SYDNEY — Justin Trudeau will call on a Cape Bretoner as the Liberals get ready for the next election, hoping to restore a once dominant party that has been reduced to third-place status in the House of Commons.
Glace Bay native Gerald Butts, a friend from their days at McGill University, was a key strategist and senior adviser as Trudeau coasted to victory in the Liberal leadership race.
Butts and Katie Telford, who together led the leadership campaign, will focus on preparing for the next election in 2015.
They won't be joining his office staff, although both will continue to be influential advisers, according to a Canadian Press news report following Trudeau’s first meeting with the Liberal caucus.
Liberals with Trudeau in the lead have to reach out to Canadians and rebuild the party in communities across the country, said Butts.
“That is the biggest responsibility he has.
“Justin is a firm believer in the fact that one of the reasons the Liberal party finds itself where it is, is because it got disconnected from the people who voted for us for a very long time.
“Like my mother in Bridgeport, my parents voted Liberal most of their lives because they thought the Liberal party was their party and we have a lot of work to do to get the party back to that stage in Canada.”
The federal party has been reduced to just 35 seats.
Butts’ father Charlie, a former coal miner, has passed away while his mother, Rita, still lives in the family home in the Bridgeport neighbourhood of Glace Bay.
He is also the nephew of the late senator Sister Peggy Butts.
Trudeau and Butts developed a friendship at McGill University where Butts was president of the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate and the McGill University Debating Union, and was a two-time Canadian national debating champion.
“We have been very close friends every since,” he said. “We were in each other’s wedding party, we stood for each other, as we’d say back home.”
A biography on the website of the World Wildlife Fund, where Butts was the president and CEO before joining the Trudeau leadership campaign, noted that he holds an honours bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from McGill, where he studied English literature and theology. He also taught literature, communications and political science at McGill and York universities.
Before joining the World Wildlife Fund, Butts was the principal secretary to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, where in addition to his other duties, he was “intimately” involved with the government’s environmental initiatives, the website says.