Justin Trudeau’s Charm Offensive Comes to Montreal

Federal Liberal Party Leader Engages Younger Voters at Concordia

Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau answered students’ questions at Concordia on Feb. 6 as part of a tour of university campuses. Photo Shaun Michaud

Justin Trudeau is already courting the youth vote ahead of the 2015 federal election, and he believes changing the nature of the conversation in Ottawa is integral to re-engaging younger Canadians in politics.

The leader of the federal Liberal Party continued his tour of Canadian campuses last Thursday with stops at three Montreal universities, starting his day at his alma matter, McGill, before going on to visit the Université de Montréal and Concordia.

“This [university tour] is […] about how important it is to view politics as a dialogue, as a conversation that we can all be part of, that we need to contribute to with our voices, with our actions, with our participation,” Trudeau told the crowded D.B. Clarke Theatre, insisting that his intention with the university tour wasn’t to attempt to persuade younger voters to join the Liberal Party or vote for its candidates, but rather to engage university students in a discussion about politics.

“Because politics is […] more focused on winning than on serving, more focused on finding the right wedge issues in order to get elected than focused on bringing people together to actually solve the challenges we’re facing,” he said.

“For me, I truly believe that politics needs to be about a respectful exchange of ideas, based on facts, seeking always for common ground, common values, common goals and shared dreams.”

Trudeau said we are in the midst of “a wave of citizen engagement” and that younger Canadians in particular are better informed and more engaged in advocacy than ever before.

Still, that engagement hasn’t translated into participation at the ballot box. Trudeau noted that only about 30 per cent of younger Canadians exercise their right to vote.

“Getting young people to choose to vote and get involved isn’t just about getting a few more people who are unlikely to vote for Mr. Harper to the ballot box. That’s just a pleasant byproduct,” he said.

“What it really is about is changing the nature of conversations that happen in Ottawa and in government.”

According to Trudeau, the low participation rate of younger voters is related to the fact that they find it hard to relate to the topics and government policies discussed in Parliament.

“Right now, much of government is consumed with focusing on healthcare, on pensions, on tough-on-crime measures,” he said. “Why? Because those [topics] play well to the people who vote—seniors, who [have] close to 80 per cent turnout.”

Trudeau said the government doesn’t spend much time, if any, talking about education, youth employment and other long-term issues that are of concern to younger generations.

He mentioned how profoundly different the House of Commons would look if only young electors aged 18 to 25 had been counted in the last federal election.

“Parliament today would have 43 Green Party MPs and the Conservatives wouldn’t be in government, they’d be the third party,” he said.

Question Period

Following his speech, Trudeau took several audience members’ questions. Asked what his stance is on the controversial Bill 60, also known as the Quebec Charter of Values, Trudeau said he met with Premier Pauline Marois and expressed his concerns about it.

“It is an unhelpful direction to be taking, to try and make people choose between their religious beliefs and their jobs,” he said.

“Has this leadership by our premier led to solving a problem, led to bringing people together to try and figure out an issue that is top-of-mind for people? No,” he continued. “It’s led to divisiveness and polarization around a problem that, quite frankly, they couldn’t even demonstrate was a problem.

“This bill is about one thing and one thing only, about identity politics.”

Trudeau was also asked about Internet privacy and recent revelations of multiple governments collecting large amounts of data on their citizens. He said governments have gotten carried away with intelligence gathering.

“One of the things that I’ve been calling for, and the Liberal Party has been calling for, is a much more robust system of oversight over our security and intelligence agencies,” Trudeau said.

He added that there needs to be a conversation on why citizens feel comfortable sharing vast amounts of information about themselves with corporations like Facebook but not with their government.

Asked about the development of the tar sands, Trudeau said he wants to develop them while also protecting the environment.

“Canada absolutely needs to do a lot more in terms of living up to its responsibilities as a modern country, as a good global citizen, to reduce the impact that we have on climate change,” he said. “We have to figure out how to make what’s good for the economy and what’s good for the environment go together.”

In answering a question about federal funding cuts to arts and culture, Trudeau made a reference to Winston Churchill during the Second World War, when he was the prime minister of the United Kingdom and needed money to help finance the war.

“Churchill was sitting around in his war cabinet, and they were talking about cuts to various departments and ministries,” said Trudeau. “And they were going down the line: ‘health we’ll have to cut 10 per cent, roads we’ll have to cut 20 per cent.’ And then they got down to the ministry of culture.

“And the prime minister said, ‘We cut zero from the ministry of culture. […] If not, what are we fighting for, if not our culture?’”

Trudeau said he plans to reverse the cuts to arts and culture funding if his party comes to power.

Finally, on reforms to Canada’s electoral system, Trudeau said he would like to put in place a preferential voting system.

Under such a system, Canadians would rank the candidates on the ballot in order of preference. If no candidate is chosen by over 50 per cent of voters as their first choice, then voters’ second-choice and third-choice votes will be tabulated.

“Political parties would then work to be the second or third choices of more voters,” Trudeau said. “Common values will be more important than differences.”