Prime Minister Trudeau delivers an address at Sciences Po in Paris
Thank you all for coming here today. It is a great pleasure for me to be here at Sciences Po, and in fact, I think that my father was here a little over 70 years ago, in 1946, 47, 48, sometime around then. It’s not very clear because he spent a wonderful year in Paris, studying at Sciences Po, but he left without graduating, without much to prove that he was indeed here. But I know that the year he spent here in Paris marked his entire life. He spoke of it with great pride each time that we came home with a poor report card. He used to say, oh you will never go to Harvard like me or to the Sorbonne, Sciences Po like I did, so. …
We’ll stop with the personal anecdotes, but it made me think a little of the world that was being built 70 years ago. There was in Europe, as there was pretty well everywhere, a division between countries that had chosen democracy, and countries that had selected a much more authoritarian path. There were very clear arguments on both sides that each participant made, but we saw with the fall of the Berlin wall that it was democracy that prevailed, and we decided that democracy was an effective, ideal, stable model that was going to create prosperity for everyone, economic growth that was going to set us free, and it was a great vision for a time.
We are now living at a time, in years of perhaps not outright decline, but at least a threat to democracy. Yes, there are countries that are slipping back. Venezuela comes to mind, for instance, or other countries that were formerly democracies are now slightly more authoritarian. But, even in all our countries that are solid democracies, we are seeing ahead authoritarian, populist, even nationalist or polarizing trends, which are increasingly attractive as political movements, even though they take us at times in directions that are somewhat anti-democratic.
And this thinking is essential for us to see, to look at, and to try to understand why we are witnessing this decline? And I think that there is a lot to be said about the anxiety that people are feeling. There has always been anxiety in the world, but we are somewhat in a time of transition. We are living at a time when technologies, communication, the Internet and the pressures that we are experiencing in a world that is increasingly full of people who come into contact more and more often on a globalized planet, and there are anxieties. Anxieties that perhaps for the first time, the future generation, the next generation will not have the same types of opportunities or advantages as the previous generation. And that’s a contradiction to what we experienced for a long time, in which each generation worked hard and created a better world for the next generation, that each generation was going to be more successful than their parents.
While now, people are asking if that is still true? Have we come to the end of progress? People have increasingly less trust in their institutions, often. There is a lot of cynicism. People wonder whether, in a world where we see terrorist attacks throughout the world, or scourges, disasters, conflicts on the news every evening whether our democratic institutions, our governments can keep us safe. There is uncertainty; there is anxiety.
And this anxiety becomes an issue for political parties to exploit. They bet on political division, the far right bets on fear, while the far left bets on anger; it brings renewed nationalism that wants to build thicker and more rigid borders, that doubts the benefits of international trade, that questions the ability of governments to take care of in the long term. And in these moments of anxiety, insecurity and authoritarian discourse, discourse that readily blames the other can be very attractive.
We have to think about the type of world we are building, the examples we are giving future generations, but above all, we have to recognize that for many of us, we have only known democracy, and perhaps we take it for granted. On the contrary, we have to continually reinvent democracy. We have to fight to try and see how we can improve the status quo. We can never just accept it.
A hundred years ago… and in two days I will be in London with the Mayor of London and Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister, who was here to celebrate a little 100 years since women won the right to vote. And for me, we have to ask ourselves some questions now: “what is it that we see as the next challenges in our democracy? Where is the status quo not providing justice or opportunities, or reflection on what the future will bring?” That is why I never say that you are the leaders of tomorrow. You are the leaders of today who must think like citizens, as individuals, how you can make a positive, strong impact on the world today; because when we look at the structures we have, we must acknowledge that they have often not worked.
If we speak of … we know for instance, international trade produces growth for our economies, for our banks and for our multinationals. But often, trade agreements do not deliver for citizens, workers, or for people concerned for the environment. And that is part of the reason why people are rising up against globalization. But that idea of standing up against globalization too often comes without opportunities to replace it with anything else. There is a desire to break down systems that exist, instead of pushing through to invent or reflect on a new one.
So we can always challenge ourselves to want to change things, but we must also think about what we’re going to change them to. We in Canada, we had, as there has been throughout the world in recent years, elections in which there were conflicts between visions of the future that brought people together, we wanted to bring people together, the other … the others often sought to focus on divisions. With divisions it is sometimes easy to win elections. It’s more difficult to make an argument for than an argument against, but we, we bet on for, and we tried to demonstrate that we could sign international trade agreements like CETA, like NAFTA, like CPTPP, like others that were going to consider what is progressive trade that reflects on the needs of workers, that reflects the concerns and those anxieties that people have.
And that is more difficult. It’s more difficult to make an argument that ties together the environment and the economy, rather than say, oh no, we have to protect the environment or even we have to grow the economy. No, when we want to demonstrate that we can do both together, it’s more difficult. When we want to sign free trade agreements, while protecting the rights of workers, the rights of women, the rights of minorities, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is always more difficult.
But, for me, the way we try to respond to these anxieties in thoughtful and concrete terms, is basically by defending our institutions and our democracy as it stands. Because if people do not have any more trust in their institutions, in their governments, in their representatives to help them create opportunities for themselves, for their children, we are going to see an increasing number of people who will say “Okay, I’m fine if I live in a society that is a little less free, but I will be safe. My family will be safe.” We know that it’s not a real exchange. Authoritarian societies that limit rights, that limit the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press often end up violating the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable, and it continues.
But there is a temptation in the world these days because of this anxiety, so our responsibility as citizens, but also as a government chosen by its citizens, is to find the means to bring people together, to recognize that a diversity of opinions, a diversity of origins, of perspectives, that creates resilience in a society, and not weakness. More diverse societies find themselves stronger because of that diversity. Canada is an example of this. France is often an example of this. Myanmar is a counterexample. It is a society that decided to bet on exclusion, and what is happening to the Rohingya is distressing and to be condemned for us in the world, but in Myanmar, that does not cause disapproval. The police pursue a policy that can be seen as popular among a large part of the population.
So we have to understand how we are going to come together, how we are going to build a better world. It’s always by listening to each other, by understanding the fears, the anxieties, and by trying to find the means together to alleviate them. And your responsibility as citizens, as students who are privileged to be at this institution that has trained so many political leaders in the world, is to actively consider not just what has happened in the past, and the errors of the past, but to think about the world we are building together.
Yes, it is true. I have always been someone who tries to work with young people in politics. I was a teacher, and I was a spokesperson for youth, and now as the Prime Minister, I am also the Minister of Youth in Canada. But it is not only because for me youth is the source of the progressive vote; of course, that is often the case. But it also because involving youth in politics changes politics. For you, change is all you know. From primary to secondary school, to college, to university, living with your family, living in residence, living on your own, starting a family; your lives are full of upheaval, changes, and if we apply that to our society, that ease you have with change, with turmoil in your life … but it’s essential.
We’re in a time of change right now. We are in a time where the old ways don’t necessarily work, and the people who gained power under the status quo are trying to defend the status quo. Well, where do we get those fresh ideas? Where do we get that fresh dynamism? We get it from young people.
Young people who take their place in public discourse, who, yes, will go demonstrate, will express their disagreement with ideas, but who will also propose solutions and organize themselves to build new institutions. For me, the defence of what we have, this democracy, this idea of liberty, equality, opportunity, all that, goes through people who are aware of it, are prepared to defend it, yes, but also who are prepared to reinvent it for a better world, a new world, a digital world, a world where we take for granted that women have the right to vote; that we shouldn’t be judged for the colour of their skin, or our religion or our origin. We have made a lot of progress, but we must know how to build on that progress to create institutions that reflect our hopes. We mustn’t be afraid to challenge our leaders, our institutions. We mustn’t be afraid to want to replace them with what is better. But we mustn’t be afraid of doing the work to find what will work, what can work, what should work.
So, when I see you, and especially when I have the opportunity to discuss with you and answer a few questions, share my thoughts while listening to yours, that inspires me. That reassures me that we have difficult questions, that we have deep challenges on how to build a better world, for me, those are conversations, not just here at Sciences Po, but outside, in your homes, at your places of work. These are the conversations that all citizens must have and you, you are here, you are privileged to have acquired the abilities to think about all this.
But we must bring together all those who do not have the chance to be here. You have to listen to them too. You have to get them involved in what you are doing. Because it is only in giving that ability to all citizens to take part in creating this world every day in which we live, that we are going to be able to protect democracy and the principles that are so essential.