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Me and JT

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So here’s a back story: I signed up to be a Supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada so that I could vote in their leadership campaign. It was a ranked ballot, meaning you number the candidates in order of preference, and I did not put Justin Trudeau as my number 1. I went with Joyce Murray (who? I know) as my first choice, because I liked her proposal on electoral reform.

But when Justin Trudeau was announced as the winner by a large margin (Joyce Murray came second, for the record—because I wasn’t the only one who liked her electoral reform platform), I was… totally good with it.

The victory was completely expected, of course, but it wasn’t just that I’d expected it and figured he would do. I felt really happy and excited about his election.

And when he gave his victory speech, I only became more so. And honestly, I was surprised by that.

Justin Trudeau and Candian flag

Photo by Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

But Justin Trudeau speaks well. And yes, he looks good. And he looks good speaking well. He most definitely has that sort of charm and charisma that draws people in. I am not immune to it.

But that does not mean that he would be a good Prime Minister. And him taking that post is certainly a possibility, given that his party’s polling numbers have risen, and have stayed high, ever since he assumed the leadership.

So when he came for a Waterloo region visit, I had to go. The local public meeting was at 5:30 in Cambridge, which is two cities away from me. But in the afternoon, he stopped in on the university campus that was just down the street from my office. That was way easier for me to get to, though it meant mingling with the young ‘uns.

UW is a very math-and-engineering–focused school, and voter turnout among that those age 18–25 is dire, but nevertheless, the “Great Hall” was packed awaiting his arrival. (Which was precisely on time, by the way.)

The world-weary, cynical students behind me predicted his speech would be full of promises that would appeal to students, such as lower tuition (and that he’d then go on to an age old home and promise them better mentions). But it wasn’t that at all. He just talked about the importance of harnessing the passion for the world that youth feel, but do not find expression for in partisan politics. That it’s not that they are apathetic, but that they are turned off by all the negativity. Which is why he’s trying to be positive, to listen, to change the tone.

It was a short talk, maybe 10 minutes (no notes, no teleprompter), and then he took questions.

While I won’t try to recap everything (in fact, I didn’t stay til the end, since it was the middle of the work day), a few moments did stand out.

Electoral reform

This was first question to draw applause, and Mr. Trudeau’s response that he wasn’t entirely in favor of proportional representation was the closest he got to being booed. So don’t tell me people don’t care about that issue. Trudeau said his problem  with proportional representation systems is that they often involve selecting members of a parliament, rather than to represent a particular riding. And he did win some people over with his support of ranked ballots.

Ranked ballots might be an interesting change, but it likely wouldn’t change that much, in the end, and it certainly doesn’t give you proportional representation in a party system. Furthermore, I remain a bit frustrated that he doesn’t fully address:

a) That members of parliament don’t really represent their constituents now, at least not in terms of voting in the House of Commons, because all parties demand that all of their members vote along party lines almost all the time, whether their constituents like it or not.

b) Not every type of proportional representation requires picking members from a list who don’t represent anyone. One of the most interesting forms, in fact, wouldn’t require electing any more MPs; it would just weight their confidence votes based on the constituency’s party votes.

(Maybe I should write to Justin about this.)

Israel / Palestine conflict

I couldn’t quite hear the question, but I know it was very critical, and I thought Mr. Trudeau’s response was good. He said that it was needed, ultimately, is a two-state solution, and that speaking in a polarizing way on this issue doesn’t help achieve that. But then he pointed out, quite sensibly, that this is not an issue that Canada can solve. We’re destined to just be background players in this.

Better access for people with disabilities

A prime example of how, sometimes, his responses were just vague platitudes. Those world-weary students behind me grew pretty snarky as he just went on about the ideal about giving everyone an opportunity to succeed, without ever saying what he might do specifically to achieve that. “Just make something up, even if you won’t do it!” was the students’ spectacularly bad advice.

I have better advice: Look into the US regulations for people with disabilities, and look to adopting some of those. Believe it or not, the US has some of the best standards in the world—much better than Canada’s.

(Maybe I should write to Justin about that, too.)

Childcare

But here’s an example where he had a pretty good response, even though there is no solid Liberal platform on this issue. He reminded everything that Liberals had a plan in place for this, but it was never implemented after the defeat of the Paul Martin government. But that it was a complicated thing to negotiate with the provinces, and he couldn’t promise that he could just revive it if elected. “I just don’t know what fiscal situation we’ll be facing then,” he said.

Legalizing marijuana

A moment of humor, as the person asking the question really seemed to be high as a kite. “You wouldn’t have vested interest in legalization, would you?” Trudeau quipped. I like to remind people, “It’s not legal yet!” But then he went on to the solid argument that Canada’s current prohibition approach simply isn’t working. Marijuana is not good for the developing brain, but Canada is #1 in youth pot smoking. But with regulations, that would be easier to control, as we’ve seen with tobacco and alcohol. And that the extra funding, instead of going to organized crime, could be used for better drug rehabilitation services.

Canada is currently being led by a man who cannot deliver a speech without a teleprompter, who never takes unscripted questions from the public, who rarely even takes any from the media, and who shields himself behind a wall of security. Who was once advised: “You don’t have to like people to be in politics. But you can’t hate them.”

Justin Trudeau has proven he’s different on all these counts. How much that matters is for the Canadian public to decide.

But I like it.

Trudeaumania floods SLC (article from UW’s Imprint, including a video interview with Mr. Trudeau)

Trudeau impresses students during whirlwind tour of region (from Waterloo Region Record)

Video montage of Trudeau meeting people across the country, including in Waterloo:

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