Born on Christmas Day, 1971, nine months after his debonair dad, Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, surprised the nation by secretly marrying a 22-year-old flower child 29 years his junior, Justin Trudeau has lived much of his life in his father’s shadow. He spent his childhood in the prime minister’s residence, had an audience with the Pope when he was eight and laid eyes on his first dead body—that of Leonid Brezhnev—when he was 10. But in 2000, at age 28, he rose to national prominence in his own right when he delivered the eulogy at his father’s funeral before such honorary pallbearers as Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro and Leonard Cohen. “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” he began, his stirring oratory instantly igniting speculation that he would follow his father into politics.
And he has. While Canadians prefer understatement and scorn comparisons to their neighbor to the south, they are apt to compare the Trudeaus to the Kennedys—as close as it gets to Canadian royalty. Last year, when Justin won his party’s nomination to run for a seat in the House of Commons, 40 percent of Canadians polled said they’d like to see him as the next leader of the Liberal Party—even though he has yet to hold office. Now 36, he’s a rising political star and likely to become a member of Parliament when he runs in the next federal election, which is expected to take place in the coming months. Few doubt that he’ll make a bid at some point for the leadership of the Liberals—the party his father dominated for 16 years and, for now, the opposition.
To the party faithful in search of the lost Trudeau magic, Justin is the future, the one who can draw a younger generation into the political fold, much as Barack Obama has done. To his detractors he’s an inexperienced lightweight simply leveraging his father’s fame.
No one knows this better than Justin. “There were a lot of people who were really worried that I was going to come in as some sort of dauphin or enfant terrible with an expectation that this party’s mine and it owes me,” he says over lunch at an Indian restaurant—one of several stops during a day of campaigning this past May in his district of Papineau, a multiethnic neighborhood in Montreal, where he’s greeted with smiles and recollections of his father everywhere he goes. “I had to allay those fears.”
Handsome and boyish, his dark curls flopping into his blue eyes, he’s dressed in tidy jeans and a navy blazer. With his mother’s good looks and warmth and his father’s élan and idealism, he has an ease and buoyancy about him that makes it hard not to like him. “For all my history, I’m a political neophyte,” he says. “The actual mechanisms of politics are something that I’ve stayed away from all my life, deliberately.”