The writing was on the wall last week when Marc Garneau demanded that JustinTrudeau states where he stands. During a carefully orchestrated news conference Marc Garneau said
that the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) would be repeating the mistakes of the past if it crowned a leader without challenging him on policy matters. The debate did not disappoint, Marc Garneau and Martha Hall Findlay the other perceived front runners too off the gloves, while the other six candidates also took aim at Trudeau.
Yesterday's debate format, which had both one one exchanges and debates of groups of three, permitted candidates to directly challenge Justin Trudeau. Former astronaut and Canada's first man is space, followed up on his comments earlier this week and questioned Trudeau's credentials for leading the party and possibly leading the Canadian government as prime minister. He told Trudeau that he has given bold visions and said he wanted to defend the middle class, but had given no details on his claims that he would stand up for the middle class.
“What is it in your resume that qualifies you to be the future prime minister of Canada?"
Justin Trudeau, apparently prepared for the question replied quickly, pointing to his policy on trade and post-secondary education. In a policy statement,
"Investing in Canadians," posted on his website on February 16, highlighted his approach on these issues.
Well, that world is gone. Competition is fierce for post-secondary education. That education is much more expensive, but also more essential. The cost of post-secondary education has grown significantly at a time when middle-class incomes have stalled.
Today, Canadians can expect to change careers about 6 times over the course of our working lives. Sometimes these changes are forced upon us by economic dislocation; other times, people choose to seek more meaningful, fulfilling work.
Trudeau's reply took aim at Garneau
accusing him of being too focused of making detailed policy announcements instead of connecting with Canadians.
"Leadership is about drawing people in, and about involving Canadians in the kinds of conversations we have, and you can't lead from a podium in a press conference, you can't win over Canadians with a five-point plan, you have to connect with them. And we have to make room for Canadians in the debate that we have coming forward."
Garneau not satisfied with the response
continued to press Trudeau stating that he hadn't been specific on his policy to the middle class, emphasizing that they were both competing for a job.
Trudeau deflected Garneau's criticism, stating he had worked hard to win his riding in Papineau, Quebec, defeating a strong liberal candidate, by bringing people together.
The sharpest criticism came from Martha Hall Findlay, who questioned Trudeau's defense of the middle class since he came from a family of privilege.
"You keep referring to the middle class but you yourself have admitted you don't belong to the middle class. I find it a little challenging to understand how you would understand the challenges facing real Canadians.
When did Canada become a society of class?"
"Your campaign has brought a concept into this conversation that I think we need to get beyond … it is equality of opportunity that we should be looking for,"
Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau
, acknowledged that he had been lucky in life and that he wanted to do something with it.
"I've been lucky in my life to have been given an opportunity to go to great schools, to travel around the world, and what is important for me is to put everything that I have received in service of my community. And that is what my identity is all about."
Based on audience reaction, which may have been Trudeau followers, This answer resonated. Trudeau was well prepared for the attacks and his age seem to give him a definite advantage in the liberal leadership race.
There have been questions on Trudeau's parliamentary attendance record
and the acceptance of speaker fees for speeches given during his absence. It is important to point out though that Trudeau did nothing wrong and did report the income to the parliamentary ethics officer. Marc Garneau has received similar fees at least once.
Taking a look back at last year's American election campaign and President Obama's continued emphasis on post secondary education, the middle class and the environment, it becomes abundantly clear that this resonates with voters, while Mitt Romney's elaborate plans on the economy did not. Whether or not Canadians respond to it similarly remains to be seen. Justin Trudeau clearly has the momentum and whether or not he can maintain it until the selection of the new liberal leader on April 14 will depend on his avoiding gaffes during the two remaining debates.