Gliding down the escalators at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre amid a hoard of screaming fans, Justin Trudeau got a rock star welcome to the Liberal leadership showcase.
As he walked into the hall, people were pushing each other and climbing on chairs to get a picture of the leadership hopeful.
Trudeau has formed a loyal following over the past six months as he’s travelled from coast to coast to coast, selling himself as the best choice lead the Liberals.
And it’s not just the party faithful who are showing an affinity for the son of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau; recent polls suggest a Trudeau-led Liberal party would be neck and neck with the Conservatives in the 2015 election.
Even Trudeau can’t seem to explain why he has such a draw.
“I’m humbled by people’s support,” he said from his Montreal office, days before Saturday’s showcase, as he sat down with Tom Clark of the Global News program The West Block.
“Even though I’m always touched by the people who have direct memories of my father, I need to make sure that I’m counter-balancing that with people who respond to me for what it is that I’ve done or what it is that I have to offer or the person that I am,” Trudeau said.
Trudeaumania 2.0 appears to be serving him well in the leadership race. While votes aren’t counted until next Sunday, the 41-year-old MP from Papineau appears to be commanding a healthy lead.
But critics have been questioning how far Trudeau’s inherent connection with Canadians can sustain him and the Liberal party when it comes to policy and the ability to withstand attacks from other parties.
Among the top questions is whether Trudeau has enough substance under his charismatic exterior to be able to lead a party back into power – an issue he took head on in the interview.
“You know I’m not going to go around reciting Pi to the 19th decibel or you know wave my grades, or test scores to people,” he said. “I’m going to simply do what it is that I have to do,’ he said. “And what I have to do is be a good representative for my community and a good contributor to the party and mostly someone who is serving the country with everything that I have.”
Trudeau said he has taken strong positions on foreign trade, democratic reform and marijuana, but won’t release anything close to a fully-costed platform until after he becomes leader.
“My reticence is to follow the same path that drove us into loss, which is a Liberal party that was too top down, was dictating to Canadians what everything was going to be and hoping Canadians would come back to us instead of engaging with them and working with them,” Trudeau said.
If elected leader, Trudeau’s team is planning to use an online tool called Soapbox to help lay the foundation for the platform. Soapbax has been collecting thousands of messages from Canadians each day of the campaign, Trudeau said.
Watching Trudeau more closely than his fans are the people he will face in the House of Commons and in the next election.
The Conservatives are said to have attack ads ready, and Trudeau will also face testing from the New Democrats.
Trudeau has promised not to go negative, but he is also warning that he’s not going to sit back and take any abuse.
“I’m certainly not going to attack or base myself on personal differences, but I will respond if people come at me,” he said. “But I’m going to respond in a tone and in a way that is very different because fundamentally, what negative attacks are most focused on is getting people to turn away from options.”
And Trudeau hasn’t backed down from a fight in the past, winning two tough elections in Papineau.
An eventual win at the federal level would deliver a first in Canadian history – a family dynasty at 24 Sussex.
But Trudeau said he wants to make it there for Canadians, not for his family name.
“What I’m very much focused on is doing right by what I’ve been given,” he said. “The fact that I have something to offer right now among my peers is something that I’m very much focused on, not for the historical narrative of it but because I think it’s time that people started feeling connected once again to the people who serve us at the highest offices in the land.”