W5 exclusive: The first interview with PM-designate Justin Trudeau
Published Saturday, October 24, 2015 6:00PM EDT
On Monday, in Canada’s 42nd election, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his party earned a majority of the country’s 338 seats, removing Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from a decade-long position of power.
Between a whirlwind of meetings and appointments, Canada’s new prime minister-designate sat down with CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme for an exclusive, one-on-one interview for W5.
The following are excerpts from a 45-minute interview, abridged and edited for brevity and clarity.
Lisa LaFlamme: Give me a sense if you can of that moment for you on election night.
Justin Trudeau: It just felt really, really good. And we saw it sort of steadily rolling in through Atlantic Canada, and some of the tighter races we were watching for looked like they were swinging our way. We had a feeling that it was going to be a good night.
But to see the kind of support we got – and we ended up getting it right across the country – just left me really, really deeply grateful at the level of confidence people are putting in me, and being very conscious of the kind of hopes they’re putting in for four years of a government that does things in a way that is slightly more connected to Canadians.
Take me to the moment you heard the word majority Liberal government.
I had a group of friends watching in a lounge downstairs in the hotel. I was with them for a bit and that’s where they declared the Liberal government. I was with all my best friends and it was a really nice moment.
Then I went up to put the final touches on my speech. And at one point Sophie came into the room as we were working and she sort of looked over and said, ‘Can I say it?’ And we said what? She says they’re calling it a majority.
And it was just this moment of, first of all, just deep gratitude. Like, ‘Oh my god,’ you know? This connection that we’ve been building for three years with Canadians is real. And the responsibility that we have to live up to it is real.
THE 78-DAY CAMPAIGN
Trudeau’s win on that cool October evening was the climax of a marathon campaign, called nearly three months prior on a warm summer morning. When Stephen Harper dissolved parliament on August 2, Trudeau was half a country away, kicking off his campaign in Vancouver.
That first day, we actually got a little bit criticized because, you know, it was fairly well-known the prime minister was going to drop the writ. And it would be up to the Opposition parties to respond immediately.
And it was a moment where I said, no we shouldn’t be flying back to Ottawa. We shouldn’t be staying in Ottawa for that. This election happens right across the country and B.C. matters deeply – to me as a, as a grandson of B.C., son of Quebec and grandson of B.C. And it matters that I’m here, and it matters that I keep my word to the people that I told that I’d be there for Vancouver Pride.
Two weeks into the campaign, you were still at about 20 per cent in the polls. Were you at any point saying, we’re not making any traction here? You must have had some concerns.
You know, you’ve spoken with enough politicians to know that we all say we don’t pay much attention to polls – whether they’re up and down – and it is true. But at the same time, I remember feeling a little bit of – not so much concern as maybe a combination of impatience and exasperation. Sort of saying, look, I know we’re talking about the things that matter to Canadians.
Whose advice was that and give me some behind-the-scenes on a political leader trying to run for the prime minister’s office who says, yeah, deficits, let’s go for it.
The frame we put forward from the very beginning was this country needs investment. And when we no longer had a surplus, we had to say, okay do we give up on the investment and balance budgets, or do we say, no, we’re willing to go into deficit in order to make the investments that Canada needed. And that’s what we decided to do.
And by the way, I’m still committed to balancing the budget, as I always said. But we’ll do it in 2019 and not right away. Because right now Canadians need investment.
They spent a lot of money on the “Just Not Ready” campaign, and I think that started in May, so it was long in advance. Did that ever feel personal or were you able to sort of put a split screen between the negative ads and you and your family?
Yeah, I had (Trudeau’s son) Xavier come to me at home and say, you know, dad, some of the kids at school say you’re just not ready but you have nice hair. And I sort of laughed about it and I talked to him about it in schoolyard terms, right?
So listen, you have people who you’re not friends with at school who say mean things about you every now and then. Does that mean they’re right? And ‘No, that means they’re wrong!’ I said exactly. So you don’t worry too much about what people who aren’t your friends say about you, especially if you know it’s not true.
I’ve got to ask you, though, about that ad where you’re going up the escalator the wrong way. Help me out. Help me understand that one.
It was an idea we’d had. We were looking for a way to express what so many people felt about things that, that people were working harder and harder and not feeling like they were getting ahead.
So when someone came up with the idea of an escalator going the wrong way I laughed.
But at the same time I liked it because filming – we actually did three different versions of that ad on three different escalators in two different cities. And I spent the day walking up the escalator the wrong way and thinking to myself, I’m glad I’m in shape because I don’t think my opponents could have done a day of filming on an escalator going the wrong way.
TRUDEAU’S FIRST STEPS AS PRIME MINISTER
The long campaign was just the prologue to Trudeau’s four-year term as the country’s leader. Now the Liberal leader is tasked with instituting the changes his party promised as they courted voters.
You officially now are the prime minister designate of this country. In a sense, it’s time to pay the piper. So how do you come up with those priorities on all of the people – first nations – there’s a long list of people looking for your attention and your money.
Well the first thing to do is to realize that I’m not a party of one. That we are working very hard to pull together an extraordinary cabinet of Canadians from across this country elected for the Liberal party who will, each and every one of them, tackle different aspects of this ambitious plan for the country.
What about the promise of 25,000 refugees before New Year’s Day. How do you do that?
That’s something that we’re getting cracking on right away.
So you feel we’ll have 25,000 refugees in this country by New Year’s Day.
I know this is a surprise to certain people within the political universe, but the commitments I made in that platform, I’m going to keep. We put that platform together not because we thought it would help us get elected, but because we knew that these were things that Canada needed to do to succeed as a country and for Canadians to have the success that we deserve.
What does that say to you, the people who are appealing to you now to fulfill your promise on electoral reform? How quickly do you think you might be able to have a plan put forward?
This was the last election that we’re going to have on first past the post. But especially in a majority government situation, we’re going to have to make sure that we do something that is right for Canada and right for Canadians. And to consult broadly and hear from experts and look at things in a very serious way. Because changing our electoral system is no small deal. And that’s why I pledged to Canadians to do it responsibly in a non-partisan way.
A CHAT WITH OBAMA
Though he has yet to officially step into his role as Canada’s prime minister, Trudeau has already garnered international attention. Publications in the U.S. and U.K. took an interest in the Canada’s election and new leader, and Trudeau’s victory landed him a private phone chat with U.S. President Barack Obama.
I would love to get a sense of that phone call and some of the things that were discussed on that call.
It was a very warm phone call. He started off in a way that really touched me by talking about having seen the pictures of me and my kids and how it reminded him of him standing with his kids on his first win and the fact that his daughters are now grown up.
I think we’re all stunned to see how quickly they grew up. And he said, just hang on to your kids and hold them close and pay close attention to them. Because especially when you’re going through the job that you’re about to do, they grow up in a flash. And I thought that was a really wonderful thing to say.
On the ISIL mission you said to him, Canadian fighter jets are going to be grounded.
He actually said, look, I know you’ve made commitments around that, around the ISIL mission and Canada’s involvement. And I said yes, I was elected on a wide range of things I intend to commit to. But I reassured him that yes, Canada will continue to have a strong and active role in the broader coalition against ISIL and there’s a lot of things that we can do.
And what things did he suggest?
We didn’t get into details. He was just reassured to know that Canada will continue to engage, including militarily, if in a non-combat role, in the fight against ISIL.
On the pipeline – how did that communication go?
I talked about how Canada is going to re-engage in international climate negotiations, how I understand that building a strong economy requires us to put a protected environment first and foremost. We didn’t talk specifically about that project and that was –
Keystone didn’t come up?
It was a deliberate choice. Because again, our relationship is far bigger than any one project, however important that project is for the Canadian energy sector. Getting that relationship right across broad ranges is really important.
So the president of the United States and the prime minister designate of Canada are on the phone together the word Keystone is not mentioned?
Yeah. Which is a massive change from the past years, where any time the Canadian government or any Canadian minister spoke with the United States, Keystone came up.
I want to ask you also the night of the election you had a communication with Stephen Harper?
I’ve always had very pleasant conversations with Mr. Harper because we didn’t do a lot of talking policy in many situations. So the conversation with him on election night was a cordial one.
Yeah it was brief. You know, he said, look, congratulations. I’m going to facilitate the transition in a respectful, responsible way. He mentioned concern for the household staff at 24 Sussex and he hoped I would keep some of them on and stuff and I assured him that I totally understand that that goes beyond partisanship and I look forward to engaging and doing the right thing on these and all things.
Ultimately you’re walking back into the house that you were born in. Is there going to be some kind of handover from the Harpers to the Trudeaus? Do you know how that unfolds?
You know, over the past few days I’ve been so focused on getting a handle on the office of the prime minister, on the policy, on the work I have to do that I haven’t really – I don’t even know if there’s a handing over of the keys or anything like that. That’s not something that I’m spending a lot of time thinking about.
BIG CHANGES FOR THE TRUDEAU FAMILY
For Trudeau, it will be his second tenure in the prime minister’s residence. Growing up as the prime minister’s son, he was code-named “Maple 3” by RCMP security detail. Now his three children will be getting code-names of their own.
So what kind of conversations around the fact that now you guys are going to have 24-7 security?
There have been some difficult adjustments realizing that (Trudeau’s wife Sophie is) no longer allowed to drive her own car, you know, for the next four years. There’s always this tension. Of course we want to stay safe, but you want to stay connected to people at the same time.
And on one level, like I said in my acceptance speech, I know my kids are going to go through a tough time. But I’m uniquely positioned to talk to them about how to stay grounded and how to live through what’s going to be a very different experience for them – but at the same time, one that is deeply meaningful.
I don’t remember you mentioning your dad in your speech that night.
I didn’t. I mean this whole process, this election, this job I’m in now is not about my dad.
So it was intentional that you didn’t?
So much is written about my father and there’s so many comparisons made on this, I don’t need to feed into that. I mean, I worked through my own identity issues a long time ago. I think people are understanding that I’m immensely proud of my father. If people talk to me about him I’ll certainly respond. And there’s a certain generation that still talks about him right off. And I take that with gratefulness and with gratitude.
But for me, my focus is very much, okay, what does the country need now?
Stephen Harper said after a decade in power we wouldn’t recognize the country. I wonder what your goal is for what Canada will look like after four years of a Trudeau government.
I have spent an awful lot of time listening to Canadians, learning from them, working with them. I like to think that after four years of my government, Canadians will deeply recognize their country.