Prime Minister Trudeau speaking to students at New York University (NYU)
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE JUSTIN TRUDEAU (Prime Minister of Canada): Good morning NYU.
I'm actually just curious about something because it was something you said. Can all the Canadians in the room please put up their hands?
Okay. Can all the non-Canadians in the room please put up their hands?
Okay. See, there are more non-Canadians. Great. Those of you who are not Canadian, you might be surprised to see so many Canadians here in New York. You shouldn't be. There's a whole thing about Canadians engaged around the world, at the UN, in the great cities of the world, in business, in arts, in every possible field of endeavour, science and research, and everything.
So really it's always a pleasure for me to go around the world and meet with so many people who either are Canadian or have friends who are Canadian, or have coworkers who are Canadians, who study with Canadians. There really is something extraordinary to celebrate in a country that is as engaged and as interested in the world as we are.
And, quite frankly, one of the things that I try to point out is, in this last election campaign, people were talking a lot about what we were able to do and what we have been able to do since the election campaign, but a whole bunch of it, and the heart of what we did, came through listening to Canadians, engaging with people, talking about the kind of government we want, the kind of values we wanted to put forward in the world, and making sure that the folks they elected and the government that we would form reflected those ideals and those values. And a huge part of that, for me, was how we reached out to young people because, quite frankly, from… actually, my pathway into politics was through youth activism. I was head of Canada's National Youth Service Program for a number of years, butting directly up against a federal government that wasn't always enthusiastic about investing in youth programs.
And you can sort of understand why so many politicians are tempted to disregard young people a little bit because there's a vicious cycle going on where young people don't vote and therefore politicians don't reach out to them, and then young people are even less inclined to feel valued or interested in politics, and it sort of spirals down until turnouts for young people are lower… or have been lower than for other demographics.
But that was based, to my mind from having worked with so many young people over my life as a teacher and then as an activist, on a faulty assumption that young people didn't care about the world, or that they weren't interested in what their communities were doing, where we were going, and how things were happening. Young people – as you know – are more interested, more engaged, more involved than any generation of young people before, with more tools to do it. There's just a level of frustration about their capacity to actually be listened to and to actually impact and effect change. And quite frankly politics wasn't doing a very good job of actually valuing young people's input, so why would you get involved?
And we saw that that was very much happening in Canada at the same time as people were cynical about the divisive and attack nature of politics. So we put forward a narrative that was much more about listening, about collaboration, about respect, about looking for common ground and pulling people together, and very much engaging young people as not just, you know, letter stuffers and sign putter-uppers in our campaign, but drivers of policy and engagement and mobilization in concrete ways. And the model… The number of older folks I met who said, my kids convinced me to vote for you, was really reassuring to me because, you know, that doesn't necessarily, you know, happen in a traditional model.
So, for me, as we look to the future, as we look to this generation that is coming of its own that you all represent here, this excitement, this engagement around the big thorny issues of our time, whether they be around climate change and how to make sure we are building a strong opportunity-filled economy with the right path that includes everyone, at the same time as we are protecting the natural world, ecosystem services, and the environment that sustains everything that we have, including our economy.
Getting that done together is one of the big challenges of our time. And that's why, you know, we're here in New York right now as a country, to make sure that we are signing the Paris declaration to move forward in concrete ways, even though we all know this isn't going to be easy. There are going to massive challenges for every country around the world, including countries – and especially countries like Canada – that still have a large part of its economy in natural resources and, quite frankly, always will. But how we innovate and how we do better, about how we are energy-efficient and better in terms of reducing emissions, and more responsible, is part and parcel of how we are going to build a stronger economy.
And whether it's around natural resources and energy, whether it's around diversity – which is an extraordinary strength that we have as a country – whether it's around the engagement with the world that Canada does feel is such a natural part of who we are, I'm really, really excited about the opportunities that I have as a Canadian showcasing what we are doing to the world, but also that we collectively have as citizens at a time where the world is going through some really interesting challenges and really difficult struggles.
So having the opportunity right now to engage with all of you is really, really important to me. And I know all of you feel you're going to get something – you came out of this as we're approaching exam times – you took a morning off from studying and classes and came to hear me, so you think you're going to get something out of this. I'm going to tell you, I'm going to get a tremendous… a tremendous amount out of this because, for me, the questions that you're going to ask over the next hour will help remind me of what is really mattering to you, where your concerns are, where the issues that you think there needs to be more action, or questions that you're struggling with… This is your chance to ask, to challenge, to share your concerns and your worries with someone who, quite frankly, I've been trying to do this throughout my entire career and am clinging to the ability to continue to do this now that I'm in a governance position, because staying connected with all of you who are thinking very seriously and deeply, not just about the future in an abstract way, which you do, but also thinking about it in a very concrete way that embraces change.
I mean in any… any person's life, once you get into the mode of having a career path and a mortgage and orthodontic bills for your kids and retirement savings, you're on… you're in a long-term reflection that is fairly linear. You're predicting the world is going to stay pretty much stable. Well all of you are at a point where most of you have no idea where you might be in two or three years, what you might be doing, where you might be living, what kind of adventures or new challenges you're going to be facing. And that capacity to be excited and optimistic about radical change, which is the norm right now and has been as you've gone through high school, college, university and into the working world, is… it's a time in your lives that we as a society need to make sure we are harnessing so that you challenge us and push us to think beyond the comfort level of a predictable future. And I think that's why young people have so come into their own and an essential place of empowerment and influence as we look at how we build a better future for this planet and on this planet.
So I am really touched to be here this morning and I'm looking forward to taking as many questions as I can in the coming hour.
So merci beaucoup tout le monde, and I think we're going to start right here. I'm going to sort of go around the room like this until I get dizzy and fall over, or until you guys run out of questions.
So we'll start right here. There we go. With someone … right there.
STUDENT: Hi Prime Minister Trudeau. It's really great to see you in person. It's such an honour for you to come visit our University. And I'm really glad that you opened your conversation by talking about youth engagement because that's something that I think, as a Canadian, has been an issue for us as well. My peers and I, I think, have felt disenfranchised, partially because of the electoral system and I was wondering if you have any plans on getting rid of the first-past-the-post system and arranging something that's a little bit more proportional for Canadian representation? Thank you.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Thank you very much. We… I have committed to electoral reform. This last election is going to have been the last one in Canada done under the first-past-the-post system.
There are many different reflections to be had over what we now need to do and what kind of system we need to bring in. And for me I always go back to the basic purpose. If we're going to change something, why are we going to change it, and what is the outcome we want? And when you talk to someone who talks about electoral reform, one of the first things they tend to say is, oh, we need to make sure that every vote counts. And then my question is, okay, that sounds like a good thing, but why? What is the result that you want? It's not just an intellectual exercise in what a perfect democracy might look like. The outcome we want out of any electoral system is a good government, with good governance, that reflects the views of Canadians, that values the voices of every elector, that reflects the concerns and hopes and dreams of the broadest number of people, and makes good decisions in the interests both of the short term and the long term of the country. That's the purpose of elections, to get a good government.
Now how to go about doing that is a really complicated question and it varies from every different jurisdiction and level in the world. If you have a country that's small geographically and fairly homogenous, a system could work there very well and be right for them that wouldn't work for a very large heterogeneous country with very unequal distributions of populations.
So the reflection that I'm trying to launch now is very much going to those root elements of: what is the best way to give good governments and good governance to a country? What are the values that underpin the principles around our electoral system? And putting aside the question of, oh, this will be good for this type of political party, and this will be good for that type of political party, take a simple example like diversity. We want our government and our Parliament to reflect a broad range of views of Canadians, right? Absolutely. We can all agree on that. Well there's multiple different ways of doing that. You can have 50 different parties in the House of Commons, in our Parliament, each representing a different perspective and view and voice, and make sure that that's a way we highlight the diversity. Or you can have a fewer number of political parties that do a better job of reaching out to include a broad range of voices and perspectives within their political parties. Do you want to reward difference, or do you want to reward accommodation and inclusion?
Now… and I'm not going to tell an answer on that, although I have my own reflections as a leader of a big tent Liberal party that values diversity, but the perspective we have is we have to ask ourselves these questions. What is it that we need to value? Do we need to augment and value minority voices in Canada? Do we have a Charter that does that reasonably well and we need to focus instead on binding together common themes and common values?
So this is a really interesting foundational question in our governance system, and almost at a political science level, that I am really hoping we're going to be able to engage with in a thoughtful, responsible way that isn't just about, well, how does this impact on my preferred political party in the next election, because, quite frankly, I trust electors. I trust citizens to be able to work through whatever system in order to get an outcome that resembles them but, at the same time, can we optimize that system so that it does the best possible job of representing the values, the views, the hopes, the dreams, the concerns of its electorate.
And that's… that's why I'm excited about this conversation but at the same time I'm challenged by the fact that there was a huge desire for electoral reform when the current electoral system gave a result that a lot of people were really dissatisfied with and, so far, people are fairly pleased with the way I'm governing so they're like, well, the electoral system worked out just fine because we got a decent government. I still believe we need to push for electoral reform because, you know, I think we need to have a better system that will hold the test of time and not just sort of swing back and forth between we love it, we hate it, we love it, we hate it.
Anyway… and I'm going to try and shorten my answers too because I know there's a lot of questions. Here we go. Someone else. Here we are.
STUDENT: As a graduate of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary I want to say that I'm sad that I have never been in your class but I'm still thankful that you allow us to ask you questions today.
My question is… I think a lot of young voters, like me, a first-time voter in your election, are disillusioned because a lot of politicians promise radical change and then we don't see them once they are in office. I remember you campaigned hard against pipeline-building Harper, but recently you have promised to build more pipelines in Alberta. Just how... How do you justify to young people that we are not investing in green energy, instead we're still putting money into dirty oil sands. You know, how do you justify that to the young people, and how should young people feel when they listen to politicians promise a lot of radical change and then have some doubts in their mind in the future?
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: That's a great question and it does sort of go to one of the points that needs to be highlighted, that every voter has a responsibility to get informed about positions that people have. I went down to New York about two years ago when I first got elected… sorry, to Washington, two-and-a-half years ago when I first got elected leader of the Liberal party, and made a strong case for why the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved. And I made that case to a room full of American Democrats and liberals who didn't agree with me.
But I have always been consistent around the fact that we need to make sure we continue to grow our economy and create jobs. We just need to do a far better job of making sure we are not doing that at the cost of the planet, or our own backyards, or the world that our kids and grandkids are hopefully going to be able to grow up in.
And I understand better than most that the previous government didn't do a very good job of being concerned about the environment at all. And because of that, a shortcut to being concerned about climate change and wanting action was to demonize the energy resources in Western Canada. They were an easy scapegoat. It's easy to say, do you want to save the planet? Just block those pipelines and everything will be easy.
Well we know that's not… that's a simplistic solution that can be very appealing but if it does then involve everyone leaving their car at home and all of us stopping to use fossil fuels tomorrow, we realize that our world would come to a crashing halt. So we have to be actually a lot more thoughtful and reasonable in our approach. Right now oil is being shipped by rail across Canada, and one only has to look at the newspapers recently to know that rail disasters, including involving fossil fuels, have had a terrible, terrible impact, and pipelines are actually a safer way of transporting oil.
Now, do I agree that in the future we're going to have to get off fossil fuels? Absolutely. Is that future tomorrow? No it's not. So in the meantime, how can we make sure that, A: we are being as responsible as possible in how we develop our natural resources, how we extract them, how we export them, and at the same time, how are we doing everything we can to get beyond fossil fuels, to replace them with renewables, to find those solutions, to explore those solutions that is going to mean we can get off them officially?
But we are much better off doing that from a position of capacity to invest and research than doing it, you know, by firelight in a cave 100 years from now when we’ve reached a collapse because we have not engaged with it.
I mean these are… these are complex questions to which we are all collectively part of the solution. And the more we engage in a responsible, reflective way instead of trying to scapegoat or highlight, you know, one particular area because it has had bad PR for the past 10 years, is not the responsible approach to a very difficult issue that I think we need much more of.
So my position has always been: we need to continue to make sure that we have good jobs and a strong future, but make sure that, as we move forward, more and more of those jobs are not dependent on a, you know, high carbon economy. The solutions will be around education, innovation, science, efficiencies, changing behaviours, changing the ways our cities work, investing in public transit, investing in research. These are all things that we are very much doing as a government, but it's not going to happen tomorrow. And we need everyone to be part of the solution so it can happen in a rapid enough timeline for us to prevent the 2° of warming or, ideally, the 1.5° of warming that we know could be extremely problematic for the world. Thank you.
This section. Here we go.
STUDENT: Good morning Prime Minster Trudeau and thank you for coming to NYU instead of Columbia this morning.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Ah... You know what…
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: You're very welcome.
STUDENT: I was a committed volunteer on Minister McKenna's campaign and I really felt this youth engagement going on in the Liberal party. Unfortunately I think there's a large section of our youth in Canada that is marginalized, and that's the First Nations population of Canada. I also believe traditionally, you know, they can set an example for how to treat our environment and our world. You know, one in two children who are First Nations live in poverty, and only four out of 10 make it through high school. Does your government have any plans to help improve their quality of life?
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Absolutely. Thank you… Thank you for your volunteerism on the campaign, but thank you for going right to the heart of one of the really, really important issues we have.
My next question is going to be from the back section, so I haven't forgotten you guys, so we will come back… I'll make sure a mic's back there.
The fact is, Canada does a pretty good job of trying to talk a good game on human rights and development and positive action on the world stage, but if we are going to be honest we have to reflect on the fact that over the past decades, indeed centuries, we have failed to honour the spirit and the intent of the original relationships with indigenous peoples that settlers came into when our ancestors arrived on Turtle Island. We have consistently marginalized, engaged in colonial behaviours, in destructive behaviours, in assimilationist behaviours that have left a legacy of challenges to a large portion of the people who live in Canada, our indigenous peoples.
That's why one of the things we committed to was reshaping the relationship, beginning a relationship based on partnership, on trust, on a nation-to-nation engagement that respects the fact that we are supposed to collaborate together and work together as shared stewards of this land and build a brighter future and opportunities for everyone in it. The fact is that young people in indigenous communities don't have as much invested in their education as a young person in a non-indigenous community, and we need to get to parity. We need to address the infrastructure challenges. We need to address the boil water advisories that still happen. We need to address the educational outcomes, the health outcomes, the mental health and addiction challenges that we're, unfortunately, getting bad news on almost every single week these days.
There is an awful lot of work to do. We have started by, in our last budget, putting forward… a few weeks ago, putting forward an $8.4 billion investment over five years to start moving forward in a substantive way. It's more than has ever been committed in new funding for indigenous communities, but it's not going to be enough. And this is not an overnight problem to solve; it is something that we are going to have to look at over time. But we are beginning to get this right, and I am encouraged, not just by the conversations I've had with indigenous leadership but by the extraordinary young people who are stepping up in communities across the country from very difficult circumstances to show leadership, to show ability, and to show that there is a tremendous future not just for them but for all of our country if we begin to actually build the right relationship.
Question from the back.
STUDENT: Good morning.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: I like your shirt.
STUDENT: Thank you. Thank you. My name is Jake. I'm a student at the College of Arts and Sciences. And as you all have noted by the laughter, I think the jersey gives my nationality away. My question…
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We are modest folk, you know. Canadians. Yes.
STUDENT: It's the first day I got to show my patriotism as a student here, so it's a good day. Thank you for coming. My question is about peacekeeping. And growing up as a Canadian, going to school and understanding our legacy from the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson and his programs to really become the father of the United Nations peacekeeping program, it seems that in the past several decades our efforts through the United Nations peacekeeping program have not been at the same standard that they have been in… like during, for example, the Suez canal crisis when it began. And most recently it was someone like Romeo Dallaire during the Rwanda crisis, a man credited with saving nearly, I think, 32,000 people's lives during that genocide. And in recent years I think out of 70,000 UN peacekeepers we only had around 131 Canadians represented throughout all of them.
I was wondering what your government would do to maybe revitalize, rejuvenate our peacekeeping efforts and really represent that it's not just in our past but it's our future as Canadians to represent the United Nations peacekeeping efforts across the world.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Excellent. Thank you very much for your question. And it's something that actually we have committed to re-engaging with the UN peacekeeping. When President Obama last September sort of refreshed and re-launched United Nations peacekeeping, I stood up and said yes, Canada has an awful lot to offer, whether it's bilingual officers, whether it's specialists, whether it's a capacity to engage in the world in difficult places without some of the baggage that so many other Western countries have, either a colonial pasts or perceptions of American imperialism as a critique that's often out there. That challenge is something that Canada is absolutely right to choose to rise to.
But I do want to highlight that there are pieces of our history that a lot of people tend to overlook when we talk about peacekeeping. If we were able to play a significant role in the creation of the United Nations peacekeepers, it wasn't just because Lester Pearson was such a brilliant diplomat – although, of course, he was – and it wasn't just because we are nice and polite and friendly and, you know, seem to be good at keeping peace. Although that's probably part of it too. But a big piece of it was that Canada had a history of stepping up.
In the trenches of World War I, on the beaches of World War II, Canadians fought like lions in theatres far from their homes, that wasn't directly of danger to Canada. Canadians, young men mostly, from communities across the country, stepped up and gave their lives for peace and for values in faraway conflicts. And that shaped the country.
Next year, as many of you know, we're going to be celebrating our 150th anniversary since Confederation, which is a great thing, and those of you who aren't Canadians, I encourage you to come up and visit Canada because it's a wonderful place and next year will be a wonderful time to be there. But at the same time a lot of us have the reflection that it will also be the 100th anniversary next year of the moment where, for many, Canada actually became a nation in its own identity, at a place called Vimy Ridge, where Canadian soldiers, for the first time in World War I, were brought together as a single group with all of the diversity – which was less then than it is now, but still significant diversity of English and French, indigenous and others – coming together and felt Canadian and won that battle through tremendous sacrifice but tremendous valour, as Canadians. And that was a moment that was foundational for us.
So as we look at what peacekeeping is today and the requirements of peacekeeping – which is not, you know, standing in a line like we did on Cyprus, between two countries that can't shoot at each other because you might nick a Canadian in between and therefore let's not shoot each other – which is a simplification but that idea of standing between states – was what peacekeeping was in the past. Now peacekeeping involves failed states and non-state actors and complex counterterrorism and counterinsurgencies that is a lot more complicated than it used to be and, quite frankly, Canada, through NATO missions, through its engagement in Afghanistan, through engagements around the world has continued to engage in. So even though we may not be as present as we have been in UN peacekeeping over the past years, we have still been very, very present around the world.
Can we do more? Should we do more? Absolutely. Which is why we've reengaged and recommitted to the UN and to peacekeeping because we believe fundamentally in multilateralism and the work that can be done. But let's not forget where we come from as people willing to stand and fight and sacrifice for those values that we believe in deeply and are willing to share with the world.
Thank you very much.
Next question. Yes.
STUDENT: Hello. My name is Jihan. I'm a dual citizen of America and Canada, so thank you for coming. I'm a premed student and recently I know that you talked about assisted suicide. I was wondering if you could talk about, especially when it's such a controversial issue both in Canada and in America, why it's so important.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: I'm a liberal, which means I believe in upholding and defending people's rights while at the same time making sure we are protecting the most vulnerable in society. Getting that balance right is at the core of so many big decisions that governments have to make. And making sure that we are respecting people's freedom to choose in extreme situations, you know, in how they make end-of-life decisions, is something that I think is in keeping with our values.
At the same time, however, making that decision as a society to empower people to be able to make that choice comes with a very clear responsibility to make sure that it's not abused, that people aren't taken advantage of, that there aren't any of the slippery slope or negative consequences that, you know, for so many people there are real fears around.
Which is why what we put forward was a responsible piece of legislation that takes the big step of legalizing medical assistance in dying, providing a framework around it, but recognizing the size of the step we're taking, doing it in a thoughtful, cautious way, doing it with care for this first step, which is going to be a massive change for our country and for end-of-life care.
At the same time as we do that we know we have to do a lot more around palliative care. Yes, Canada's health care system is pretty good, but we need to do more around palliative care so that people are making these decisions not because they're not getting good enough care as they live out their days, but because it is truly their choice. So investing in palliative care is a big piece of it.
And there are other questions that we will further be studying in the coming years about expanding access to a slightly larger group of people than we talked about initially in this legislation. So it's an approach that is reasonable based on facts, evidence, consultations, done with care, but understanding that this is a big societal change that people are going to grapple with in very personal and very different ways, and that we have to make sure we are as thoughtful as possible in how we move forward on. Thank you.
Okay. Next question. Yeah.
Oh, sorry. No. You're at the mic so then you get to do it. Sorry.
STUDENT: Mashu Blin (sp?) from the College of Arts and Sciences. I'm from Pakistan. First of all I would really like to commend you for your gender-based cabinet. But we still live in a world where women face discrimination in all spheres of life. What can we do to make sure there is women empowerment and gender equality worldwide? Thank you.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Thank you for your question. And one of the first things that I will note on this is that there's an awful lot of people who have made a big deal out of the fact that I say, at any chance I can get – so I'm going to repeat it now – that I am a feminist. That, for me…
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Come on guys, you disappoint me. We were so close to you going yeah, duh...
I don't want that to be a reaction point. And one of the things that I recognize is that a big piece of this is not that, you know, I'm particularly… I'm okay, but that I am just, to my mind, one of the first examples of our generation to actually reach a position of real authority and actually be able to get to a level of international influence by being the leader of a G-7 country. Now my friend Mateo Renzi in Italy is actually a couple of years younger than me, but… but, I don't know, I'm… I'm resonating a bit right now and what it is for me is that I just am a product of this generation where equality, obviously, respect for each other, yeah, diversity, sure. I mean like where are the pushbacks?
And understanding that this generation, in general, is one that is much more open, respectful of diversity, understanding that equality is not just the right thing to do, it's an incredibly important thing to do if we are going to be successful as a world, and that we still have a lot of work to do on it, is something that I am constantly reminded and inspired by. So …
And I know that, you know, a lot of young people tend to call themselves progressive in their approach. Well you can't be a progressive and not be a feminist in my mind because saying, yes, equality of men and women is a baseline element that we need to build on, and we have an awful lot of work to do. If you agree with those two statements, guess what, you're a feminist. And making sure that we all are comfortable identifying ourselves that way as women, obviously, but as men as well, is something we need to really make sure we're doing.
I had a really interesting comment the other day where everyone knows that I have a gender-equal cabinet, so 15 men and 15 women running the country. But at the same time our Parliament still is only down around 25% or so, 30%, and it's not as good as it obviously needs to be. What that meant is when we were assigning committees we had, you know, not enough women to put… obviously not to have gender parity on every committee… and we have, you know, mostly women on the Status of Women committee. And someone said to me, that's great, but next time can you put mostly men on the Status of Women Committee so that women can be more present on all the other committees as well? And I thought that was a really neat way of thinking about it and… well, we're going to give it a try upcoming, because, you know, we need to make sure that everyone is involved in this discussion, and that's certainly what I'm hoping we are going to be able to do.
TOM GOMBOY (Student, NYU): Hi. My name is Tom Gomboy (sp). I’m a student at the School of Business and I had a question regarding more climate change and climate capitalism. So, I work right now under a former Canadian trade commissioner and we are trying to accelerate private capital deployment into environmental opportunities. But what we’re finding in the US and in Canada is that private partners just see investments like oil and gas as more safer than renewables and sustainables. So, what do you think are the right incentives and policy initiatives that can help accelerate that change?
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Great question. Well, obviously government has a role to play in incentivizing investment in renewables because we know we need to go there. And, quite frankly, if we recognize that a homeowner who wants to put solar panels on their roof, for example, is going to face a significant outlay of capital that they may or may not have when they install those panels, even though they’ll be able to recover those costs over the next 10 years or whatever, means that they need to have help with the money to be able to outlay that cost initially because it’s good for us. So, how we think about incentivizing the right behaviours right now so that over time we’re more efficient and we save money, is obviously something that government can absolutely help with.
But at the same time, there’s only so much that government can do. And so much of it comes down to consumers and consumer choices and recognizing as individuals and as consumers that our choices have an impact. And I know there’s an awful lot more awareness now about the provenance of what we buy, of what we eat, of, you know, where we shop, thinking about the impacts of everyday choices we make as consumers and that’s great. We just need to continue along that way. Government can do a better job of enforcing things like labelling and product information and transparency in… to help consumers make the right choices. But ultimately consumers have to start making the right choices.
And the entrepreneurs that I have seen who have figured out how to make the right products that respond to consumers’ desires to… to make the right choices, I mean, it’s not about green washing anymore. It’s about understanding that there are an awful lot of people out there who are making very, very conscious choices about helping the planet with their lifestyle and their, and their purchases.
Making sure that we’re being a lot more thoughtful about incentivizing, about highlighting that, about encouraging that, is going to go a long way towards people in the business community realizing that there are a tremendous amount of benefits, jobs, and investment opportunities in doing the right thing, because that’s what consumers are starting to look for increasingly. Thank you very much.
MIGUEL (Student, NYU): Good morning Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for being here. My name is Miguel. I’m a master’s student at the Centre for Global Affairs at the School of Professional Studies. Bringing it back again to environmental issues, the negative impacts of very fossil fuel dependent industrial global food system is widely known in terms of environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, and then of course their social and health impacts as well. While there’s a growing movement across the world of small-scale local farmers, organic, it seems that it’s not growing quickly enough and that the odds are stacked against, against these… the people in this… in these movements. And there’s also the looming danger of the movement being co-opted by big business.
So, my question for you is, because this is not just a Canada-centric or US-centric issue: what needs to happen in order for political leaders, global political leaders and big business leaders in order for them to pivot toward making full-on commitments and investment in local and regional food systems, and making it not just a priority, but to treat it with a matter of urgency? Thank you.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Great question Miguel. But one of the things you said, the danger about co-opting organic and local farming by big business, it depends on the type of big business that takes it over, doesn’t it? I mean, we need to be able to scale-up food production to feed the world and we need to be able to actually provide nutrition and sustenance to a hungry planet. Yes, local, organic, you know, smarter practices, whether it’s drip irrigation or, or, you know, better use of, of, you know, tilling practices and natural fertilizers and all sorts of things that, that I know just enough about to get me in trouble, but I know there are lots of experts on it. How we make sure that we are adjusting to being able to feed people while at the same time not worsening the situation on the planet is a massive challenge.
But the solution will involve scaling up responsible organic practices. And whether it’s, you know, small organic farmers who become much bigger or businesses who understand that doing things responsibly must be the way we move, you know, I’m enough of a trustor in market forces to know that if consumers and governments are clear-eyed about where we need to go, the economic world will respond.
There are real challenges out there because of the pressures placed on, on populations that are in consistent situations of food insecurity. And recognizing that people have concerns with golden rice and, say, because it’s GMOed and say, well, you know, instead of eating golden rice to get their vitamins they should eat more mangos, well, you know, buying fresh fruits is a luxury not available to massive proportions of the population on this planet. And it’s too bad and it’s something we look to… work to change, but in the meantime, there are steps we need to take to ensure that people are healthy and well fed while at the same time trying to do it in ways that aren’t going to imperil the planet.
And I know there are an awful lot of brilliant people in all corners of the world working very, very hard on this and many of you probably in this room studying fields that will take you into that area. And how we figure out how to feed an entire planet in a responsible, sustainable way without endangering the very planet that is sustaining us and future generations is one of the pivot challenges that for me will determine whether or not we make it through or certainly determine how we make it through the 21st century as a species on this, on this earth. Thank you Miguel. The back.
FORD (Student, NYU): Hi. My name is Ford and I am a double major in environmental science and politics here at NYU. And my question for you is this. Climate scientists at NASA have recently said that the earth is locked into a three-foot rise in sea levels by the turn of the century, which means that a number of the countries that signed the Paris agreements won’t exist around the year 2100. So, the time to act on climate change was really 20 to 30 years ago, and despite this, there are still politicians and governments that reject the notion of climate change and are refusing to act responsibly.
And so, my question is: what will you do to act decisively and quickly and work with governments and politicians that reject science and reject climate change in order to prevent further destruction of the planet?
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Great question and one that I’ve been struggling with over the past six months since I… since I got elected. Canada as a proportion of global emissions is very, very, very small. So, even if we stopped emitting everything tomorrow, the trend lines and what’s going on in the rest of the world would continue. So, yes we have a responsibility to reduce our emissions and we’re taking that very, very seriously. But the way that Canada and countries like Canada can have a larger impact than only on their own emissions is by helping larger emitters and helping many countries figure out how to reduce their emissions and how to get to a better place in terms of their, their, their climate change challenges.
And that happens many ways. We made a commitment, on $2.6 billion a number of months ago to directly help specifically small island states reduce their emission footprint. That means getting them off diesel generators in many cases, looking for hydro solutions, looking for geothermal, perhaps nuclear, looking for other solutions to be able to reduce the carbon footprint around the world, because as we know well, the atmosphere doesn’t care where the carbon was emitted, it just cares that it was emitted.
So, certainly, working directly with countries around the world to help them reduce their emissions. You know, there’s carbon capture and sequestration technology that’s being worked on in Saskatchewan and elsewhere across the country that could have a tremendous impact in the coal plants that are opening up every week in China for example. I mean, there are things that we can do and solutions that we can put forward that will have an impact on the global stage.
But the other part of it is also being a bit of a model in Canada. If we can show that even a country with extremes in temperature, where most of us need both heat in the winter, well, all of us need heat in the winter, and most of us need air conditioning in the summer, where we have great spaces between our communities and therefore real transportation and travel challenges, where we have fossil fuel resources being a, a part, a fundamental part of our economy for now, if we as a country can demonstrate effectively reducing, you know, even our small part of, of fossil fuel emissions, but do that significantly, the solutions that we’ve created in order to do that while keeping a strong and successful economy with good jobs, with the kind of innovation and research and opportunities for people right across the country, while at the same time we’re being more responsible for the environment, if we can build that narrative, then a lot of countries around the world will pick up on our solutions and, and scale them up to their side.
So, I’m not one of those who is gloom and doom about it. But I am very, very aware of the scale of the challenges and Canada’s modest, but significant role that we can and should be playing in helping solve this… this very serious and fundamental challenge.
Thank you. Who’s got the mic here? There you go.
DIETER (Student, NYU): Mr. Trudeau, my name is Dieter. On behalf of the students at the Centre for Global Affairs, we want to thank you for taking time out of your schedule today to come and speak to us. And if I may, on a personal level, as a Mexican citizen, I want to thank you for implementing visa-free travel for us so we can visit your beautiful country.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We’re working on that. I’m looking forward to it.
DIETER (Student, NYU): Now that I’ve mentioned Mexico, as you know, both of our countries share a mutual bond in terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement. And as you may know as well, one of the main criticisms of NAFTA has been the environmental impact it has had on our countries since it was implemented in ’94. With TPP around the corner and the signing of the Paris agreement tomorrow, do you think the TPP itself will go far enough in ensuring environmental protection for all three countries, and not just our three countries, but also all members of TPP?
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: I think that fundamentally trade deals are good for the world. Whether… whether they’re, they’re right deals and whether they’re signed the right way and whether they have the right impacts and they’re negotiated properly for everyone’s best interests is a secondary question that we need to look into. But at a fundamental level, freer and fairer trade is a positive benefit for our planet and for countries within our planet. So, that’s the position that I start from. And I’m always worried, but it happens every, every electoral cycle in any country, there’s always a bit of a spike in protectionism and an easy narrative about shipping jobs overseas and concerns about all those sorts of things. But at the same time, the math and the economics are very clear. But also the direct benefit for individuals is always very clear.
What we’re seeing now increasingly is, particularly with the historic signing of the Paris agreement on Friday, a much greater level of understanding and admission by the world that climate change is real and requires significant concerted action. And do existing trade deals do enough around climate? Probably not. Do the ones we are going to be negotiating and signing in the future need to do much more? Absolutely. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m looking forward to our North American leaders’ summit, which is coming up in a couple of months, where I will be able to sit down with President Obama and President Pena Nieto to actually talk about a continental approach to energy and environment and make sure that we are doing everything we can within this significant, significant chunk of the world’s economy that we represent, to lead the way and showcase what can and must be done in the coming years.
Thank you. Yes. Sorry. The mic’s over here in this side. Sorry.
JULIA (Student, NYU): Thank you for being here today. My name is Julia and I’m from the Centre for Global Affairs, School of Professional Studies. Since you are in New York for signing the Paris agreement, I will insist (?) on the climate topic. I want to ask a question, having some things in mind. Although Canada is not a large emitter in total emissions, it’s the fourth largest per capita emitter. So, if you want to be a model role…
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We have a lot of work to do.
JULIA (Student, NYU): Yeah. You have a lot of work to do. And…
… so, I was wondering how could Canada decouple economic growth from fossil fuels, because you mentioned before the need for, for the development of indigenous peoples. So, how do you stand in the Arctic drilling and what other options do these people have?
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Oh, I think there are tremendous options for, for economic growth within, within indigenous communities that aren’t related to, to fossil fuels. Whether it’s, whether it’s fisheries and forestry in some parts of the country, or much more likely, economic growth and innovation through, through participating in the knowledge economy. We are right now as a planet trying to learn how to think longer term than we have successfully done in the past. I mean, when you think about the sweep of human civilization, we have maximized short-term returns. We have maximized immediate benefits as a way of seeing, you know, which culture, which civilization gets to dominate at any given time. Who is best at maximizing in short order their impact and concentrating it in one place tends to have done better. And that’s what we’ve rewarded, that’s what, sort of, we, that’s what the unfolding of the world has rewarded over time.
We now are at a place where we have to start thinking very differently than that. We have to, right now, even with our short-term mindset, start thinking about long-term impacts of our behaviours the way we wouldn’t have had to when, you know, there were, you know, far less humans on this planet, when we had such a smaller footprint. We have to think differently about the impacts now of behaviour we have right here that might have an impact on the other side of the world. We have to think both deeply and broadly about how the world works.
And when we look to indigenous cultures, for example, that have a more ingrained reflection on sort of seven generation consequences, a stewardship role and respect for the earth, that is… and living in harmony with the earth… is part of the kind of reflections we actually need to fold into our thinking. So, fixing the relationship with indigenous peoples isn’t just sort of a moral imperative, although of course it is, it’s going to be of benefit to shifting our mindset, our approach, our way of thinking about how the world works.
So, making sure that we have strong, compelling, indigenous voices in positions of power, of authority, in business, in academia, in politics to help shape the discussion, the reflection, the decisions we take, is going to be a huge part of our path forward. So, saying that, you know, indigenous communities have a future only based around fossil fuel extraction, which I know is not what you’re saying, is, you know, would be a step in the wrong direction. Instead, looking at education, innovation and a culture shift that goes with it, is for me, something that we are very much struggling through right now and one that I know everyone in this room, from all the heads nodding as I was saying that, get. We know we have to change the way we think about the future and our role in it as a world if we’re going to thrive through the coming decades, and if we’re going to make sure that our grandchildren have the kinds of opportunities they need. And that is, that is something for which we need as many different perspectives to fold in together as is possible. Thank you for your question. And I think we have one last question here unfortunately.
UNIDENTIFIED: Hi Prime Minister Trudeau. Thank you very much for being here. It’s an absolute honour to hear you speak. My question is actually about disabilities. So, until now veterans and people with visible disabilities have received a lot of attention and those with invisible disabilities have kind of been put aside. So, I was wondering, throughout your tenure, how do you plan on addressing that issue? I’m actually someone with an invisible disability and last summer when I was in Vancouver, I was seeking government resources that could help me out and I couldn’t find anything. And so, I don’t really understand how we’re supposed to be able to contribute to society if we can’t even help ourselves.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a wonderful question.
UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you.
RT HON JUSTIN TRUDEAU: And an important one. Part of the Cabinet-that-looked-like-Canada that I appointed was… featured two Canadians with, living with disabilities, one, our minister of veterans affairs is in a, in a wheelchair and it’s a fairly visible disability. The other, Carla Qualtrough, is our minister for sport and minister for Canadians with disabilities. And she is legally blind, but you know, functioning legally blind. That’s a terrible thing to say. She, she manages to make it through and thrive and just have a larger font and she’s… is an example of, of, of the kind of success and contribution one can make. So, one of the things that I’ve tasked her to do is to create a national act for people living with disabilities.
We need to make sure that we are drawing – we’re only a country of 36 million people. If we’re going to survive and thrive on the world stage, we need everyone to have opportunities to contribute to their fullest potential. And that goes for people living with disabilities. It goes for marginalized communities in our cities. It goes for indigenous Canadians. We need to make sure that we are giving everyone a real and fair chance to succeed. And how we enable people with disabilities to contribute to the fullest and extraordinary level that they are capable of is something that, quite frankly as you point out, we haven’t done well enough in the past and why I have specifically and explicitly targeted… tasked our minister to, to address and to make sure that the experience that you had in Vancouver last summer will not be repeated in the coming years.
Thank you very much.
That’s unfortunately all the time we have right now. But I really wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the opportunity to engage with you this morning, to hear your questions, to, you know, talk a little bit about how I think young people need to demand more from their politicians, their business leaders, their community leaders by being the kind of leaders of today, not leaders of tomorrow that I know you can be.
Your taking time this morning to come out and challenge me and make your voices heard is really important to me. How you continue to engage after this with your peers, with your teachers, with your parents, with your employers, and how you own your own active, engaged citizenship through the rest of your life will determine very much the kind of world we all live in. And I am, as I always am, inspired and touched by the opportunity to have engaged with you this morning and I look forward to continuing to engage with you and all sorts of young people across the country and around the world in the coming years.
Thank you very much everyone.
Thank you very, very much.