- Akaash Maharaj’s voice – soft, genteel, yet paradoxically
forceful – cut through the din of a Queen Street coffee shop
one recent afternoon. He is in full mainstream preppy regalia, his
khaki shirt open at the neck, his gold specs glinting professorially,
looking as if he is about to embark on a Power Point presentation.
In sum, this Toronto-born is the very image
of the bookish son of immigrants who was absorbing Machiavelli while
all the other kids were still on Tolkien.
And, most strikingly, he is a skilled aphorist
who, during the course of a relatively brief meeting, made the following
remarks, and made them effortlessly.
• “Each of us is a living memorial
to everyone who came before us.”
• “It takes courage to be an idealist”
• “I’d rather lose on my own
merits, than win on someone else’s coattails.”
This last statement relates to the 32-year-old
Maharaj’s current preoccupation – viz., emerging as
the next president of the federal Liberal Party, a position that
comes up in February and which he is busy trying to snag with a
goodly helping of brains and earnestness (this latter trait somehow
more sweet than cloying). He wears it all very well.
Others agree. David Peterson, he former Ontario
premier, is a Maharaj cheerleader, who describes him as “a
practical idealist – a thinker, a doer and a leader.”
Allan Rock and Paul Martin might be rivals in
the rapidly evolving leadership race, but they certainly agree on
one thing: They like this guy too.
Rock has been quoted as saying that “Akaash
is the source of much of the intellectual horsepower in the Liberal
Party of Canada.” Martin, meanwhile, says he’s worked
with some of the best policy wonks in the world and “few of
them – if any of them – have the same grasp of issues
Maharaj was raised in the not-yet-trendy neighbourhood
of Parkdale (his grandparents, who brought him up, worked in a spice
factory), and managed to sew together some scholarships to get himself
to Oxford University, where he studied philosophy, politics and
economics. He was the first ever non-Brit to serve as president
of the…student union. Now he seems set to enter the smoky
backrooms of federal politics.
Compare him to the outgoing president, Stephen
LeDrew the bowtie-wearing charm machine and consummate insider,
and it’s like comparing Dr. Phil to Dr. Evil.
Or compare him to the other declared candidates
in the race, the well-connected Patrick Gagnon, a lobbyist from
eastern Quebec, or the equally credentialed Françoise Paty,
a secretary at Power Corp. and the wife of a Quebec MP.
Yes, it’s true, Maharaj concedes, “I’m
totally out of the mold.”
Is he too good to be true?