The four-hundred seat D.B.Clarke theatre at Montreal's Concordia University was filled to capacity last Thursday for Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, who decided to pay a visit.
After speaking at both McGill and the Université de Montréal earlier that day, there was a sense of fatigue in Trudeau's tone with having to regurgitate what had just been said at the two preceding universities. The audience was a mix of Liberal Party partisans, Justin Trudeau fan girls (and boys), anti-oil sands student activists, and just regular, curious students who probably happened to have free time. If it was the speech of a future prime minister the audience wanted to see, however, they were at the wrong event.
Trudeau's speech was filled with the same old clichés you'd hear from any mediocre politician, peppered with anti-Conservative jokes you'd expect to hear at comedy clubs. Only moments before Trudeau was introduced on stage, students from Divest Concordia, which, according to their site, is "a student-run group calling on Concordia University to make responsible investment choices," were handing out flyers with an unflattering picture of Trudeau approving the Keystone XL Pipeline on them, as well as the oil sands in general, referred to in the flyer by the pejorative term "tar sands."
Trudeau started off his speech by proclaiming how politics today is viewed with a great level of cynicism and how his speech would not be especially partisan. To be fair, it wasn't, so it felt more like a speech you'd expect to hear from the head of an NGO or non-profit than from an aspiring PM. Being the son of a former prime minister, having nice hair, and great drama skills doesn't really cut it.
Interestingly, Trudeau touted the red-square protesters, Idle No More, Occupy, as well as "aspects of the Arab Spring" as "agents of change" in "a grand sweep of citizen awakening." Trudeau then went on to say how "people are demanding of their leaders a better level of respect, of engagement," and how "people want to be part of shaping the big decisions." He then concluded that all this is a "positive development."
What is common throughout all of the movements Trudeau mentioned is that they are popular with youth, and it isn't difficult to see how Trudeau has been catering to them. Later on in his speech, Trudeau stated that "much of government is consumed with focusing on healthcare, pensions, and tough-on-crime measures...because those play well to the people who vote -- seniors, who have close to an 80 per cent turnout rate." Trudeau then said that issues such as youth unemployment, education, and other "longer-term" issues that are of such concern to young people are not often talked about.
Playing the "old people vote" card is a tactic used by politicians with a young base that they need to scare to the polls if they don't want "old-people issues" at the forefront of the political agenda. To illustrate his argument, Trudeau spoke of an analysis done by "someone" of the 2011 election results and what would've happened if only the votes of those aged 18-25 had been counted. "Well, Parliament would have 43 Green Party MPs," he said before the chuckling crowd, "and the Conservatives wouldn't be in government, they'd be a third party".
Trudeau also mentioned that because politicians cater mostly to the elderly, issues of importance to younger people are often ignored and younger voters feel left out and as a result, have less of an interest in politics and voting.
Trudeau isn't telling us anything new. Nearly every western democracy is going through the same problems with regards to voter apathy amongst youth as Canada is. Wanting to get younger people to vote is a great thing, but it isn't like there haven't been efforts made by countless people or organizations before. During the 2011 election campaign, there were many get-out-the-vote campaigns happening on university campuses across the country. Rick Mercer made a personal video imploring young people to go vote. Videos were made and posted of "vote mobs." And ultimately, there was only a slight uptick in the turnout rate when compared to the 2008 election, and that understandably left many disheartened.
Getting more people to the ballot box who are more likely to not vote for Mr. Harper is only a pleasant by-product according to Trudeau. Unfortunately for Trudeau, though, the 50 and over crowd still have a voice, and unlike younger people, they actually exercise their duties as citizens to go and decide which government they want leading them.
What is a clear attempt at pitting young against old in the last example, Trudeau, funnily enough, specifically spoke of the increasing polarization within Canada. According to him, "between East and West, between Quebec and the rest of the country, urban against rural, English against French, new Canadians against people who have been here for generations, against people who have been here for millennia."
Obviously, Trudeau is somehow trying to equate these apparent divisions to Stephen Harper. Whether these divisions are actually real or they're just conveniently fabricated in order to try and make Harper look like the bad guy is anybody's interpretation. But of course, it's naturally okay for Trudeau to pit young against old, in an effort to somehow gain young supporters.
Trudeau ended his speech with too many questions to answer from the audience. However, of the questions he did answer, the majority of them seemed to come from angry student activists wondering what Trudeau will do about the oil sands (or tar sands as they like to call it) and the various anticipated pipeline projects. Trudeau conceded that he does in fact support the oil sands, and, in a seemingly desperate attempt to try and seem as if he's not the only "bad guy," added that Mulcair's NDP also supports them. Trudeau continued, as politicians do best I suppose, to skate around answering the different questions without any concrete answers.
When Trudeau ended his speech, thanking everyone for coming out, and, in effect, having to skip answering students' questions, a frustrated young woman started yelling at the top of her lungs for Trudeau to more or less "act like a leader and move on from developing the tar sands." Many students actually applauded her after she was done shouting, which goes to show the type of audience that was in attendance.
Trudeau's speech was largely the same old rhetoric you'd expect to hear from any "progressive" politician about "wanting to create a better Canada, a better world." Obviously any politician with four hundred or so students staring down at him is going to say how much the youth are important and how they should go out and vote.
Therefore, if you were not swept off your feet by Trudeau's deceptive charm or "lost in his eyes" as one Liberal organizer was overheard saying to a student entering the venue, you did not learn anything of importance or new about the wannabe future prime minister.
This article was originally published in the Prince Arthur Herald
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