OTTAWA – The end of the year is always prone to some self-reflection from our political leaders, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been making the rounds to a number of media outlets.
Trudeau is known to be usually more talkative and candid in his French interviews — aside from his annual Christmas chat with friend Terry DiMonte in English — and this year was no exception, with Quebec TV hosts asking him if he was dating anyone new.
For all those who were wondering, the short answer is: probably not. He insisted that his children are his priority right now and strongly hinted that he has no time for romance.
Here are other things he said during year-end interviews with Quebec networks TVA and Radio-Canada that aired this week:
He is weirdly optimistic about the next election
Trudeau’s Liberals have had a very bad year 2023, but remain convinced that their fortunes might turn around by the time voters head to the polls — sometime in 2025.
Speaking to TVA, Trudeau said that it is normal for Canadians to place the blame on the government for their frustrations, but said he hopes that interest rates will start to go down in the next year which could alleviate some of the economic struggles people are facing.
Trudeau also said that poll numbers mean “nothing” two years away from the election and hinted that the battle for his re-election will truly start when the next election rolls around.
“The fight has not really started yet,” he said in French. “Yes, it’s happening a bit in the media and in the House of Commons … but those are the pre-series.” Speaking about Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, he said “he may be fighting against me, but I don’t really care.”
Long-serving chief of staff Katie Telford is not going anywhere
“Katie is staying.” That’s what Trudeau told TVA’s Paul Larocque when asked if he was considering bringing new blood to his inner circle in 2024.
Katie Telford has served as Trudeau’s chief of staff since he was first elected in 2015, making her his longest serving aide and closest adviser for more than eight years. She has also lasted longer in the role than any of her predecessors for past Canadian prime ministers.
Telford’s influence and power over government decisions has often been criticized from the sidelines, but Trudeau said she is doing a “great job” and will not replace her.
He also mentioned that his team is bringing in new people. One of them is Max Valiquette, a marketing specialist, who is acting as the new executive director of PMO communications.
Diversity in Liberal caucus is a “challenge” on Israel-Hamas file
In an interview with Radio-Canada, Trudeau was asked about the ongoing divisions in the Liberal caucus on the need for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Canada’s recent vote in favour of a non-binding motion at the United Nations calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” caused some turmoil within the Liberal caucus, with some MPs expressing disappointment and others applauding the government.
Trudeau told Radio-Canada that his caucus had the most Muslim and Jewish MPs at the same time, and that it is “a reflection of Canada.”
“It’s a strength but also a challenge for the Liberal party because the conversations we’re having inside the caucus are the reflection of conversations people are having in their workplaces, with their families and in the streets,” he said.
Legault’s attack on English universities could “weaken” Quebec
Trudeau, a McGill University alumna, said he is worried about Quebec premier Francois Legault’s controversial plans to hike tuition for mostly English out-of-province students — and the chilling effect it could have on McGill and Concordia’s reputations on the world stage.
“I worry that this could weaken Quebec. We have world-class institutions; we must protect them,” he told Radio-Canada’s Patrice Roy in his year-end interview.
Legault’s plan also involves requiring that 80 per cent of students at McGill and Concordia become proficient in French, or else they will lose funding. Without getting into the specifics, Trudeau agreed that more should be done to promote the French language for students.
“I was always frustrated, when I was studying at McGill, to see young people from Ontario who were in French immersion lose the bit of French they had by spending four years in Montreal.”
Canada’s national anthem should be at least in English and French
Trudeau also had some reservations about Canada’s national anthem being sung in English and Punjabi at a Winnipeg Jets game this week, a first in NHL history.
While many saluted the move as a proud Canadian moment, Quebec nationalists and political commentators criticized the absence of French — with one of them even writing that the French language is disappearing as one of Canada’s two official languages.
“Our national anthem should be in English and French, and if we want to add a verse in another language, no problem. But from the outset, we have two official languages,” said Trudeau after he was asked to comment on the issue by Radio-Canada.
He added that he is especially sensible to minority French communities across the country, including in Manitoba. “As a former French teacher in Vancouver, to protect our beautiful language across the country, to make sure that it thrives, has always been my priority.”
A “challenge” to work with any U.S. administration — not just with Trump
The idea of a Trump presidency in 2024 also came up during Trudeau’s TVA interview, but he was careful to put things in perspective when dealing with the United States.
“First of all, it’s never easy to deal with the Americans. Even with Obama or Biden, we had our differences. The interests of the Americans are always so strong that we always need to work a little bit,” he said, noting that Canada protected its interests during the NAFTA negotiation.
If Trump were to be elected, Trudeau said he fears for progressive values and women’s rights, but also fears more instability on the world stage. On the climate change file, he said Trump wasted four years during his first term in office and fears that might happen again.
In any case, Trudeau said he’d work with whomever Americans elect as president.
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