He wore bow ties in university. It was something he picked up in private school, when wearing a long tie was required during the day and dressing up meant something different. In college, as a columnist for the student newspaper, it became a trademark. For that matter, it came in handy—at six foot six he has a hard time finding ties long enough that the skinny end slips neatly through the loop underneath the wide end.
For what it’s worth, he thinks bow ties are “cool.” And “whimsical.” And Lester B. Pearson wore one too. “I also don’t think,” he says, admonishing himself, “that I should ever, ever compare myself to Pearson.”
Perhaps not. Though sitting in a coffee shop a few blocks from Parliament Hill, a place he often comes to write, speaking in a deep voice that seems incongruous with his baby face, it is difficult to say how Adam Goldenberg should limit his ambitions. He is, at present, writing speeches for the most celebrated public intellectual to ever seek leadership of this country. He is, on a daily basis, helping assemble the public words of the man who might be, if today’s polls hold true, the next prime minister of Canada. And he turned 22 last week.
“I did not see myself doing this when I was in university,” he says, less than a year removed from Harvard. “But if you’d asked me when I was in university what the coolest possible thing I could be doing a year out would be, this is the answer I’d give you.”
Ottawa is a place that subsists on the young. Great hordes of twentysomethings in dark suits and skirts—the unnaturally ambitious, irrationally eager and ever-willing. They fill offices and staff campaigns and scurry after cabinet ministers. In December 2006, the young disciples of Michael Ignatieff stood amid confetti and discarded signs in downtown Montreal, hugging and sobbing at the sudden end of their candidate’s leadership run. Two and a half years later, they are in change. Or at least in the vicinity of power.
Trevor Harrison, the legislative assistant helping plot question period strategy, is 22. Marc Gendron, the “chief technology officer,” responsible for adapting the party of the 20th century to the realities of 2009, is 24. Gosia Radaczynska, the woman charged with “online strategic communications,” the one talking about the “safe environment” they’ve found for creativity and innovation, is 26. David Ritchie, the guy plotting Ignatieff’s travels, quoting Marshall McLuhan and enthusing about the design and purpose of town hall meetings, is 24. Each speaks with a certain reverence for the work and to the man they’re working for—a man who must often seem to embody so many of the things that delight those too young to concede to cynicism.
“The seeming sense of purpose probably comes from many or all of us knowing that we are, and have to act and prepare like, a PMO-in-waiting,” explains Harrison via email. “If we want to get to the next level, if we are going to win the next election and each help in our own way to make Michael prime minister, it all depends on how we work now, day after day. The example we set for ourselves and for each other isn’t presumptuous, but it has to be expectant.”
Paul Zed, the 52-year-old former MP acting as Ignatieff’s chief of staff, volunteers to testify on his young charges’ behalf and proceeds to speak in the sorts of tones for which emoticons have not yet been invented. “I have never seen a smarter, brighter, more dynamic group of Canadians in my life,” he humbly observes. “They’re phenomenal. They really are.”
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