The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Liberal convention to emphasize team, policy with debut of star recruits

  • Print

OTTAWA - Justin Trudeau wants to be known by the company he keeps.

And starting Thursday at a four-day national Liberal convention, he'll be keeping company with people whose intellectual heft, breadth of experience and economic credentials he hopes will help dispel qualms about his suitability to be prime minister.

The Montreal convention, Trudeau's first since being crowned leader last April, will showcase some of the stars he's recruited to run for the Liberals in next year's election.

Among them: Jim Carr, president of the Business Council of Manitoba; Bill Morneau, head of the country's largest human resources consulting company and chairman of a respected think-tank; and Jody Wilson-Raybould, British Columbia regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

All three will make their debut as prospective members of Team Trudeau at the convention, where they're scheduled to give keynote speeches and take part in panel discussions.

They'll be joined on stage by other potential stars: Chima Nkemdirim, chief of staff to popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi; retired general Andrew Leslie, who advises Trudeau on military and foreign policy; and Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist who's written extensively about the middle-class squeeze and who won a hard-fought byelection in Toronto Centre last fall.

Their high-profile roles are intended to give Canadians a glimpse of what they can expect to see in the Liberals' election platform and what a Trudeau cabinet might look like.

"What we're focused on very much is picking the team and building the plan," Trudeau said Wednesday in Quebec City, where he was holding a pre-convention caucus meeting.

The emphasis on team and policy is similar to the strategy adopted by Jean Chretien in the 1993 election campaign, when he led the Liberals out of the opposition wilderness with the repeated refrain: "We have the plan. We have the people. We can make a difference."

Trudeau's personal appeal has already vaulted the Liberals, left on their death bed after the 2011 election, back into a comfortable lead in public opinion polls. But to sustain that lead in an actual campaign, he is trying, like Chretien, to neutralize fears that he's not up to the job of running the country — misgivings stoked by his own periodic gaffes and reinforced by relentless Conservative sneers that he's nothing more than a pretty face with a famous pedigree who is "in over his head."

In effect, Trudeau's response to the doubters is this: would serious people of substance align themselves with a lightweight?

Trudeau — who variously described his recruits Wednesday as "extraordinary people of profile" and "very intelligent, interesting, thoughtful people" — said many talented people have come to him to offer their services. But, at the same time, he suggested the team he's building is a testament to his own people skills.

"I certainly will be showcasing my bridge-building and my capacity to draw the very best from people around to offer their service to the country," he said of the convention line-up.

Carr, who founded and led Manitoba's business council for the last 15 years, believes Trudeau will prove his fitness to govern "by building a strong team, by formulating policy that resonates with the country."

Carr is unique among Trudeau's star recruits in that he actually has some experience in politics, having served as a member of the legislature and deputy Liberal leader in Manitoba from 1988-92. The others represent an entirely new generation of politicians, people willing to leave successful careers and join the brutish political fray for the first time.

It's not as though they haven't been warned about the perils of political life. They've seen Freeland battered in a bitterly fought byelection campaign, ridiculed for her high-pitched voice and drowned out by Tory hecklers in the House of Commons. And they've seen Leslie, a distinguished 35-year military veteran, attacked for billing taxpayers $72,000 for moving house upon his retirement, a benefit to which all vets with more than 20 years of service are entitled.

Nevertheless, they're determined to become part of Team Trudeau.

"I don't discount the fact that it's going to be potentially challenging to be part of that world," says Morneau.

But he adds: "I've had good success in my business career and I've got an opportunity to do something where I think I might be able to have a significant impact and those are the things that you face when you try to make a difference."

Carr and Morneau, who serves as chairman of the board at the C.D. Howe Institute, are destined to become key economic advisers as Trudeau attempts to deliver on what he vows will be the cornerstone of the eventual Liberal platform and the focus of this week's convention: improving the lot of Canada's struggling middle class.

Toronto-based Morneau Shepell is the largest administrator of pension plans and biggest provider of employee assistance plans in the country. From his perch atop the company, Morneau has had "a bird's eye view" of what's been happening to middle class Canadians.

Workplace stress has doubled and financial stress tripled over the past four years, he says, noting that 80 per cent of private sector workers don't have a pension plan.

With growing volatility in the workplace forcing people to undertake multiple careers over the course of their working lives, Morneau says: "We need to enable people to be successful but I think that's possible but only if we invest in education and training and the kind of infrastructure that enables people to be successful."

While he advocates prudent fiscal management, Morneau does not agree with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "artificial deadline" to erase the deficit by next year, just in time for the election, in the face of tepid economic growth.

"You can't just slash your way to growth, you have to figure out where to invest so you can generate growth. So I'm on a completely different page."

But on the same page as Trudeau, who has released a pre-convention video arguing that "real" long-term, fiscal responsibility means investing strategically in infrastructure, education and research to spur economic growth, "not just (creating) the illusion of it at election time."

Follow @jmbryden on Twitter

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

RMTC preview of Good People

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Water lilys are reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local-(Standup photo)- A wood duck swims through the water with fall refections in Kildonan Park Thursday afternoon.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Now that the snow is mostly gone, what are your plans?

View Results

Ads by Google