Trudeau was always a Hail Mary pass for the Liberals — and now it’s that way again

by Anthony FureyMore from Anthony Furey

There’s one scene that I keep going back to these days. It takes place in Ottawa almost exactly six years ago. It’s the federal Liberal leadership event, the one that made Justin Trudeau party leader.

Looking back now, you’d think it would have been a massive affair — the beginning of the rise of the man who would go on to be leader of a G7 nation, ignite Trudeaumania Part Deux and become a darling of the international scene.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t a grand gathering, like the must-watch 2006 Liberal leadership drama had been. They couldn’t muster enough guests or cash or both to book the glittering new Ottawa Convention Centre so instead they used a smaller ballroom across the street. And even then they failed to fill the room.

It’s hard to accurately describe the mood of the event. Was it a celebration? Sure. But it was also something of an intervention. Like when the family firm awkwardly tells the prodigal son that it’s now time to put aside his misspent youth and instead put on the suit and enter the corner office to stumble his way up the corporate ladder past those more experienced but less connected.

It’s hard to blame the Liberals for it. Paul Martin was supposed to be a “juggernaut” — the phrase popularized by columnist Susan Delacourt — who could win super-majorities and govern forever. Then, he suddenly lost. What followed was a battle of the supposed gods — a leadership race where Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff were fawned over by press and party as lions of intellect and ability. But when neither failed to secure enough support, that sneaky Stephane Dion ran through the middle. A surprising coup, for sure. But Dion was, to put it mildly, an underwhelming leader and they lost badly in 2008. Then when Ignatieff finally ascended to the top perch to soar he sunk worse than Dion.

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