Justin Trudeau at UBC: Elections, Bill C-51 and Education

Justin Trudeau, Liberal leader and one of the three leading prime minister candidates in the upcoming federal election, stopped by the UBC campus on Wednesday amid a room packed full of students.

Trudeau, who completed his Bachelor of Education at UBC in 1998 and taught French and math at Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, frequently visits university campuses across the country to talk about politics, government and student leadership.

At his visit, Trudeau spoke of B.C. as the place that he was drawn to in his youth to escape from the celebrity status and recognition that came from being the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s 15th prime minister.

Trudeau then dove straight into politics and his upcoming campaign by talking about the importance of striking a balance between a strong economy and protection of the environment.

“There are so many politicians that are still trying to push that there’s a choice to be made -- it’s either the environment or economy, it’s either jobs or the trees,” said Trudeau. “I think we all understand, particularly now in the 21st century, that we cannot build strong economy unless we are protecting and cherishing our environment.”

As he has done last month in Ottawa, Trudeau expressed his overall support for Bill C-51, a stringent anti-terrorism bill put forward by Stephen Harper in the wake of the shooting in Parliament Hill, but also said that the bill would need to be modified significantly.

In particular, Trudeau supports three features of the bill -- the strengthening of no-fly lists for people who have been suspected of terrorist activities, better use of preventative arrests and coordination between intelligence agencies -- but stressed for change towards better oversight, review of measures and narrowing and clarifying definitions in the bill.

“Anyone who happens to disagree with the Conservative government is worried that they might be targeted through this legislation and I understand that view,” said Trudeau. “That’s why, in a few months time, if the government doesn’t make those modifications, we will be offering Canadians, in an election campaign, improvements to this bill.”

Still, Trudeau said that he would vote for the bill even if the amendments are not made.

Trudeau also left time for questions from the audience, including a question from a student for his stance on the BDS campaign that asks student societies to support Palestinian rights by divesting from pro-Israel companies.

Trudeau expressed strong opposition to BDS, saying that it has no place in this country.

“[BDS] is not about Canadian values of respect and openness and engaging with each other,” said Trudeau. “These movements have made Jewish students feel unsafe being in a place of learning, in a place of respect and dialogue and, for me, it’s something that we have to take a firm stand against.”

Another student asked for Trudeau’s thoughts on Stephen Harper’s recent announcement of a potential bill that would deny the possibility of parole to people convicted of murders involving sexual assault, terrorism, death of a police officer or kidnapping.

Trudeau replied that, as Harper's announcement only came this morning and has not yet been tabled, it was too early to take a stance.

“It’s already an aspect of our justice system that someone classified a dangerous offender will never be free, is not eligible for parole […],” he said. “I look forward to seeing what the prime minister’s legislation actually changes or brings in.”

Trudeau also answered questions about collaboration with the NDP, his desire for election reform from first-past-the-post ballots to a candidate ranking system and the disproportionate rates of missing and murdered indigenous women across the country.

“This tragedy, the fact that we still haven’t addressed it, still haven’t figured out what to do about it, still haven’t generated the political will to do what needs to be done is a stain upon every one of us as Canadians,” said Trudeau. “One of the things that I am so proud of in this election is that we are drawing together extraordinarily wide range of strong voices from the Aboriginal community to be part of the next government in Canada.”

In a later private meeting with campus media, Trudeau talked about provincial cuts to education and the financial difficulties that young people across the country are facing.

Trudeau said that the Liberal party will be addressing these problems by looking at repayment models in other countries, strengthening RESP and bursary programs and working with individual provinces to make sure adequate funding is given to postsecondary institutions.

“A strong economy depends on people reaching their full potential,” said Trudeau. “When people make decisions to not further their education because they’re worried about or simply unable to attend higher education, that’s a loss for our entire community."

When asked about how he will manage his constituents if he is elected, Trudeau said that he will opt for collaboration and dialogue whenever possible, but will stand firm on issues that violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as opposition to women's reproductive rights.

"Fundamentally, respecting women's rights around reproductive issues is a Charter issue for me and standing up to women's rights is not negotiable if you want to be a Liberal candidate or a Liberal MP," he said.

As the October federal election looms closer and closer, Trudeau plans to continue his campaign by travelling across the country and advocating his platform to all Canadians instead of targeting specific places across the country as has been done in past elections by the Conservative government.

"I believe that creating a strong voice that represents and doesn't pick a part of the country to run against is the kind of national government that Canada needs," said Trudeau. "It's a little bit idealistic, I agree, but Canada is a country of idealism and I know that this is what Canadians are asking for from their MP."