The handsome and charismatic son of Canada’s most famous prime minister, Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000), Justin was long considered destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Now prime minister himself, his supporters hope he will lead a government as consequential as his father’s.
The younger Trudeau came to politics relatively late in life, and has often been criticized for spending much of his his early adulthood as something of a dilettante, working as a high school teacher and philanthropist but showing little interest in national affairs. He was elected as a Liberal member of parliament in 2008 at age 36, the same year the Conservative government of Stephen Harper (b. 1959) was re-elected. In 2011 Harper won a third term and the Liberals were nearly wiped out, causing insiders to believe the party needed a dramatic new leader to revive its flagging fortunes. In 2013 Trudeau was overwhelmingly voted in as party boss, and in the 2015 general election he lead the party to the most dramatic comeback in Canadian political history, crushing Harper and boosting the Liberals’ seat count from 34 to 184.
Like his father, the younger Trudeau is a strong progressive, and is particularly passionate about issues relating to social justice and equality, including feminism, racial equality, reconciliation with Canada’s native peoples, the fight against climate change, and LGBT rights. Since his inauguration, he has become a major global celebrity and progressive hero, often described as a rare champion of liberal values at a time when many countries are embracing the politics of the populist right. His first term was defined by a number of center-left initiatives including hiking taxes on the wealthy, legalizing marijuana and doctor-assisted suicide, and implementing a nation-wide carbon tax. In the realm of foreign policy, his administration has been mostly consumed with managing Canada’s relationship with US President Donald Trump (b. 1946). In 2018 the two leaders concluded years of acrimonious negotiations with a new trade pact, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The final year of Trudeau’s first term was largely dominated by scandal, including allegations he had improperly tried to prevent the powerful Quebec construction company SNC-Lavalin from facing prosecution for corruption charges, and a bizarre revelation he had repeatedly worn “blackface” at costume parties as a young man. He was re-elected in October of 2019, but much of his earlier popularity had clearly faded — he was reduced to a minority government and won the smallest share of the popular vote of any prime minister in Canadian history. In 2021 he called an early election hoping to improve his standing in parliament, but the results were almost identical. His second and third terms have thus far been largely dominated by efforts to contain COVID-19 pandemic.