Justin Trudeau: Canada's Warrior for Civic Engagement
For its fifth anniversary, the Institute of Politics (IOP) wanted to make sure to bring in the best of the best to represent five years of innovation, debate, politics, technology, and deep analysis of the world around us in the form of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Wednesday. With tickets for the event selling out within minutes, Trudeau was definitely one of the most popular high-profile speakers to be invited by the Institute of Politics in recent memory. By my luck, I work for the IOP as an Events Ambassador and got selected to staff the event–an opportunity of a lifetime.
Hours before Trudeau was meant to speak, the line for the event was already flowing from Mandel Hall and extending into Hutchinson Commons. The anticipation was heightened to see one of the world's most beloved leaders speak and give insight on Canadian-U.S. relations. President Zimmer opened the event, celebrating IOP's fifth birthday with Trudeau as the guest of honor as a huge accomplishment and discussing the importance of public service. He also gave a shout-out to IOP Director David Axelrod for all his hard work and dedication to making the non-partisan organization a hub of intellectual discourse and public service for all students on campus.
After Zimmer, fourth-year Public Policy major in the College Caroline Hutton gave the official introduction to Trudeau. As the President of the IOP's Women in Public Service, Hutton describes how the IOP has curated her love for public service and given her the opportunity to open for such a prestigious leader. She describes Canada as both an ally and friend whose shares an unwavering commitment to democracy and human rights, with Trudeau holding the torch for these values and civic engagement. Through his commitments to help indigenous populations, combat climate change, and appointing the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canada, Hutton remarks that she "cannot think of a better person to embody that [progressivism]."
Emerging in a casual white button down with his sleeves rolled up, Trudeau embarks on how his childhood, with a father as the Prime Minister of Canada and a family history of politics, has given him privileges and "ridiculous good luck" many can only dream of. Raised with a deep sense of responsibility to use these opportunities to his benefit, Trudeau was initially interested in pursuing a career in teaching. As a French and mathematics teacher in his 20s, he taught students from all ages and credits their agency and drive as a key part of his development. “A good teacher," Trudeau says, "is someone who actually helps students figure out the answers for themselves.” This approach empowers students to push their limits with the information provided to them from teachers, and ultimately mirrors his views on politics and how citizens should value agency and actively shape the course of their lives and communities.
As an engineering student at Montreal's École Polytechnique, Trudeau got involved in activism and youth issues and found his place in the Liberal Party, which helped him enjoy politics more than he did growing up. For Trudeau, a child's struggle to find their career path independent from their parents and their own personal expectations is difficult and something he struggled with. His engagement with the youth and their fears, opportunities, and future helped him decide that going into politics for his personal enjoyment at the young age of thirty-five was the right move.
In his remarks, Trudeau discusses the political hurdles both Canada and the United States faces, specifically in reforming NAFTA and immigration policy. He discusses the benefits the trade deals will have for both countries, but it still needs to be modernized to the needs of today's ever-changing technological-based society to strengthen it to its fullest potential, specifically in improving labor conditions and increasing opportunities for all people.
He also focused on the power that young people have to make a lasting impact. Trudeau sees speaking to young people directly as an opportunity to draw out agents of change who think change isn’t as scary or risky as older generations. Getting young people's voices heard as challengers and those interested in having a direct impact was exciting to Trudeau and key to changing the political sphere in Canada to focus on the diversity of people and ideas as a strength.
Trudeau's speech was followed by a Q&A panel discussion from the IOP’s director and former chief strategist to President Obama David Axelrod, who took questions from students as well. Axelrod honed in on Trudeau's perspective on the 2016 elections and how it has affected the U.S.-Canadian relationship. Trudeau responded with a focus on interpersonal relations with different world leaders as the key to navigating the sphere of international politics and relations. Canadians expect him to have an active role in maintaining the country's relationship with the United States while standing up for Canadian values of democracy, acceptance, and equality, which doesn’t have to be a direct contradiction.
Trudeau also touched on the difficulty in balancing policy decisions when there is no panacea-solution that satisfies all opinions. The solution, he argued, can be found by focusing on the underlying thinking of his constituents and looking at the bigger pictures helps guide him to make decisions. His pro-stance on immigration also came up in the conversation, with Canada's immigration policy revolving around a broader consensus that immigration has been good for the country. People who come to Canada with nothing are most passionate about working hard for communities that gives their kids a new future. Protecting these policies and demonstrating how we can make immigration work for immigrants and existing residents remains an important element of what Canada stands for, according to Trudeau.
He concluded his talk by discussing how important his three children are to him, claiming he would end his political career for them. In his career, he ends up sharing his time and efforts with the rest of the country, and although he is fighting for other families to have a better life, if there was ever a time when it wasn’t worth it for his own family and children, he would question his role as Prime Minister.
The Institute of Politics has brought in more than 1,000 guests as part of their speaker series, such as Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. Click here to follow more events and opportunities the IOP will be hosting for its fifth anniversary.
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