OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s star power was on display Wednesday as reports of his imminent entry into the Liberal leadership race sparked a media frenzy on Parliament Hill.
A phalanx of television cameras and outstretched microphones besieged Liberals outside their usually quiet weekly caucus meeting, a testament to the 40-year-old Montreal MP’s celebrity status and magnetic ability to attract attention.
“Thank you very much for your interest,” a smiling Trudeau said on his way out of the meeting, coyly refusing to confirm or deny reports that he’ll announce his bid Tuesday in his Papineau riding.
“I’m pleased to hear all the buzz and all the interest in the Liberal party’s fortunes. But I have nothing further today … I promise I will let you know when I have something to announce.”
Trudeau’s crowd-pleasing celebrity is his most appealing quality for many Liberals, who are desperate to avoid sinking into oblivion after being reduced to a third-party rump in the 2011 election.
It’s already made him the prohibitive front-runner in a leadership race that hasn’t yet officially begun and won’t culminate until April 14.
However, others are waiting to see if there’s more to Trudeau than a pretty face with boyish charm, an engaging manner and a famous last name.
They want to see if he can demonstrate the depth, vision and strategic smarts to bring the once-mighty Liberal party back from the brink of extinction and, eventually one day, back into power.
Those close to Trudeau are well aware that he must disprove critics who maintain he’s an intellectual lightweight coasting on the coattails of his late father, Liberal icon and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
His organizers argue Trudeau’s intellect is under-estimated, noting that he has obtained two university degrees: a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education.
And they maintain he’s already demonstrated strategic smarts by insisting on climbing the political ladder the hard way, from the bottom up.
He turned down an opportunity to run in a safe Liberal riding in 2007, choosing instead to run in a contested nomination in Papineau, a riding held at the time by the Bloc Quebecois.
As for critics who question whether Trudeau has the gravitas or depth to be prime minister, his strategists maintain that’s not the job description.
What Liberals are choosing, they say, is a leader of a third party and the most important qualification is the ability to engage Canadians and attract new blood.