Writing Justin Trudeau's Biography

Writing Justin Trudeau's Biography

Posted on July 21 by Huguette Young
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When I set out to write Justin Trudeau’s biography, I knew it would be challenging. It would mean countless interviews, in-depth pre-Internet research and analysis. As a contemporary politician who was freshly elected as the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in April 2013 and wanted to become prime minister, there was little to go on. Unlike his father who had written at an early age, Justin Trudeau had not left a trail of articles about his perspective on politics, on governing, or on the issues of the day. He had star quality but he was and remains a politician who is difficult to read.

Writing a biography meant retracing the major chapters of his life starting with life at 24 Sussex, his school years, his leadership ambitions and the period leading up to his leadership win. As a long-standing journalist, it was difficult to find the right sources, especially as I could not talk about Justin without talking about Pierre. I wanted this biography to stand the test of time, to be factual and to paint a faithful picture of the man.

My starting point was that Trudeau was not a typical Canadian politician.

He was a celebrity before he was a politician so I wanted to see what impact this had on Canadian political culture.

He was also a contemporary politician, a master of social media, a person who was not shy in front of the camera, who had name recognition and played on his image. Early on, I decided that I wanted to write this biography through the lens of celebrity politics. As one disappointed Conservative minister had told me: how do you fight against the image of a rock star? The main question was: Trudeau appeals to people but can he convince them to vote for him?

Image was a recurrent theme in this book. The boxing match as it turned out was a key factor in his leadership win. To find out what happened behind the scenes, I interviewed Trudeau’s advisors and trainer in Montreal. To my surprise, I found out that Trudeau had been training extensively for months before the fight, that he took this challenge seriously and that he was determined to win.

It was double the work to look at the perception of Trudeau in Québec where the Trudeau name has baggage, and the perception of Justin Trudeau elsewhere in Canada.

I relied on Québec sources, experts’ views, close friends and professors of Justin Trudeau, advisors, political observers, and pollsters.

In this endeavour, historian John English who wrote an extensive biography of Pierre Trudeau was a tremendous help. On celebrity politics, I relied on the valuable insights of professor Alex Marland of Memorial University.

When it was all done, two years in the making, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was released in French in September 2015. A month later, on October 19, Trudeau would make history as the first time a leader of a party on the federal scene jumped from third place in the House of Commons to first. No one had seen this coming.

Huguette Young

Posted by Dundurn Guest on November 17, 2015
Huguette Young photo

Huguette Young

A long-time journalist on Parliament Hill, Huguette Young was parliamentary correspondent for Quebecor Media and bureau chief for La Presse canadienne, and has written for Time magazine, Huffington Post, and Americas Quarterly. She has covered the 1995 referendum on Quebec secession, political scandals, the Mulroney and Chrétien years, and the rise and fall of Stephen Harper.