Canada and Asia: A dialogue with Mr Justin Trudeau

15 November 2018 | General News
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Mr Trudeau held a dialogue session with NUS students on 15 November during a visit to NUS

An interesting fact: Prime Minister of Canada The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau can trace his maternal ancestry all the way to Major-General William Farquhar, the first British resident of colonial Singapore. This familial link came to light in 2008 when his mother took part in a Canadian television show looking into genealogy. Mr Trudeau shared this interesting nugget at a special dialogue session with some 400 members of the NUS community at the University Cultural Centre on 15 November, moderated by BBC World News presenter Ms Sharanjit Leyl.

The theme of building connections continued to thread through the entire session, titled “Canada and Asia in a Changing World”. “There's no question that the economic centre of gravity around the world is moving towards Asia,” Mr Trudeau said, adding that Canada is excited about the potential economic connections that can be built with the region. Mr Trudeau went on to speak about the many trade agreements that his country has made with regions across the world, including Europe, the US and Southeast Asia.

“Canada is a country that understands trade; that understands the world, and is ready to make a case for trade that really helps everyone succeed,” he said. He acknowledged that while trade brings about growth and economic benefits for a country, it does not mean that these benefits are necessarily fairly distributed. Canada is thus making a case for inclusive trade deals, Mr Trudeau said, which will protect labour interests, environmental interests and opportunities for small and medium sized businesses, and allow citizens to “see themselves in the benefits of those trade deals”.

The more we talk together, the more we learn from each other, the more we trade with each other, the more we respect each other, and the more we understand that our differences are actually the source of our greatest strength and resilience as communities and as a world, the better off we'll all be in the lives we're building together.

Mr Trudeau also shared his thoughts on the rise of nationalist populism and the resulting aversion to trade and globalisation in various parts of the world. He opined that one of the causes of this phenomenon is the rapid pace of change in the world today that is anxiety-inducing for many people. A political leader thus has two choices, he said — to “play up the politics of fear, of anxiety, of division, of negativity”, or to “say yes, this is a challenge but it's a challenge we can overcome together”.

“It's always been easier to divide in politics than bring people together, but it's really hard to govern responsibly once you've created wedges within the population and once you've turned people against one another and made them more fearful,” Mr Trudeau continued, adding that “a positive compelling vision that is focused on rolling up our sleeves and solving these challenges together is something that people will always respond to”.

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The students were eager to pick Mr Trudeau's brain on a variety of topics during the question-and-answer segment

During the question-and-answer segment, Mr Trudeau fielded questions on a variety of topics including balancing environmental and human rights policies with economic growth, the challenges in Canada’s move to become the next global technological hub, political apathy, as well as the impact of social media and the Internet on politics.

Musing on this last point, Mr Trudeau reminded the audience that social media platforms are essentially just another means of connection and communication. He recounted that in his early years as a politician he valued the ability it gave him to directly engage with people and understand their issues. However, he also recognised the negative aspects of social media such as polarisation, hate speech and intolerance, and expressed hope that the conversations between people would change.

“Being open to what someone else has to say is the only way of guaranteeing that they'll be open to what you have to say. Maybe you'll come out of a conversation between two people with one having convinced the other, but maybe you'll both find yourself in a place of different, better or more nuanced understanding than you were before you had the conversation. That's what politics and public discourse is supposed to be about,” he said. 

As the session drew to a close, Mr Trudeau emphasised that having a world with greater opportunities for all is a goal that everyone should work towards.

“The more we talk together, the more we learn from each other, the more we trade with each other, the more we respect each other, and the more we understand that our differences are actually the source of our greatest strength and resilience as communities and as a world, the better off we'll all be in the lives we're building together,” he concluded.

See media coverage.

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Mr Trudeau taking a 'wefie' with Ms Leyl and some students at the end of the session