OTTAWA – It’s been quite the year for Justin Trudeau.
He scored a stunning come-from-behind election victory, became the first offspring of a prime minister to ascend to the top job himself and the first federal leader to vault his party straight from a distant third place into office, circled the globe and created an international sensation. All in the last three months of 2015.
And now he’s been selected as Canada’s Newsmaker of the Year.
Unlike the hard-fought Oct. 19 election, it wasn’t much of a contest.
“Trudeau was the runaway choice of news editors and directors across the country,” said Stephen Meurice, Editor-in-Chief of The Canadian Press.
Fully 87 per cent chose Trudeau as the top newsmaker in The Canadian Press’s annual survey of newsrooms across the country.
Rachel Notley, the NDP leader who put an end to the four-decade Conservative dynasty in Alberta, came a distant second, chosen as top newsmaker by just seven per cent of those surveyed.
Little Alan Kurdi, the toddler whose lifeless body on a Turkish beach put a human face on the Syrian refugee crisis and pushed the issue smack into the midst of the federal election campaign, was one vote behind Notley.
It was “no contest,” wrote Carl Fleming, managing editor at the Cape Breton Post. “Everybody is talking about Justin.”
Elections are always big news but it was the historic nature of Trudeau’s win that made him so compelling to some newsroom leaders.
“Trudeau’s victory was historic on a number of levels,” said Tim Kucharuk, senior reporter at CKRW The Rush in Whitehorse.
“First to go from third party to government, first to complete father-son duo as PM. Came up with some of the most quoted lines of the year … ‘Sunny ways’ and ‘Canada is back.’ The victory turned Ottawa upside down after 10 years of Conservative power.”
Others were impressed by the way in which Trudeau, contemptuously derided as an empty-headed pretty boy by the Conservative attack machine and trailing in the polls at the start of the campaign, managed to exceed expectations and leave his more experienced rivals in the dust.
“Expectations were so low for this son of an iconic Canadian leader that his rivals once scoffed he’d score debate points from the public if he just ‘came on stage with his pants on,”‘ said Margo Goodhand, editor of the Edmonton Journal.
“Amid an onslaught of carefully orchestrated contempt, third place in the polls, ‘Justin’ fought back to a resounding majority win, toppling a 10-year (Conservative) dynasty and becoming Canada’s 23rd prime minister. Not bad for the guy with ‘nice hair.”‘
Maurice Cloutier, editor in chief of La Tribune in Sherbrooke, Que., said Trudeau led “an audacious campaign,” outflanking the NDP on the left with his promises to run modest deficits and stimulate the economy with massive infrastructure investments. He also managed to turn the unprecedented length of the campaign -an 11-week marathon the Conservatives believed would magnify Trudeau’s weaknesses – to his advantage, Cloutier said.
What’s more, he managed to capture a majority of seats in Quebec, a feat not achieved by any federal governing party since 1988 and the Liberals’ best result since Trudeau’s late father, Pierre, last swept the province in 1980.
“He ran a flawless election campaign,” said Michel Lorrain, vice-president of information and programming for Cogeco Diffusion Inc.
“The strong return of the Liberals in Quebec surprised everyone.”
But as much as anything, the tale of Trudeau’s triumph just made for a darned good story.
He revived a party left on its death bed in 2011, when the Liberals won just 34 seats and fell behind the NDP for the first time in history. He withstood a barrage of Tory attack ads that declared him “just not ready.” He survived the pressure of a high-stakes campaign in which one false step could have spelled the demise of Liberal party.
And he did it without descending into the political gutter, remaining resolutely positive and projecting a sunny, youthful optimism that made his opponents seem old and grumpy.
Since the election, Trudeau has won international acclaim for insisting on gender parity in his cabinet “because it’s 2015” and for throwing open Canada’s doors to Syrian refugees. He’s also attended a whirlwind series of international summits, greeted by fawning headlines about his looks and, in one case, by squealing female admirers.
“The narrative of Trudeau’s trajectory was surprising and dramatic as he took his Liberals from rump to ruling party,” summed up Paul Samyn, editor at the Winnipeg Free Press.
“His campaign meant we had a real three-way race for power and his victory lap attracted global attention in ways we haven’t seen for a Canadian prime minister.”
“It’s a little bit fairy tale, isn’t it?” said Elisha Dacey, managing editor of Metro Winnipeg.
“The son of a popular (and also reviled) prime minister takes up where his father left off and immediately institutes sweeping cultural changes in the PMO … that will resonate for years. It’s a sweeping come-from-behind tale that alters the Canadian political landscape.”