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Liberal leader makes appearance at Folklorama pavilions

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It's early evening and Justin Trudeau has just left Israel and headed for Ukraine. Then it was off to the Philippines.

Along the way, though, through a whirlwind tour of Folklorama pavilions Friday night, the federal Liberal leader may have set an indoor record for selfies. And compliments.

"Please, wipe the drool off my face," said Cheryl Saper, a grandmother, shortly after pledging her vote to Trudeau in the Israel Pavilion at the Rady Jewish Community Centre. "He's very cute."

Then Saper quickly turned serious and added, "It's early. I'd like to hear more of his platform. I want to see his vision for the country. I don't think he's fleshed out who he is."

Trudeau nonetheless was pressing the flesh on Friday. And while it wasn't quite the Trudeaumania depicted during his visits to other regions of the country, there was no shortage of fellow posers.

At the Israel Pavilion, where visitors sat down for a menu of gefilte fish, kreplach, and latkes, Norma Padilla got her Trudeau selfie with dessert. Padillia confessed to being a lifelong Liberal, but insisted Trudeau will attract a younger demographic to the polls.

"There's so much controversy because he's young and inexperienced," she said.

"But I think he's going to do just fine. He's young, he's energetic. Sure, he's going to make some mistakes but who doesn't?"

Trudeau was stumping with veteran politician and former journalist Jim Carr, the Liberal candidate for Winnipeg South Centre, which is expected to be a highly contested riding in the next federal election, tentatively scheduled for October 2015.

The riding is now held by Conservative Joyce Bateman, who edged Liberal challenger Anita Neville by fewer than than 1,000 votes in 2011.

"When you're getting within one year, the temperature goes up a little bit," Carr noted.

Asked if the Winnipeg South Centre voters might be seeing a lot more of Trudeau in the coming months, Carr replied: "I hope so. I know they'll be seeing a lot of me."

Meanwhile, Trudeau downplayed his appearance in a riding that, prior to the last federal election, had been held by the Liberals (Neville and Lloyd Axworthy) since the reformation of the district in 1988.

"Listen, we have 37 seats in the House of Commons," Trudeau said. "We have to stop everywhere across the country. I'm criss-crossing (Canada), meeting as many people as I can."

At the Ukraine Pavilion at the West Kildonan Memorial Arena, Trudeau was introduced to Winnipeg mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette to exchange some words (and, potentially, a photo op). Another mayoral candidate, Brian Bowman, did a similar meet-and-greet with Trudeau outside the Israel Pavilion.

In fact, Trudeau's ability to draw crowds was the main reason Liberal organizers were handing out "Let's stay in touch" cards at the Ukraine Pavilion, asking for contact information and support.

"With all the enthusiasm, we're trying to identify supporters and get them involved," said MaryAnn Mihychuk, the former NDP MLA and now Liberal candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul. "But we're doing it subtly. We're not pressing."

Inside the West Kildonan arena, Trudeau strolled around the pavilion, meeting the polka band and traditional dancers. A man named Myron (who did not want to give his last name) posed for a cellphone shot with the Liberal leader, too.

"I was a little skeptical at the beginning," Myron allowed, referring to concerns Trudeau might be more selfie than substance and trading off "a great last name."

"He's a phenomenon," he added. "He's almost like a rock star. At least, that's the way he's portrayed in the media. Of course, the Conservatives are criticizing him for being a circus act. But he's hanging in there."

Myron said Trudeau has earned his support. For now. "If he starts floundering, I'll just go back to the NDP," he noted.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2014 A15

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