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Canada's Liberals place hopes on son of former prime minister

Justin Trudeau is a political neophyte, but also a focus of hope for a party that suffered a crushing defeat in elections this week.

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Justin Trudeau is the eldest son of the late Canadian political icon and former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and Margaret Sinclair, He's been a schoolteacher, activist, public speaker, and actor in a miniseries on the country's war heroes. And now he's a member of the House of Commons, 40 years after his father became prime minister and gained rock-star status in the normally staid Canadian political firmament. 

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Justin Trudeau says he entered politics to change lives, but won't discuss if he'll vie for Canada's top job.

"That type of talk is for those in politics as a goal," he says. "I'm in it now to learn, first by being an MP, a back-bencher, then perhaps a minister."

For a much-divided Liberal Party, the Trudeau name brings back memories of Canadian Camelot. It has a cementing force, even if Justin Trudeau has far to go before he becomes party-leader material. The elder Trudeau is remembered for significant actions: He quashed a referendum promoting Quebec's independence, promoted the Constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and officially implemented bilingualism.

"[Justin Trudeau]'s a good guy, but a very average person," says an independent Quebec politician, Jean-Claude Rivest, who took a university class taught by Pierre Trudeau.

Liberals agree that Dion has the intellect but not the charisma or political instinct needed to lead the party back to power. Lack of a unifying leader has been a problem dogging the Liberals since their 2006 defeat. The last Liberal leadership race had 11 contenders. Most dropped out, leaving odds-on favorites Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff to fight it out, but Dion, the interloper, ended up clinching it.

The Liberals eventually rallied behind Dion, but the former university professor's inability to reach out to the average voter and his flawed English became liabilities. He also clung to a carbon-tax proposal despite its unpopularity. A bill making Quebec's separation difficult made him anathema to large sections of French-speaking voters. 

Even with his surname, Justin Trudeau faced a down-to-the-wire fight in Papineau, the Montreal constituency he won. He wrested back the constituency, once a Liberal stronghold, by a margin of just 1,000 votes.

Apart from the name, Justin Trudeau has also inherited his father's adversaries. Before the elections, he faced opposition from a small group of young Quebec nationalists called "Les Jeunes Patriotes."

Justin Trudeau says he's been working hard to emphasize the "Justin" whenever he's weighed against his father. "I think he'd be pleased that I did it my way and not anyone else's," he says of his victory.