Trudeau may face generational gap

Rosalie Eid
Rosalie Eid
File photo by Rosalie Eid.

Liberal Party interim leader Bob Rae’s announcement on June 13 that he would not seek leadership sent political analysts and party enthusiasts into a tailspin as speculation heated up for who will seek nomination.

Despite his earlier claim that he would not run for leadership while acting as interim leader, Rae’s decision came as a surprise to many.

“I think he had quite a bit of ambition and he’s done a good job as interim leader, so I thought he would’ve thrown his hat into the ring despite making a promise that he wouldn’t,” commented Wilfrid Laurier University professor of political science Chris Alcantara.

Recent poll numbers have placed Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as a clear frontrunner, though whether this is based on his own politics or notable family lineage is debatable. Trudeau is the member of parliament for the Quebec riding of Papineau.

This, according to Alcantara, wasn’t unanticipated. “People expect that he has leadership aspirations because he’s Trudeau’s son,” he said. “But I wasn’t surprised by the attention he’s getting, it’s to be expected given his name.”

“Whether that actually carries into votes, whether or not that has any staying power is unclear, in this modern era,” he added.

Peter Woolstencroft, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, believes Trudeau has yet to demonstrate what distinguishes him as a potential leader.

“I have no idea what he believes in. So in other words, he hasn’t made his mark,” he claimed. He added that Trudeau hasn’t contributed anything of note in his critique of the Harper government.

While his “joyous look” and Quebec roots may appeal to voters, Woolstencroft questioned whether Trudeau possessed “the capacity to build an organization and raise money.”

Trudeau’s resonation with youth remains an uncertainty. Although Pierre Trudeau gained immense popularity during his political reign, his influence rested with what is now an older generation and the family name may resonate differently today.

“Do I think that it’s going to create a new second wave of Trudeaumania among young people? My view is no,” Alcanatara maintained.

“If there’s going to be any connection with young voters it’s going to be because of his age, as opposed to his name.”

At age 40, Trudeau is more than a decade younger than both Harper and Mulcair.

Woolstencroft observed, “Here’s a young guy who’s got a certain kind of panache to him and a way of communicating with young people.”

However, he noted, what will be more significant is whether Trudeau is able to mobilize disengaged youth.

Citing political science research which indicates education as the greatest contributor to youth political involvement, Alcantara added, “I would suspect that Trudeau would have little effect on mobilizing youth voters who are currently unengaged. I think that’s a bad reason to choose him.”

Trudeau claims he will take time to discuss the possibility of running for leadership with his family. In the meanwhile, he will likely remain the subject of much debate and scrutiny.

“I think he sized up the situation accurately that it wasn’t the right time for him, running against Bob Rae as people thought he should, and the reason is that he doesn’t have a lot of life experience,” concluded Woolsencroft.

“If you’re going to be the leader of a party, if you’re going to be Prime Minister, you better have a spine of steel.”

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