Papineau MP Justin Trudeau addresses a forum on youth and education last year in Kelowna. The front-runner in the race to lead the federal Liberals will be back in Kelowna on Tuesday, speaking at UBC Okanagan.
The candidate some view as the party's saviour plans to speak Tuesday for more than an hour at UBC Okanagan, his only public appearance in the Valley. The speech comes two days after he and other contenders gather in Vancouver for the first of five debates leading up to the April vote to replace interim leader Bob Rae.
"They're going around from riding to riding, getting in touch with members and supporters, putting down their platform and where Canada should go," said Lance Greenberg, president of the Liberals' Kelowna-Lake Country riding association.
Trudeau isn't the only candidate to visit Kelowna. George Takach visited UBCO on Tuesday, and Martha Hall Findlay will speak there Monday.
For young Liberals, however, Trudeau is the big draw, said Greenberg. They've booked the ballroom and hope to fill it with 800 people.
"That can only benefit the Liberal party from the grassroots. The more people a candidate can get to our events, the better the party is going to be and the more informed our members and
supporters will be," he said.
Trudeau, 41, spoke in Kelowna this time last year. He encouraged British Columbians to "hit back" against the Conservatives' push to build the Enbridge pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast during a one-day tour of the Okanagan.
The Conservative government had just launched an aggressive campaign against those opposing the Northern Gateway project, with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver referring to them as "environmental and other radical groups."
Trudeau mocked the government and said the Great Bear Rainforest the proposed pipeline would transverse is a global treasure that needs protection.
"We have to hit back, not just by playing on emotions but based on fact, realistic data and people speaking out," Trudeau told the crowd at the Ramada Hotel. "Please, as British Columbians, speak out and express your concerns with it."
When asked if the Liberals and NDP should merge to defeat the Conservatives, he said there were fault lines within the NDP. In his home province of Quebec, New Democrats think the party stands for letting Quebec "do its own thing," he said.
"We need a strong, stable alternative to Stephen Harper in 2015. I don't think the NDP can be that. Too many people at the federal level are not ready for an NDP government."
Married with two kids, now ages three and five, the Montreal MP then played down the prospect of seeking the party leadership. He apparently changed his mind late last year.
Many believe the eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau would reinvigorate the once-dominant party. An Angus Reid poll two weeks ago showed that with Trudeau in charge, the third-place Liberals could become a government with the backing of 42 per cent of decided voters, pushing the Conservatives to second place (26 per cent) and reducing New Democrats to third with 19 per cent.
Still, pundits say he is relatively green and lacks clout or substantive ideas.
"Wait till the debates are over, and we'll see," said Greenberg. "No candidate will show all their cards in the lead-up to the first debate, which is Sunday."
A 25-member organizing committee of young Liberals at UBCO helped convince Trudeau to come. Kelowna has never before had a formal Young Liberals club, said Greenberg, 38.
Trudeau is scheduled to speak at UBCO from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. All are welcome.