Canada's Feminist Leader Is Coming To The White House — Here's What You Need To Know

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/AP Photo.
Liberal Justin Trudeau led his party to victory in Canada's federal elections on Monday.
Update: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife are set to make their inaugural visit to the White House on Thursday. Here's what you need to know about the first Canadian leader to attend a state dinner in 19 years:

This story was originally published on October 21, 2015.

There’s a new Justin from Canada on the scene. Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister of Canada after a dramatic victory in the country's federal election.

The tattooed, boxing, strip-teasing young head of the Liberal Party of Canada exceeded all expectations on Monday night, winning a solid majority (184 of the 338 seats in Parliament) after starting his campaign in third place. It was a resounding defeat for the Conservative incumbent Stephen Harper, who was the prime minister of Canada for nearly a decade.

So who is Justin Trudeau? He may have the family name, a “decent jab” in the boxing ring, and great hair, but is he ready to lead? Here are some key things to know about Canada's new prime minister.

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Photo: Paul Chiasson/AP Photo.
Canada's Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau with his three children and wife, Sophie Grégoire.
The Trudeaus Could Be Canada’s Kennedys
Trudeau comes from a powerful and popular political family. His late father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was one of Canada’s most famous prime ministers. A shrewd and charismatic statesman, the elder Trudeau also cut a dashing figure; he was known for dating actresses, including Barbra Streisand; for always having a rose in his lapel; and for his playful pirouettes (one of them behind Queen Elizabeth’s back).

During his 16 years as prime minister, from 1968 to 1984, Trudeau fought for universal health care and won greater political autonomy for Canada from Great Britain.

Born while Pierre Trudeau was in office, Justin and his brothers, Michel and Alexandre, had a glamorous upbringing — the Queen would stop by for lunch — but also rode to their local public school on a bus. Trudeau told The New York Times that “it was instilled upon us that this was a privilege and a responsibility, and nothing made us better than anyone else." Throughout his political career, he has emphasized that his name is something he has to “work very hard to live up to.”

His life as an adult has a touch of glamor and celebrity as well — he is married to television host Sophie Grégoire. The couple has three children: Xavier James, Ella-Grace, and Hadrien.

He Didn’t Always Know What He Wanted To Be When He Grew Up
Justin Trudeau tried his hand a number of random jobs before finding his career groove. On his résumé: snowboarding and bungee-jumping instructor, nightclub bouncer, c-list actor, and high school drama teacher.

"All the women thought he was Mr. McDreamy," reminisced his school’s former vice principal, according to the e-book Contender: The Justin Trudeau Story. His students praised him as a trustworthy and inspiring teacher.

His résumé includes snowboarding and bungee-jumping instructor, nightclub bouncer, c-list actor, and high school drama teacher.

In 1998, his brother Michel died in a skiing accident in British Columbia. Justin and his family were touched by the outpouring of support from the Canadian public, but Pierre Trudeau, then 78, never recovered from the loss. He died two years later.

After his father’s death, the prodigal son found his way back to the world of politics. In 2008, as a member of the Liberal Party, Justin kicked off his political career, running for office and winning in a tight race in Papineau, Québec. From then on, the stars were aligned.

Young, Fresh-Faced, Full Of Hope: The Obama Comparison

The 2015 election was one of the longest campaign cycles in Canadian history. It lasted 78 days — a figure that makes Americans everywhere blink incredulously — starting in early August, just before the GOP presidential candidates in the U.S. faced off for the first debate of the 2016 election in the States.

Throughout those 11 weeks, Conservatives hammered away at Justin Trudeau, saying “he’s just not ready.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same charge of inexperience was levied against Barack Obama in 2008. Watching Trudeau’s victory speech, you might have heard echoes of Obama’s rhetoric of hope and change.

“Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?” Obama once asked Americans.

“My friends, we beat fear with hope, we beat cynicism with hard work,” said Trudeau on Monday night.

Both men also emphasized their intentions to reach across the aisle: "Conservatives are not our enemies,” said Trudeau, “they're our neighbors.”

Of course, it takes one to pirouette, two to tango. For years, Obama has contended with a Republican-controlled Congress in his attempts to pass his political agenda. Both leaders were comparatively young when they were elected. At 48, Obama was the fifth-youngest U.S. president in history, while 43-year-old Trudeau is Canada’s second-youngest prime minister.

Youth and inexperience can create unrealistic expectations for the daily slog of governing, but they can also energize the electorate, and remind people that politics can be inclusive and optimistic.

“I hope it is an inspiration to like-minded people to step up and pitch in,” Trudeau said in his speech.
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What Does “Real Change” Mean To Justin Trudeau?
“Real Change” was the Liberal campaign slogan, and it was something that Canada seemed to thirst for, after 10 years under a guarded, scandal-plagued government. Compared to the previous two elections, in which voter turnout sank to an all-time low, Monday’s election drew the highest number of voters in decades.

Although some observers, such as author and activist Naomi Klein, believe that the Liberal victory had more to do with “sober Harperphobia than giddy Trudeaumania,” the internet has quickly swiped right on Canada’s handsome new leader.

So Where Does Justin Trudeau Stand On The Issues That Matter To Canadians?
On women’s rights: Trudeau has stated proudly that he is a feminist and has pledged that 50% of his cabinet will be made up of women.
On abortion: “It is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body. And that is the bottom line,” Trudeau said.

On Indigenous peoples:
Trudeau has promised an immediate, national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and will set aside $2.6 billion over four years for First Nations education.

On marijuana: Stephen Harper famously claimed that marijuana was “infinitely worse” than cigarettes, but Trudeau has said that he plans to seek to legalize it immediately, following the example of Colorado and other states in the U.S.

On the environment: Trudeau has promised to come up with a national plan to combat climate change within 90 days of the Paris climate conference in November. At the same time, however, he has stated his support for Keystone XL.

On the economy: Trudeau plans to raise taxes on the richest 1% and run a deficit for two to three years to fund big-ticket items such as infrastructure. He has criticized the Conservatives for balancing the budget at the expense of essential services.

Voters across Canada will be watching to make sure he keeps his promises when the public euphoria wears off. But for now, his approval ratings on the internet appear to be skyrocketing, within Canada and beyond.
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Editor's note:
Jess Kwong volunteered as a graphic designer with the campaign of Liberal candidate Liz Riley. You can read her interview with Riley here.
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