UVic Young Liberals host MP Justin Trudeau for question-and-answer session

Papineau, Quebec MP Justin Trudeau sidestepped questions about whether he would one day be interested in leading the Liberal Party

Justin Trudeau

Papineau, Quebec MP Justin Trudeau sidestepped questions Tuesday about whether he would one day be interested in leading the Liberal Party, preferring instead to implore young people to vote and make a difference.

“I only get to be a politician or eventually perhaps a good leader if I’m also making sure I’m a good dad because that makes me a better person,” the son of former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau told more than 100 people, from students to seniors, who gathered inside the University of Victoria’s Student Union Building for the event organized by UVic’s Young Liberals.

He also spent part of his day-long visit to the area with family, including his maternal grandmother who lives in the Royal Oak neighbourhood of Saanich.

“And to manage that balance between family and the kinds of responsibilities that would have me criss-crossing the country as much as the next Liberal Party leader will have to do, I don’t know that I can pull that off and be the person that I want to be. That’s why I’ve said no up to this point,” he added.

The federal Liberals, who he acknowledged were “thoroughly drubbed” in last year’s federal election, won’t take a hard look at party leadership until this fall.

“For the past 10 years we’ve been so focused on who gets to drive the car that we weren’t paying attention to the fact that the car was heading over the edge of the cliff,” Trudeau said.

Many young people in the audience expressed frustration, as well as curiosity, on several fronts: the Conservative government’s mandate, the robocall scandal, attack ads, electoral reform, proportional representation and elected senates, among other topics.

Still, the dialogue often circled back to the importance of young adults casting ballots.

Thirty-five per cent of young people aged 18 to 25 voted in the 2011 federal election, Trudeau said.

“I love that you’re willing to camp out in a town square. I love that you’re willing to sign a petition,” the Liberal Party critic for Youth, Citizenship and Immigration said. “For Christ’s sake, vote.”

Making it easier to vote is crucial, but online voting is not the answer, said Trudeau.

“I think it’s something you have to take seriously, and if you can roll off your couch in your sagging tighty-whiteys and type a couple of (computer) keys and vote, bleary-eyed on a Saturday morning, then you know what? You’re taking away a little bit of the sense of the momentousness and the importance of the right to vote that people are losing their hands for in Africa and people are dying for in some of the Arab countries.”

When asked by fourth year UVic psychology student Zoe Staples about voter apathy, Trudeau said people are frustrated, and that, in turn, has led to cynicism.

She said Trudeau’s message resonated with her.

“You don’t change people’s minds by telling them what to think, or telling them what you think or telling them why your way is right,” said Staples, a member of UVic’s Young Liberals. “It’s getting at what actually matters … that really tugs at the heart strings.”

Letting young adults know they have an important role to play is key, Trudeau told The News.

“Yes, young people can be cynical and apathetic from time to time, but it’s a reflection of how much they care and are frustrated they don’t get to have an impact,” he said, adding that many are already involved in their communities, while others demonstrate a keen willingness.

We just have to show them how to tap into that in concrete ways.”