Today, the Star has released an eread on Justin Trudeau's leadership campaign, which I spent the past couple of months researching and writing. It runs about 75 pages, 20,000+ words, complete with photos.
And speaking of pictures, here's a photo I took on a little mini-vacation last summer:
Yes, they are baby deer, walking right up to the front door of the chalet where I was staying at Mont Tremblant last July.
Apparently, this is what you needed to do that weekend to get my attention. Because what I failed to notice -- yes, that very same weekend -- was a highly interesting meeting taking place not far away.
As you'll see in the eread* released later on Friday by Star Dispatches, the seminal meeting of his organization took place on the last weekend of July at Mont Tremblant. As I was piecing together the chronology, I learned that by sheer coincidence, I happened to be staying just a few doors away from the chalet where the meeting was held. What's more, I was told that Trudeau and his team knew I was there -- the magic of Twitter -- and they even held discussions around the table about what story they would tell me if I ran across any of them.
I guess they didn't need to worry: I was on vacation and blissfully uninterested in chasing down secret Liberal leadership meetings. But the deer are cute, don't you think?
At any rate, here's an excerpt from the eread, which recounts a bit of the meeting that this crack political reporter failed to notice, even as it was taking place virtually under her nose. As you'll read, the whole thing was pulled together by Trudeau's old friends, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, and one of the main goals at this meeting was to persuade Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, that this campaign was plausible.
Over the summer of 2012, the campaign organization kept coming together, but it was still provisional. Trudeau was leaning strongly toward going for the leadership, but he still hadn’t totally made up his mind. More important, neither had Grégoire.
The final decision came for the couple on the last weekend of July, when the core team, hand-selected by Butts, Telford and Trudeau, descended on the Mont Tremblant resort north of Montreal for a weekend of strategizing in chalets near the golf course. This was no holiday; Butts and Telford had loaded up the weekend with sessions on fundraising and organization, and seminars in the modern art of campaigning in the social-media universe. About a couple of dozen people were there. Trudeau’s brother Sacha was there too. Tom Pitfield, who had grown up almost as a younger brother to Justin — his father, Michael Pitfield, was a privy council clerk to Pierre Trudeau — had found the spot for the group to meet. Pitfield was taking a leading role in the vast digital operations of the leadership campaign, and he was there with his wife, Anna Gainey, and children, their family probably the closest friends of Trudeau and Grégoire. Former Mississauga MPs Navdeep Bains and Omar Alghabra were among the group, both of them having spent a bit of time in previous months trying to persuade Trudeau to run. There were ad experts on hand and an array of Liberals who had done some work on election strategy or policy in the past.
It was the first time this eclectic group had gathered in one spot; if nothing else, it was a chance to see whether they would gel as a team. To open the meeting, Butts and Telford asked all the participants to say why they were there. Their reasons ranged from the tactical to the deeply emotional; they talked about their desire to keep the Liberal party alive and about reversing the trend of cynicism and negativity toward politics.
Over the weekend, they had a hard talk, too, about the notion of co-operation or merger with the New Democrats or other progressive parties as the best way to defeat the Conservatives. This sparked a spirited conversation around the table and a sentiment that found its way into Trudeau’s repeated public declarations on the subject later. “My goal is not to replace Mr. Harper with a different government,” Trudeau would say. “It’s to replace Mr. Harper with a better government.” This oft-repeated line came directly from the discussion at Tremblant, Telford said later.
At the end of gathering, Butts and Telford addressed the whole group again and asked them to summon up their best advice for Trudeau as he had to make a final decision on whether to run. Around the table they went, each making their own appeal. This time at Mont Tremblant, unlike a few years earlier, Trudeau wasn’t talking about “taking back” power.
Trudeau had known as he arrived at Mont Tremblant that he was leaning heavily in the direction of running for leader, but he also realized that his wife had to be convinced.
“Sophie was still at that point, not so much worried, but a little bit skeptical about how it would all unfold,” he recalled.
Grégoire, like many political spouses, represents the final word for her husband in matters of personal relations and perspective. He invokes her name often when talking about decisions he’s made, whether it’s entering the boxing ring or the Liberal leadership contest.
“I have a tendency to put things back into perspective, ask questions, juggle with the balls to make sure that the game or the decision or the moment makes sense,” Grégoire explains.
Candidly, she admits that she had worried about the relative youth of the campaign team, and whether it could do with some seasoned advisers. Over the course of the weekend at Tremblant, she was persuaded that this was the right group. It struck her, in fact, as they were all gathered around an outdoor fireplace after a long day of sorting campaign logistics.
“I think it was that moment,” Grégoire said. “When people were just simply being themselves, and we were all looking at each other and chatting about life and about politics and about everything around the fire outside. And it was just, like, ‘Yep, this is going to work.’ ”
A little nudge from Butts didn’t hurt either. He looked at her, taking it all in, and said: “Soph, so this is going to be fun too, you know that.”
She laughed. “Thanks for reminding me.”
* I know: I've called it an "ebook" in the headline, but I'm told the correct term is eread. Apologies!