Conservatives, and teacher Chantal St-Onge for the Bloc Québécois.
Turner replaced the NDP’s Tyrone Benskin, who had represented Jeanne Le Ber riding in the 2011 election. It included Verdun, Pointe St. Charles, Nun’s Island and 12 per cent of Westmount Ville Marie. Benskin declined to run again after it was revealed he owed $58,000 in provincial income taxes.
Miller declines to discuss the polls, but says, “What we hear is a strong desire for change. There are people who have a renewed interest in the Liberal Party. They want an excuse to vote Liberal and we intend to give it to them.
“The NDP is offering another plan. We think we have the better option for change.”