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article imageJustin Trudeau: Digital Journal's Person of the Year

By Michael Thomas     Dec 29, 2015 in Politics
In a banner year for changing political power in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is Digital Journal's Person of the Year.
On October 19, 2015, Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party ousted Stephen Harper's Conservatives, who held onto power for almost 10 years. For many, it represented a new era in Canadian politics and a re-emergence of the country on the world stage.
Shortly after being elected, Trudeau wasted no time in making big moves. He announced a gender-balanced cabinet (when asked why he was doing this, he memorably quipped "Because it's 2015"); he unmuzzled Canadian scientists; he announced an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women; he announced Canada will soon legalize marijuana.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  pictured in a speech in the House of Commons on Decembe...
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured in a speech in the House of Commons on December 3, 2015, announced in a policy address December 4 that his government would pursue the legalization of recreational marijuana use
Sean Kilpatrick, POOL/AFP/File
But before he reached Canada's highest office and drew international attention (for his looks and otherwise), he endured a lengthy election season and managed to beat out political leaders with many more years of experience.
"There's an awful lot of people who sort of shrugged and said he has nothing but a name to go on and found themselves slightly bewildered as I left them in the dust," Trudeau told the BBC in an interview.
Stephen Harper officially began the election season on August 4, and a mere two days later, Trudeau began to show the country he was more than just a pretty face with a thin resume, as Conservative attack ads alleged ad nauseum. Trudeau managed to not only put Harper on the hot seat, but he also challenged New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulcair, who at the time was second place in the polls.
In late August, Trudeau announced a Liberal government, if elected, would run a deficit until 2019-2020 to allow more spending on infrastructure. Trudeau also appeared much more personable than his counterparts on the campaign trail, from balancing babies with one hand to doing the "hip flip" with Canadian interviewing icon Nardwuar.
Later analysis also showed Trudeau made a huge impact on younger voters. A four-day pilot project by Elections Canada saw more than 70,000 young people register and vote at community centres and post-secondary campuses across the country. Part of that may have been thanks to Trudeau's social media reach; as Digital Journal's David Silverberg pointed out prior to the election, Trudeau tweeted a lot more than his counterparts. He was also much more active and engaging on Facebook; he not only announced his entire platform there, but he also launched a "50-second" video challenge where he answered rapid-fire questions that made him appear a lot more personable.
On Oct. 14 — a mere five days before the election — Trudeau's campaign suffered a blow when his campaign co-chair resigned over complicity in lobbying for an Energy East oil pipeline. However, the damage seemed to be minimal once the election results came in: the Liberals completely swept Atlantic Canada, won majorities in Ontario and Quebec, edged out the Conservatives and NDP in British Columbia and took the one seat in each of Canada's three territories.
Chart showing the seats won in the 2015 Canadian federal election
Chart showing the seats won in the 2015 Canadian federal election
In his victory speech on Oct. 19, Trudeau stressed that it was positive politics that won him the title of prime minister.
"I didn't make history tonight; you did," he said. "You want a Prime Minister who knows Canada is a country strong, not in spite of our differences, but because of them, a PM who never seeks to divide Canadians, but takes every single opportunity to bring us together."
The rest of the world immediately took notice; in November when he appeared at the annual APEC summit, he received rock-star treatment — there was even a hash tag on Twitter all about him, #APEChottie.
Aside from his aforementioned first moves, Trudeau also showed real leadership when he confirmed that Canada would take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016, though acknowledging that he will miss the Liberal's proposed deadline of the end of 2016. When the first refugees arrived arrived in Canada, Trudeau was there to personally greet the first 160 of them.
Recent opinion polls show Canadians seem to approve of Trudeau's performance so far. Two weeks ago, two polls showed Trudeau has an approval rating of 57 and 64 percent. Among Liberal voters, 90 percent approve of his performance. Even among NDP voters, his approval rating (between 67 and 72 percent) is not much lower than the NDP's own leader, Mulcair (71-77 percent).
Trudeau will also seek to deepen ties with the U.S.; he will be meeting U.S. President Barack Obama in March with relations likely to be a lot friendlier thanks to the death of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
When the holidays end and the Canadian government gets back to work, Trudeau's strengths and weaknesses as a leader will become a lot clearer. But in just two months, Trudeau has already succeeded in rapidly changing Canada's image in the rest of the world.
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