POLITICS
01/16/2019 00:00 EST | Updated 01/17/2019 12:23 EST

Trudeau Says He Thought 2015 Election Win Would End ‘Divisive, Scary Politics’

"The world went in a bit of a different direction."

Tara Walton/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a town hall at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. on Jan. 15, 2019.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a crowd in St. Catharines, Ont. Tuesday that he was a tad naive after his election win, thinking his party's pledge to "stay positive and not use negative attack ads" may have changed politics.

The admission surfaced during an evening town hall, Trudeau's third in a week, at Ontario's Brock University. The prime minister took 90 minutes of questions from an unvetted audience.

Jennifer Brens, a St. Catharines high school teacher, asked Trudeau for advice to prevent the rise of "right-wing xenophobic populism that we see in parts of Europe and our neighbours to the south."

Tara Walton/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a town hall at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. Jan. 15, 2019.

Trudeau suggested greeting intolerance with intolerance isn't the solution. There's room to respect, learn, and to "grow together" with others, he said.

He warned some politicians may be tempted to make "short-term gains" by feeding off fears and anxieties about global trade. Advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence, he said, could also foster a sense of job insecurity among those who feel left behind.

"We live a world where sometimes packaging really simple, easy-sounding solutions can be very compelling," Trudeau said of today's political climate.

He felt encouraged that campaigning on a "very ambitious" plan helped the Liberals jump from a "distant" third to forming government.

"I sort of said to myself that, 'Wow, maybe we proved it once and for all that positive politics works and nobody's ever going to try divisive, scary politics again.'"

The feeling was apparently short-lived. Without mentioning U.S. President Donald Trump by name, Trudeau explained, "The world went in a bit of a different direction."

"And we see that it is very compelling for some politicians to look and push easy answers and simplistic solutions that feel right but don't actually pass the smell test and don't actually represent real solutions."

Pundits and editorial boards have criticized Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer and former Tory MP-turned-People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier of flirting with populist sentiments to court support.

Watch: Maxime Bernier says his new party offers 'smart populism'

Trudeau's advice for the teacher: listen and be respectful of people who may have opposing views.

"Make sure there's room for us to disagree on certain issues and explain our reasoning as to why we think we're right and maybe the other party or other person is not on the right path," he said. "But to do it on a respectful way that doesn't shut down or shut off people who disagree with you, but instead tries to bring them along. That's the big challenge."

Trudeau may have to have a respectful conversation with one of his party's own after StarMetro Vancouver reported on Liberal byelection candidate Karen Wang's apparent use of race to differentiate herself against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Stoking racial resentment is a driver of populism.

More from HuffPost Canada:

According to the newspaper, a translation of a recent vote-rallying post Wang shared in Chinese on WeChat read: "My opponent in this byelection is the NDP candidate Singh of Indian descent!"

Wang deleted the post saying the phrasing should have been modified. The party has not responded to HuffPost Canada's request for comment.

The Liberals skipped extending a so-called "leader's courtesy" by deciding to run a candidate against Singh in Burnaby South. The Tories and PPC also nominated candidates for the high-profile race.

Green Party's Elizabeth May stuck to convention and did not nominate a rival for Singh, a federal leader who does not have a seat in the House of Commons.

Voters in Burnaby South and two other federal ridings, York—Simcoe and Outremont, head to the polls on Feb. 25.