MONTREAL — Justin Trudeau used his maiden speech as prime minister-elect to start the healing process for wounds torn open during a divisive election campaign.
The Liberal leader spoke of a young mother he met on the campaign trail last week, as he addressed hundreds of exuberant supporters in Montreal after Monday’s victory.
The woman, a practising Muslim who wears a hijab headscarf, made her way through a crowd in St. Catharines, Ont., and handed him her baby daughter.
Trudeau said she told him something he would never forget.
“She said she’s voting for us because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life and that her government will protect those rights,” he told supporters.
“To her I say this: You and your fellow citizens have chosen a new government — a government that believes deeply in the diversity of this country.”
The exchange refers to vocal attempts by the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois to drive a wedge in the electorate during the campaign.
They emphasized their firm stances that women should be banned from wearing face coverings, such as the Islamic niqab, at citizenship ceremonies.
Trudeau, who has insisted a woman should have the freedom to choose what she wears, also appeared to take an indirect shot Monday at his main opponent, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
“We believe in our hearts that this country’s unique diversity is a blessing bestowed upon us by previous generations of Canadians,” he said.
“I’ve always known this. Canadians know it, too. If not, I might have spoken earlier this evening and have given a very different speech.”
Liberal supporters at Trudeau’s election-night headquarters erupted as they watched their prime ministerial candidate stun his rivals by capturing a majority.
“Trudeau, Trudeau, Trudeau,” echoed through the ballroom of the Montreal hotel, where partisans watched the results roll in across big-screen TVs.
Throughout the night fists were pumped, drinks were guzzled and enthusiastic partisans roared as the TVs showed Liberal candidates picking off opponents in riding after riding.
The Montreal crowd was particularly delighted by the party’s breakthrough in Quebec’s hinterlands — something it hadn’t accomplished since it was political force in the province, during the days of Trudeau’s father, Pierre.
In fact, Trudeau’s push into new territory beyond the Liberals’ historical Montreal stronghold was even more impressive because of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s tarnished legacy in Quebec.
Several in the crowd said they detested the father because of clashes with Quebec nationalists, his use of the War Measures Act and the repatriation of the Constitution.
Pierre Trudeau introduced a new Constitution approved by every premier except Quebec’s Rene Levesque.
The young Trudeau, however, earned the benefit of the doubt Monday from Quebecers like Robert Bernier.
The 62-year-old said the only other time he attended a political rally was in 1976 when the pro-independence Parti Quebecois first rose to power.
He said he had to be at Monday’s celebration to witness the “historic” moment.
And for Bernier, personally, it was a historic moment: for the first time in his life, he voted Liberal.
“It was anti-Harper,” a smiling Bernier said.
“But I like (Trudeau). … I didn’t like his father, but I like him. I hope he does a good job.”
The anti-Harper sentiment in the room was impossible to miss.
Hundreds gathered around the TVs to watch Harper give his consolation speech.
During Harper’s address, one man shouted “resign!” As the outgoing prime minister finished speaking, some Liberals sang “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
Following Trudeau’s win he received a congratulatory phone call from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, his team said.
With the victory, the Trudeau clan becomes Canada’s first multi-generational prime ministerial dynasty.
But Trudeau’s win not only drove the roots of his family name deeper into Canadian history, it also completes the resurrection of the Liberal party.
Four years ago, the once-mighty Liberals were wrecked. They won just 34 of 308 seats and 18.9 per cent of the popular vote.
They also had to endure the embarrassment of being knocked back to third-party status for the first time in its history.
Trudeau’s campaign built significant momentum in recent weeks and his celebrity appeal was front and centre during the home stretch.
The crowds at his events through the final week of the campaign seemed to grow bigger and bigger as election day approached. That surge came despite the fact the Liberal leader only held events in ridings held by rival parties at Parliament’s dissolution.
As he crossed the country, Trudeau was swarmed by enthusiastic rally-goers along the way.
Partisans packed restaurants, banquet halls and bakeries in hope of shaking his hand or capturing a selfie with the leader.
Supporters jostled with each other and journalists in an attempt to get close to Trudeau. At some events, people continuously hopped onto media risers so they could catch a glimpse of the Liberal leader.
He drew large, raucous crowds in Edmonton and Calgary, even though Alberta has long been a political wasteland for the Liberals. The last time the party won a seat in Calgary was 1968, the same year his father won a majority mandate at the height of “Trudeaumania.”
Polls suggested the Liberal surge only started a couple of weeks ago.
Until then, surveys had shown the Liberals locked in a tight race with the Conservatives and the New Democrats.
Pierrette Daigle, who cast a ballot for Pierre Trudeau in the 1968, credited the marathon, 78-day campaign for the Liberal leader’s turnaround.
Canadians, she said, got to know the 43-year-old Trudeau over that time.
“Then people realized that, yeah, he’s young but he’s got potential,” said Daigle, who also celebrated her 70th birthday Monday at Trudeau’s victory party.
It was her first-ever political gathering.
Several senior Liberals have said the party broke away with its vow to run deficits not exceeding $10 billion over each of the next three years. The plan calls for significant investment in job-creating projects like infrastructure.
Trudeau himself gave credit to his team’s decision to run a positive campaign, one that he insisted has proven that you can win in politics without negativity and personal attacks.
“I hope it is an inspiration to like-minded people to step up and pitch in,” he said in his speech.
“To get involved in the public life of this country. And to know that a positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn’t a naive dream. It can be a powerful force for change.”