McMUN keynote speaker Justin Trudeau talks politics and more

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Justin Trudeau, the Liberal MP for the northern Montreal riding of Papineau, served as the keynote speaker at the McGill Model United Nations conference on Thursday. Trudeau, the son of the late prime minister, sat down with the Tribune to discuss his undergraduate days at McGill, prorogation, and his life outside of politics.

Tell me a bit about your time at McGill. Why did you choose to study in English rather than in French?

Because I’d done my high school and CEGEP at [Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Outremont], so it was all French up until then. I decided that switching it up would be appropriate. Having done my seven years at Brébeuf, all French, I was looking forward to three years in downtown Montreal speaking English.

Did it live up to your expectations?

It did … It’s a real challenge for Montrealers going to McGill, because everyone does all the Frosh exercises, everyone’s meeting friends from all around, and Montrealers are just like, ‘Oh, we know everyone in Montreal.’

You mentioned being involved in the McGill Debating Union. What other activities did you pursue at McGill?

As a first-year, it was debating. After that, I got more and more involved in SACOMSS, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society, which I hear is still going on. I was one of the early male members of SACOMSS. We defined the outreach program … At the time – it was the early 90s – people were not totally open about a lot of the conversations that Dr. Phil and Oprah have opened up.

Were there any professors who stood out for you at McGill?

I studied English literature, and I took one of the courses that everybody wants to take: this voice and speech course taught by Steve Lecky. … You couldn’t get into this course except by auditioning, and there were all these great McGill thespians in the course. I’d grown up reciting poetry and giving speeches, but I wasn’t much of an actor. [So I told him], ‘The thing is, I can’t act, but I can deliver a speech.’ And so that was something that we worked on instead.

You led a fairly quiet life after graduating from McGill, spending several years as a teacher in Vancouver. What led you to enter federal politics?

I’d always said to myself I’d stay away from politics until I was much older, until I had been able to demonstrate my worth – by writing a book, by starting a company, by doing something that people would say, ‘Okay, he’s actually bringing something to the table other than just being a Trudeau.’ That’s why I’d always pushed off politics.

[After the leadership convention in 2006], I realized that there was a way for me to demonstrate my worth and still be a young person going into politics. I had to pick the toughest riding I possibly could, to pick a nomination that I’d have to fight against strong local Liberals to earn, which I did in Papineau, and then an election against a star Bloc MP to try and win the riding. I set the bar as high as I possibly could, gave myself as tough a challenge as I could.

What have you accomplished since entering Parliament?

One of the first things was that I brought forward a private member’s motion on a national youth service. … We need to look at how we encourage young Canadians to serve their country, serve their communities, serve their provinces, serve overseas. I put this forward. The Bloc and the Conservatives both voted against it, but I felt very good about bringing forward the issue of young people and empowerment in Parliament.

Do you think prorogation is an issue that’s likely to spark an election this spring?

I don’t think prorogation is an issue that is likely to spark an election. The Liberal Party is certainly not interested in an election right now. Canadians have been very, very clear that they’re not interested in an election.

What’s interesting and illustrative about prorogation is what it demonstrates about Stephen Harper. … The Reform Party was created out of a grassroots [movement], a respect for individual MPs and respect for the institutions of Parliament. Stephen Harper has completely flipped all that on its head, and all the principles of openness, transparency, accountability that he once stood for – democratic responsibility – are now sort of punch lines to a joke about him.

– Compiled by Theo Meyer