10 Questions I wished I asked PM Justin Trudeau when he visited NUS

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, visited NUS on 15 November 2018 for a town hall dialogue titled “Canada and Asia in a Changing World”. Mr Trudeau was in Singapore at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to attend the 33rd ASEAN Summit and related summits as a guest of the ASEAN Chair. Moderated by BBC World News anchor Ms Sharanjit Leyl, the nearly one hour dialogue at the University Cultural Centre Theatre focused on Canada’s trading relationship with Asia, and an international community built on shared values, standards, and rules.

A number of Tembusu College students had the privilege to be in the audience, namely those from tAmbassadors, the College Students’ Committee and Polity. I had the privilege to attend the dialogue as part of the team from Polity, the college’s public policy and current affairs interest group. While we had the privilege to be in the same room as Mr Trudeau, none of us from Tembusu College had the honour to be called upon to pose a question to the Canadian Prime Minister. I had raised my hand but was sadly not picked by Ms Leyl or Mr Trudeau.

Alas, my list of questions which I enthusiastically crafted the night before failed to get airtime. Thankfully, in this digital age, there is an alternative to face-to-face communication. As such, I thought it might be worthwhile to publish the questions online. Fingers crossed that the social media savvy Prime Minister of Canada (who also serves as Minister for Youth) might respond electronically.

Nevertheless, these questions may serve as food for thought as you contemplate Canada’s relationship with Asia. After all, at Treehouse, we hope to deepen the landscape of thought in Tembusu College, by inspiring reflection and conversation among our readers.

So without further ado, here are the 10 questions I wished I could ask Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he visited NUS for a town hall dialogue with students:

Canada & ASEAN

1. How achievable is Canada’s aspiration for a comprehensive free trade agreement with ASEAN? How likely is Canada going to persuade all 10 member states of ASEAN to agree on a trade deal that goes beyond tariff reductions to include things like intellectual property rules and labour standards, when ASEAN itself is still facing challenges to integrate its 10 different economies? Is getting more ASEAN member states – such as the Philippines, Indonesia or Myanmar – on board the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) a more achievable alternative?

2. What is Canada’s pitch to be a full member of the East Asia Summit? How can Canada contribute to the region on security issues? 

Pitching Canada to Asia

3. You were quoted by CBC News that Canada is “perhaps not top of mind” for potential investors. Why do you think this is so? And how do you intend to promote Canada to potential investors?

4. To what extent, do you think, your personal charm and celebrity or family relations – your father former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau enjoys a favourable legacy in China and your fifth great-grandfather William Farquhar served as the first Commandant of colonial Singapore – contributes, if at all, to Canada’s attractiveness to investors in Asia?

Balancing trading relationships with human rights concerns

5. It has been said that your father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, took politics out of economic and trade relations when cultivating Canada-China relations. In contrast, you have not shied away from raising human rights concerns to China’s leaders even while seeking to do a trade deal with China. Will your approach harm the chances of securing a deal with China?  

6. How comfortable are you doing deals with countries that are in stark contrast to your government’s “progressive” agenda on human rights? You are pushing for a trade deal with ASEAN. But do ASEAN countries align with your ideals? On Sunday afternoon in Paris, you championed press freedom. But just earlier this year, UN human rights experts urged the Philippines government to preserve the free press after the government revoked the licence of independent news website Rappler. Canada recently stripped Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship for her apparent complicity in the Rohingya crisis. And Canada has a long-running consular dispute since 2014 over the allegedly undue imprisonment of a Canadian teacher in Indonesia. Is it fair to say that while you take the moral high ground in rhetoric, in reality, you accept that ultimately pragmatism trumps principles?

Maintaining a rules-based multilateral international order

7. Canada is leading talks for WTO reforms. To what extent is Canada’s push for WTO reforms a response to President Trump’s “America’s First” policy, threat to pull the US out of WTO, and trade tensions between the US and China? And when will the US and China be at the table for the Canada-led WTO reforms talks? What are the prospects of the talks resulting in actual reforms?

Making globalisation work for everybody

8. How do we make globalisation more inclusive? How do we ensure that it’s not just benefiting those at the top, as opposed to, say, small business owners, artisans, small-scale farmers?

9. Beyond economics, how can we ensure that local and indigenous cultures don’t lose out to global (read: Western / Northern) ones?

On Canada

10. What conditions explain why Canada is one of the few developed countries not experiencing a swing to the far right? Or perhaps not yet?

Header and feature images from NUS Facebook page

About the author

Bryan Kwa majors in Political Science. He mulls over the relationship between political institutions and the negative liberties of humans. The ‘invisible hand’ of the market fascinates him and he also ponders about the nexus between industry and political power. He dreams of upholding the fourth estate: posing hard-hitting questions to the powers that be and holding them to account.