Credits: DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI AGENCY
ALFRED, Ont - After following Justin Trudeau's Liberal leadership campaign tour around eastern Ontario Friday, two things stood out.
First, Trudeau's supporters really like to touch him. Their relationship with their candidate is a tactile one. They grab his arm. They hug him. He is the Liberal plush toy.
Second, Trudeau considers the long gun registry to be a dead issue. Should he win the Liberal leadership and should he lead a government he will not be reviving the long gun registry.
That first observation may not come as much of a surprise. His popularity has been taken as a given in this race but the depth or intensity of the enthusiasm Trudeau can command really has to be seen to be believed. It is an unqualified political asset.
Here in Alfred, a tiny Franco-Ontarion community that is just about halfway between Ottawa and Montreal, one woman in her 60s arrived 30 minutes early for a lunchtime chat with Trudeau and promptly announced she couldn't wait to jump up and kiss him.
But that second observation, about Trudeau's comments on the gun registry, says something about the political smarts many of his opponents refuse to acknowledge.
Trudeau was speaking about the registry because he was challenged on it by one of the blue-collar, punch-the-clock guys who works at the helicopter parts factory that Trudeau toured Friday.
Trudeau meandered a bit in his response but he did answer. Though he voted in Parliament to keep the long gun registry, he will not resurrect it. Instead, Trudeau wants to use the gun registry debate to make a point about how the Harper Conservatives used the issue to divide Canadians who, he said, are united in their concern to protect traditional ways of living and reduce gun crime.
His answer is crafted to simultaneously win over the "law-abiding duck hunters" the Conservatives all but own politically as well as the inner-city urban single moms worried about gun crime, a demographic that makes up a healthy portion of Trudeau's own working-class riding of Papineau in Montreal. It might be naïve to think you can win both but at least he's making an intelligent pitch for them.
Trudeau's political opponents dismiss him as all fluff and no substance. After the factory tour in Hawkesbury, a 15-minute drive east of here, Trudeau went to a senior citizens home where a supporter asked what he and his team were going to do to counter attacks that he's a political airhead.
The short answer from Trudeau: Not a thing.
"It's a question I haven't spent a lot of time worrying about," Trudeau replied.
And why should he? He doesn't have to prove he can win. Consider this: In 2007, he won a hard-fought battle to win the Liberal nomination in Papineau. The Liberal establishment was cool, at best, and hostile, at worst, to the idea of Trudeau becoming an MP.
Having secured the nomination, Trudeau then proceeded to knock off a popular incumbent Bloc Quebecois in the 2008 general election. Then, in 2011, when the Orange Wave was sweeping Quebec, the blue-collar, slightly sovereignist Papineau riding should have been the first to jump on Jack Layton's bandwagon. Instead, Trudeau increased his margin of victory while many other Liberals were swamped and defeated.
Notably, Marc Garneau, seen as the best hope to prevent Trudeau from becoming leader, lost in the 2006 general election to a BQ candidate in a suburban Montreal riding that should have been much easier to win than the one Trudeau picked.
After 2006, Garneau inherited Westmount-Ville Marie, a downtown Montreal riding that has been Liberal for just about forever. And he only took that inheritance - unopposed - after threatening to walk out on the Liberals unless they gave him that safe seat.
In the next general election, the Liberals will have to scrap and fight for every seat they can get. There is nothing in the otherwise impressive resume of Garneau to show he can win a tough political fight. But look past the hairdo and the flashy smile, and you'll see a successful political street fighter in Justin Trudeau.