After speaking earlier in the day in Calgary, Liberal Party leader candidate Justin Trudeau made a stop in Richmond to speak in front of hundreds of eager listeners at the Radisson Airport Hotel.
Even though I showed up well over an hour in advance, every seat in the house was already occupied, and wall-space was quickly becoming a valuable commodity. I settled in to a nice spot behind a row of chairs and watched as people of all ages and ethnicities continued to file in and try to claim some real estate before the show started. As 7:00 drew closer, the energy in the room grew more and more electric until finally someone approached the podium and adjusted the microphone to speak, but it was not Monsieur Trudeau.
16 year old Linda Chang took the podium and delivered an impassioned speech about her personal interest in politics, and how she wished that more youth would take action and vote to help shape our country’s future. Despite being rather small in stature, her words had a noticeable impact on the people in the audience as you could have heard a pin drop. No one was talking, no one was glancing around, their eyes were glued on this little girl who seemed to have more knowledge of Canada’s political system than a lot of adults I know. As she wrapped up her speech, people began to applaud, but it wasn’t over yet. She started all over again, delivering the speech in French. Once again upon completion, she received a round of applause…only to silence the crowd once again by repeating the speech a THIRD time in Chinese. If I hadn’t already been impressed by this young woman, I would have been at that point. I know personally how hard it is to speak two languages, but three? That is impressive indeed.
Next up to the podium was one of Trudeau’s former professor’s from UBC. He humorously acknowledged the young lady that had spoken before him, saying that it would be next to impossible to follow that act. The good doctor kept it short and sweet, talking about Trudeau’s time at UBC and how hard he worked to expand his knowledge base. He called himself a scientist, and defined that word as “someone who never stops asking questions.” He went on to say that Trudeau not only acknowledges the importance of science, but actively encourages scientific development as an integral part of Canada’s growth. He said Trudeau may be a scientist by his own definition, but he had a better definition for the man: the next Prime Minister of Canada. At this point he introduced the man everyone had come to see, and had I not known better I would have assumed we were all waiting for some iconic rock band to take the stage.
Led by a team of security guards struggling to make a path through the crowded room, Trudeau finally made an appearance with K’Naan’s hit song “Waving Flag” playing in the background. As he slowly made his way to the podium, stopping to shake hands with people along the way, people kept on cheering the young politician. After managing to get the crowd to quiet down, Trudeau took a moment to soak in the scene around him. He looked genuinely humbled by the reaction he received. He began his speech by talking about how important Western Canada was to his development as both a person and a politician, touching briefly on the time he spent here at UBC. When he got to talking about his mother, who was sitting front and centre at the event, Trudeau started to get a bit emotional. With tears of pride welling up in his eyes, he talked about how he couldn’t have accomplished what he has without her. He applauded her strength for having dealt with 3 generations of politicians in their family, and the crowd gave her a loud round of applause as well.
But it was not until he began talking politics that Trudeau started to show that trademark Trudeau charisma. He began to rocket through some very important issues, focusing strongly on encouraging the youth of Canada through education and work opportunities. He also spoke on the need for Canada to continue growing as an ethnically diverse land, which naturally drew a rousing round of applause from the ethnically diverse crowd. He directly thanked Canada’s First Nations people for being an integral part of this country’s birth, and acknowledged that without their shoulders to stand on, we might not be where we are today.
“Diversity is not an obstacle to be overcome. It is part of what makes this country so great.”
Along that sentiment, Trudeau noted that he believed we are so free as a nation because we respect each other, and we deserve a government that will respect us. After saying that he respected both Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair as politicians, he launched into the only negatively-charged aspect of his entire speech. He criticized the NDP for creating regional resentment and blaming the successful for our country’s economical problems, while also attacking the Conservatives for privileging one sector over the other.
“Instead of inventing facts to support policies, we should create policies based on our facts.”
Not surprisingly, given his roots in Quebec, he did speak briefly on the province and the issues relating to them. He said that there are people in Quebec who want the province to be a separate nation because they don’t feel as though their needs are being addressed. Trudeau wants Canada to once again support Quebec, but as part of one great nation: Canada. Smartly he didn’t spend too much time talking about Quebec and went on to say that that privilege would not only be extended to Quebec. He says that one of the major issues facing Canadians today is that they feel too disconnected from their government, feeling as though their needs are not being addressed by the very people who are supposed to be their “voice”. Trudeau vowed to change that by working closely with the provinces. He vowed to unite Canada once again as the greatest nation on Earth, and with that he thanked everybody for coming out. “Waving Flag” once again came on, and Trudeau stepped down to hug his mother, whose eyes were filled with tears of pride and joy.
“My friends, this is a blessed place. Canada is a blessed country.”
Even as he slowly made his way around and out of the room, the electricity was still buzzing in the room. People were jumping over one another just in the hopes of catching a brief handshake from the Liberal leadership hopeful. I was smart and had mapped out where he would be leaving the room, so I took up a post in that area and waited for the craziness to die down. As it turns out, I made the smart decision as I reached out for a handshake and exchanged a few words (in French, of course) with Trudeau. I thanked him for coming to Richmond and wished him luck, and he looked me square in the eyes and thanked me for coming out. Even after telling him I had never voted Liberal in my life, he laughed it off and told me that he hoped he could change that pattern, and you know what? He might be the one who can.
I’m sure much of my exchange with the man was standard fare for a politician, but there was also a very obvious and real sense of humility in the man. He was truly thankful for the people who took time out of their lives to come listen to him speak. He took the time to talk to me, however briefly it may have been, and that’s more than I can say for other politicians I have seen in the past.
Above all else, Justin Trudeau proved to everyone last night that he can “talk the talk”. The question on everybody’s mind now however, is can he “walk the walk?” Only time will tell, but the future looks very bright for the future of this young politician.