The federal Liberals won’t choose a new leader until 2013. However, if the vote were held a lot sooner, a familiar name is favoured.

According to a recent poll conducted by Leger Marketing, 21 per cent of survey respondents across Canada who would vote Liberal said Justin Trudeau, son of the iconic Pierre Elliott Trudeau, should lead the party – two per cent more than those who thought the current interim leader, Bob Rae, should get the job.

“It’s more to do with name recognition and nostalgia,” said the 39-year-old scion recently in his seventh-floor office in Confederation Building on Parliament Hill. “But the question’s moot because I’m not running for the leadership.”

“I’m focusing on being right by my family and my constituents for the next year or two. If I do right every step of the way, maybe there will be options in the future.”

Dressed in a colour-coordinated combination of fitted grey pants, pink shirt and pink-and-grey tie, six-foot-two Trudeau with the chestnut brown locks has the GQ-model looks that have made him the Liberals’ sex symbol and have given him mega-star wattage in the party.

As a popular public speaker in his pre-political days – particularly in championing Katimavik, the youth service program started during his father’s time as prime minister and which he chaired – Trudeau has also demonstrated great oratorical skills.

His touching tribute at his dad’s Oct. 3, 2000 state funeral in Montreal is still considered a eulogy for the ages.

Now in his second term as the Member of Parliament for the Montreal riding of Papineau (serendipitously, he played a Papineau in the two-part CBC Television miniseries, The Great War, in 2007), Trudeau is the perfect blend of his parents. He is outgoing like his mother, Margaret, and has the reflective, analytical nature of his father, Pierre.

So when asked about his plans, Trudeau, who serves as the Liberal critic for youth, post-secondary education and amateur sport, replies that “politics is just this particular iteration of me.”

“My long-term goal has been one that I set a long time ago. It’s to try and do the most that I can with what I have received. I was doing that when I was a high school teacher, when I was an environmental advocate, when I was a youth activist, when I was running Katimavik. Every step of the way its knowing that I’m trying to have as big an impact as I can possibly can in the right kind of way.”

“Politics is a means toward that, not an end in itself of achieving that.”

He acknowledged that he’s been pressured to run for Liberal leadership, but said that pressure has had a frequent presence in his life. “There was pressure for me showing up at Collège Jean-de Brébeuf at 13 years old, knowing my father had been there many years before as a straight-A student. I lived with the pressure of my father having been prime minister. I just learned to live with it and I guess internalize it as a generalized sense of responsibility to do something meaningful with the opportunities I’ve had.”

The one person who didn’t pressure Trudeau to follow in his father’s footsteps was – his father, who would have turned 92 years old on Oct. 18. “He was incredibly proud when I became a teacher,” said Trudeau, who taught social studies and French at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Vancouver about a decade ago.

He remembered when his younger brother, Alexandre or Sacha, was on the road to becoming a journalist, his father once said, “I’m glad my kids are becoming teachers and journalists and wilderness explorers, as Mich [Michel who died at the age of 23 in an avalanche while skiing in B.C.’s Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in 1998] was – and not politicians. They’re not overly latched onto to living up to what previous generations had done.”

Still, father and son did discuss Justin’s entering politics – but only once, in the living room of the family home at 1418 Pine Avenue. “A year or two before he died, I got the sense that I was not going to be a high school teacher forever and that maybe I will end up in politics one day. And if it did happen one day, how much would I kick myself that I didn’t ask my father for his advice around politics,” recalled Trudeau.

“And, I swear to God, it must have been one of the most awkward conversations that I’ve ever had with my father. I sat down with him and said, ‘Okay, it’s possible, of all the different paths in my life I might end up in politics. If I do, do you have any words of wisdom or things that I should know?’

“He sort of thought about that and he said, ‘Like what?’” We both really blocked on it.”

“I remember I asked him, ‘What happens if big business and banks are lobbying you for a particular action and you know that it’s not in the best interests of the people? How do you resist pressure of these high-powered lobbyists?’”

“His answer was knowing what is right and knowing what is in the best long-term interest of Canadians and understanding that a politician has more pieces of the puzzle than a bank president to consider.”

“But it was a really strange conversation, because we stopped it at that point. I realize that yes he was glad to try and play that game with me. Everything he taught me about being a good person, about being my own man, about being someone who’s driven by values and by what is right was woven through every conversation we ever had – was woven through everything I had ever done with him or watched him do. And there was nothing he could tell me about being a politician that he hadn’t already shown me in how to be a good person.”

Quite simply, Pierre Trudeau, the charismatic and visionary 15th prime minister of Canada, was a “helluva dad” to Justin and his brothers.

While he was “very fair-minded in his approach to parenting,” the elder Trudeau was also intellectually rigorous with his sons, said Justin.

It’s but one memory that helps guide Trudeau as the father of two young children: Xavier James, who coincidentally turns four on his paternal grandfather’s birthday; and two-and-half-year-old Ella-Grace Margaret.

Regularly recognized, but “undisturbed,” on the streets of Montreal, Trudeau prefers the role of family man than that of a celebrity.

His brother Sacha, a documentary filmmaker, lives in the family home on Pine Avenue, while Justin resides in a semi-detached in Côte-des-Neiges. Their mom is close by at the corner of Penfield and Atwater. “She usually babysits the kids for one of us at least once a week,” said Trudeau.

Now 63, Margaret Trudeau has become an advocate for reducing the stigma of mental illness after revealing she suffers from bipolar disorder and chronicled her own journey through it in a book, Changing My Mind, published by HarperCollins Canada last year.

That courageous admission – along with her work in providing clean drinking water and basic sanitation to the world’s poorest poor people as honorary president of Ottawa-based WaterCan – have won her widespread respect.

“All my life I’ve had people walk up to me and say, ‘Your father touched me this way or inspired me that way,’ and it’s always been a pleasure,” explained Trudeau. “For the past two or three years, as many people who come up to me to talk to me about my father talk to me about my mother now – about how she’s touched them – how her book, her story, how everything’s she done has had an impact.”

“It’s something that I feel absolutely blessed with.” His father’s influence, however, is never far away. “Everyone asks me, ‘Do you want to follow in your father’s footsteps?’”
“I say, ‘Yes, absolutely.’

‘Oh rrreally?’” “They weren’t expecting it to be that easy,” said Trudeau, who spends his weekends in Montreal with his wife and two children. “Yeah, I’m going to be the best dad I possibly can just like he was.” “I define myself as a father first and everything else second. And that’s what allows me, I think, to be a pretty good MP who doesn’t get wrapped up in too much of the little politicking or the partisanship – I play a good game when I have to.”

“But if I can’t look at my kids on the weekend when I get home and think about all that I didn’t do with them throughout the week while I was in Ottawa. If I can’t say, ‘Me being in Ottawa is justified by the effect it’s going to have on your lives later,’ then it’s probably not worth it.”

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