Trudeau stops by

Justin Trudeau speaks to crowd of over 150 at Wallace Hall

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Justin Trudeau concluded his Ontario university tour with a visit to Kingston on Friday.

Trudeau visited St. Lawrence College and Queen’s during his day-long tour with Kingston and the Islands’ Liberal Member of Parliament Ted Hsu.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to get to know Canadian politics,” Hsu said at a lake-side photo shoot with Trudeau and the Kingston town crier on Friday morning.

Trudeau is the Liberal MP for Montreal’s Papineau riding as well as the Liberals’ critic for youth, post-secondary education and amateur sport. His campus tour covered seven universities this month.

During a stop at Wilfrid Laurier University on Oct. 12, Trudeau announced he wouldn’t seek the Liberal party leadership in the near future. The next Liberal Party convention is scheduled for January.

The son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau addressed a full crowd of students, alumni and community members in Wallace Hall. He then headed to Dunning auditorium to deliver the keynote address for the Queen’s Centre for Responsible Leadership’s seventh-annual summit.

His speeches at both events focused on student engagement in politics as well as advocating a shift from the Liberal Party’s ideology-based politics to a focus on issue-specific reform.

“Young people … have a reputation for being apathetic and cynical,” Trudeau told the 150-strong crowd in Wallace Hall. “If we’re cynical, it’s because of our idealism.

“If we’re apathetic, sometimes it’s not because we don’t care about the world, but because we care so much that we’re frustrated that we don’t get to have our voices heard.”

During his presentation at the Responsible Leadership Summit, Trudeau echoed the sentiments of his earlier speech with added focus on Canada’s role in a global economy and greater utilization of the nation’s natural resources.

“The economy is a wholly-owned sub-sector of the environment,” he said. “We can’t imagine something being genuinely good for the economy but bad for the environment.”

The father-of-two sat down with the Journal before his speech at Wallace Hall to talk about citizen engagement, student issues and his experience in politics so far.

You made an announcement on Wednesday at Wilfrid Laurier University that seems to have surprised a lot of people. Why have you chosen not to seek Liberal leadership in 2013?

“I told my caucus members about it as soon as we came back from the summer. It’s something that I’ve been fairly open about but just pierced into the media [on Thursday]. It was a reflection mostly that the kind of leader I want to be requires me to be a good dad first. I like the idea of focusing on being part of a team that’s rebuilding the Liberal party, but right now I’m not focusing on trying to do it myself. For people who say: ‘It’ll all fall into place when we get a Trudeau at the head of the Liberal party again;’ I’m worried about them stepping back from the responsibilities needed if I do end up running. One of the things that’s obvious is that as long as we wait to be saved from above, we’re not going to do the work that we need to do. It’s much more important to me that we be focused on rebuilding the party ... our capacity to do that doesn’t repose on picking the right leader, it has to do with doing the right work.”

Do you plan to run in the future?

“It’s obvious that a politician can make a bigger difference on the government side than on the opposition side, as a minister than as a backbencher and that you can make the biggest difference as Prime Minister ... Certainly I’m not going to turn my back on the potential roles of more importance and more impact, but I’m not focused on those as some sort of finish line.”

Can you describe the relationship between post-secondary students and politics?

“ ... Nobody’s responding to young people’s priorities. We’re stuck in a short-term electoral mode that doesn’t believe, by its own admission, in strong government to shape policy and make government stronger for communities and society. Young people voting will allow us to address longer-term issues like poverty — especially in our aboriginal communities — and climate change ... Are we going to have the same capacity to respond to these issues? I hope so. But that’ll depend a lot on people being able to tap into long-term responsibilities. For me, that requires us to get young people involved.”

What do you think are the largest issues facing Canadian universities right now?

“Universities are facing, you know, real challenges around funding. I think we as a society don’t fund our education systems nearly enough. One of the issues we have — and I joke about this — is the fact that the seniors vote with 80 per cent turnout, which means we talk an awful lot about health care and pensions. If young people, instead of turning out 35 per cent between 18 and 25 [years old], turned out at 80 per cent, we’d talk an awful lot more about tuitions and there would be no more issues around them anymore.”

What balance do you think needs to be struck between relieving students of high tuition fees and ensuring universities are well-funded? Who needs to give?

“ ... We have to realize that there’s a limited amount of money and even if we increase investment, we’ll always have to make choices in terms of how we spend the money. It’s important to fund university but also important to make sure that the barriers to access education for young people are kept as low as they need to be. I don’t necessarily believe in reducing tuition fees for everyone as much as I believe in making sure the people who need help the most get it ... If you compare us to countries around the world, our tuition fees are fairly low, and for a number of people and families, the tuition is affordable. But for many others it’s still too high. It has to do with increasing the amount of grants, increasing debt repayment options and making sure the debt load that students are graduating with isn’t as terrifying as it can be right now.”

You said in a speech at University of Western Ontario that young people need to be more critical of politics. What specific issues do you think are most deserving of their critique?

“Young people need to be aware of what’s going on in politics because the decisions we’re making right now will determine whether or not they can buy a house a few years from now, what kind of career they’re going to have and what kind of charges they get faced with if they get caught with a joint in their pocket. I mean, there are tremendous issues that young people are going to be impacted by that we’re deciding right now. Their capacity to notice, to make themselves heard and to make their actions felt will be what determines the kind of decisions we make.”

I don’t need to tell you that voter turnout was abysmal this year. Do you think these numbers are changeable?

“I absolutely do. I think we’re reaching a tipping point where young people will suddenly realize the power they have to affect change [and] to transform the political landscape of this country ... I do know that there is a moment that young people are getting closer to where we’re going to realize that we do hold all the cards and involvement in massive numbers in politics, not in a flash mob kind of way, but in a continual and engaged pressure kind of way that I think is going to be transformative.”

What is your favourite memory of politics?

“When I think of my memories of politics growing up, what I have most vivid memories of is the accumulated impact of so many people coming up to my father and telling him how much of a difference he made in their lives. I had a very different awareness of politics than most kids my age did. They watched their parents grumbling about broken campaign promises, or taxes. I got to see how very much you can impact peoples’ lives. I was raised with an idea that politics can and must be a very powerful force for good in peoples’ eyes and in the determination of a country’s path. In my most recent incarnation of politics ... the best memories all have to do with, interestingly enough, things I do in my riding [and] the connection I establish with people who feel like they’re apart of and engaged with the political process. Seeing the impact on people’s lives on an individual level is something that’s, for me, the best part of the job.”

What are your impressions of Queen’s so far?

“Obviously there’s a traditional rivalry between McGill [Trudeau’s alma mater] and Queen’s that keeps everything fun. I think I’m proud of the fact that in Montreal, we don’t need to be allowed to party without having to call in the cops and shut things down, but that’s just a little jibe at some of the challenges Queen’s has had …. ”

How do you reconcile the legacy of your father with your personal political views now?

“My values, my core ideas, are very much shaped by my father, my mother and the world I grew up in. But how I articulate those values into policy, into concrete solutions, are very much my own. One of the things that keeps me grounded and focused and reassured that I’m doing the right kind of things is the time I spend talking to young people for whom associations with my father are historical and not emotional. Therefore, I get to demonstrate my own strength, my own capacity and my own persona in a way that’s very important.”

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