Justin Trudeau’s Empire Club appearance today at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel had both historic resonance and forward thinking. According to organizers, Trudeau was the first speaker ever who had been preceded at the podium by both parents. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, spoke to the club in 1972 and in 1968 he also appeared in the Ontario Room next door to the Canadian Room where Justin was today. That 1968 event, a meeting of the Liberal Party of Ontario, saw the first stirrings of Trudeaumania. A week later he declared his candidacy for leadership.
Justin Trudeau’s reception didn’t have quite the same frisson but he was popular with the audience of 500 or so, many of whom must have been Liberals. For example, at one point he said that candidates for MP should be chosen at the riding level, not by national organizers. The promise brought applause, a sign to me that many attendees had worked for the party in the past and were upset when orders came from on high.
Rather than a speech, the host club put Trudeau in a Q&A format. I was annoyed, I wanted to hear him stand and deliver, but it worked because Trudeau was able to cover eight different topics without having to worry about stitching everything together. He is handsome, articulate, and comfortable in his own skin. While much of what he said was motherhood (politics is too negative, the economy and the environment both matter, young people have to become engaged) I found myself agreeing with everything he said. It’s been a long while since I could say the same about the views of any Canadian politician.
In late 1991, I saw Bill Clinton deliver a foreign policy speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He read from notes; it was deadly. Later that same day, I saw him give an election-style stump speech to the National Education Association. He was one of several Democratic presidential candidates seeking the group’s endorsement. Clinton was an entirely different person from the morning. His off-the-cuff speech made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. He went on to win the presidency the next year.
Before I pronounce final judgement on Justin Trudeau, I want to hear him in similar circumstances to see if he can connect with a crowd in the way that a winner must. But my first impression was positive. He is a man of substance.