Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, answered McGill students’ questions about Canadian politics, his leadership style, and issues facing the next generation of voters on Feb. 6.
Hosted by Liberal McGill, the event was part of Trudeau’s 2014 Campus Tour, which has brought Trudeau to universities across the country to speak with students. He spoke at Concordia University and Université de Montréal on the same day. Approximately 250 people at McGill turned out to hear Trudeau speak.
“Getting young people […] interested and involved in the political process isn’t just about getting a few more people to come out and vote against the current prime minister,” he said. “We need to start thinking about getting young people to speak up, to be involved, to make your voices heard, [and] to become powerful agents of change.”
Trudeau criticized the nature of present-day Canadian politics, arguing that parties have been less open to compromise and more interested in playing off of differences in opinion. He stressed the importance of finding answers that work for everyone and listening to all points of view.
“Politics has become about division; it’s become about obtaining power, about finding the right wedge issues, about contrasting yourself with your opponents,” he said. “It’s supposed to be about a group of us […] coming together in Ottawa to try and figure out the best way forward.”
One attendee, who could not be identified, inquired about the state of Indigenous affairs in Canada.
“If I’m looking at the Canadian system, one of the groups that is throughout the system not represented fairly is Aboriginal Canadians, and I know a lot of this is because of systemic oppression,” the student said. “When you are prime minister, how will you address this issue?”
Trudeau stressed the importance of education in improving conditions for the country’s Indigenous peoples, citing the sharp decline in suicide rates in communities where education systems have been improved.
“The fact that the dollar spent per student in First Nations communities is far below the dollar spent per student in all other areas of education in other provinces and places across the country just makes no sense when you look at the challenges these communities are going through,” he said.
Trudeau also expressed opposition to tax increases.
“I am certainly in agreement with simplifying the tax code significantly,” Trudeau said. “The tax code [is] much more complex and inefficient than it needs to be [….] But I do not believe that we need to increase taxes anyway, anywhere. The government takes in plenty of money from Canadians; we just need to be a lot smarter about how we spend it.”
According to Nadia Kadri, president of Liberal McGill, Trudeau’s prior experience in connecting with students has been beneficial for this event.
“We know that from his tours across Canada, he has collected a lot of information from students,” Kadri said. “He’s really been able to tailor a message that captures and engages the student body.”
Iain Childerhose, U2 Arts, praised Trudeau’s sincerity in responding to questions.
“Obviously his strength is his charismatic speaking ability, and that showed today; I really enjoyed what he said,” Childerhouse said. “He definitely tried to come from a non-partisan standpoint and encourage political engagement in youth, which is something I think is extremely important.”