A much-hyped visit to Concordia University from Justin Trudeau turned sour briefly when the Liberal Member of Parliament was approached by climate change activists.
Invited by the Concordia Student Union and Liberal Concordia, Trudeau focused his speech on addressing the importance of becoming involved in politics and community organizations.
For the most part, Trudeau’s charisma and charm wooed the Concordia and McGill students who gathered last Thursday afternoon.
During the question period, however, the audience mostly seemed shocked when Trudeau shut down an invitation to sign an environmentalist doctrine from two student activists representing Power Shift Canada, a group that aims to cut greenhouse gases and promote green investments.
Trudeau’s reasoning was that he is already in the best possible position to influence change. “You can protest and march and send letters and be frustrated from the outside,” said the politician representing the Papineau riding. “Or, you can try to get in on the inside and try to make a difference.”
A student confronted Trudeau, asking if he was seriously suggesting that only members of Parliament can incite change.
Trying to ease the tension that had quickly built in the room, Trudeau said he was misunderstood. “I didn’t say that. I said there are two different ways of doing it,” he clarified before comparing himself to his brother, Alexandre. “My brother films movies and writes books and says exactly what he thinks about everything. He’s making his difference. I can still say exactly what I think. I just have to choose my words a little more carefully.”
One of the Power Shift activists, Trevor Fraser, was also taken aback by Trudeau’s response which, he said, “suggests there’s an unreachable barrier between so-called “politicians’ and so-called “activists.” If the politician truly understood the magnitude of the challenge climate change poses, Fraser said, he would stand up and join the youth in calling for immediate climate justice action.
Though many in the audience were delighted to hear him discuss ideas such as change, personal responsibility, and collective involvement, some were left uninspired.
“He’s a excellent speaker but he often used people’s questions to talk about his own points,” said Concordia student Jordan Black. “He uses himself and the Liberal party as examples to promote the party.”
In spite of any negative reactions, Trudeau, who cut his talk short in order to accommodate more questions from the audience, was always able to use his charisma to draw the audience back into the palm of his hand.
He told students he maintains his motivation for politics with the knowledge that he’s making a difference. The day that changes, Trudeau said, he will leave politics and instead write a book, travel the world, or return to teaching. “But so far,” he said, ” I feel that the work I’m doing, largely because so much of what I do is conversations like this, is worthwhile.”
Ultimately, the message he left students with was to become involved and shed the image of being a generation of apathetic people.
The imagination and energy that embodies youth is the voice necessary to bring about change, he said. “The only way we’re going to make it through the 21st century, is if collectively, all of you are given the tools, the capacity and the motivation to start shaping the solutions. Not as leaders tomorrow but as leaders today.”