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Trudeau seeks to rebuild Liberal party — starting in Alberta

Justin Trudeau will confront two ghosts in his first 24 hours as a candidate for the Liberal leadership: his reputation as an intellectual lightweight, and his party's toxic brand in Alberta.

Mr. Trudeau is launching his campaign to become Liberal leader in his Montreal riding of Papineau Tuesday night, where the main event will be a speech in which the Liberal MP will lay out why he is seeking the position, and why now.

The goal, for Mr. Trudeau, is to start shedding his image as a candidate who is all about looks, charisma and a famous last name, and to start making a long-term case for rebuilding the Liberal Party and eventually replacing the Harper government.

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There is much political sizzle surrounding Mr. Trudeau's bid, but his team is insisting that there will be lots of content, including a heavy emphasis on reclaiming middle-class support, in his initial campaign speech.

The following day, Mr. Trudeau will head directly to Calgary, in a barren part of the country for the Liberal Party.

The meeting with Alberta supporters will be a direct acknowledgment of the lasting damage to his party's brand that was caused by the National Energy Policy, launched in 1980 by his late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

It's important for the campaign to show that Mr. Trudeau is willing to go to places where the Liberals haven't had much success in recent years, said a member of Mr. Trudeau's team who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Trudeau will then attend rallies in Richmond, B.C., on Wednesday evening and in Mississauga on Thursday. The events are located in parts of the country that were long seen as Liberal-friendly, but are now solidly Conservative.

At the Montreal campaign launch on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau is expected to be accompanied by his brother, Sacha, his wife, Sophie Grégoire, and their two young children. In his speech, Mr. Trudeau will address the impact of his leadership bid on his family life, having stated earlier this year that he would not run because of the toll on his wife and children.

Organizers are counting on Papineau constituents to fill the hall on Tuesday instead of Liberal MPs or party luminaries, in a bid to highlight Mr. Trudeau's focus on building the party well beyond its current base and its traditional supporters.

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The Liberal Party is in third place in the House of Commons, with only 35 MPs after a disastrous election last year.

Mr. Trudeau's campaign team cautioned that the launch "will not be a policy speech," meaning that Mr. Trudeau's exact prescriptions for the Liberal Party and for Canada will be laid out in more details throughout the six-month race.

It remains unclear who else will enter the race to replace interim Liberal leader Bob Rae and lead the Liberal Party into the next election, after failed efforts by Paul Martin in 2006, Stéphane Dion in 2008 and Michael Ignatieff in 2011.

Liberal insiders still expect that former astronaut and Westmount MP Marc Garneau will jump into the ring, but potential contenders such as Dominic LeBlanc and Denis Coderre are not actively putting together leadership teams.

Many Liberals, including senior members of Mr. Trudeau's camp, are hoping for a hard-fought race that will offer a serious challenge to the 40-year-old MP. The winner of the race will be announced in Ottawa on April 14.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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