Youngsters Lapped Up Trudeau at UNYCC Event, But It Was Tone-Deaf

The Trudeaus took a strong line on gender justice in feel-good speeches, but the event left a lot to be desired.

4 min read

Video Editor: Sandeep Suman

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has officially failed to salvage his week-long trade mission to India.

After seven days of non-stop controversy over accusations of being soft on Sikh separatists in his home country, mockery for ‘trying too hard’ to fit in, and being largely ignored by the host government, Trudeau’s underwhelming India trip tapered to a disappointing end at the UN Young Changemakers Conclave on Saturday, 24 February.

Granted, Trudeau was definitely a hit among the students at the event, where he was well-insulated from the recent Khalistan controversy. The Quint spoke to a number of young attendees, none of whom seemed aware of the furore over Sikh separatism that had been the focus of the news cycles until then. What was apparent was that Trudeau's charisma had charmed them all.

"A leader our age..."
"A politician from our community, the youth..." was the common refrain.

Firmly entrenched in young minds as 'one of us', he was relatable to these aspiring youths, who looked to the stage and saw themselves – undoubtedly an invaluable experience at any age.

But with a distinct ‘motivational speaker’ vibe from the various MCs, and with CEOs of big corporations taking the stage, this supposedly serious event on how to bring change in the world took on a depressingly commercial hue... surprising, given it was a UN-affiliated program.

Gimmicks like audience participation activities ("clap along!") and card tricks, which consisted of the MC bringing three girls from the audience on stage as props, detracted somewhat from the gravitas of a head of state delivering the keynote address.

The keynote address itself was a study in inspirational platitudes – "You can make the world a better place" and "Change starts with you". That's not to say that it was a complete bust, there were some genuinely insightful comments by both the Trudeaus.

The Canadian PM drew applause when he said, "Nature itself understands that diversity is key to success; ecosystems that are diverse do better than monocultures".

And this one resonated with the crowd too:

Grown-ups in developed countries tend to be resistant to change. We’re facing climate change, refugee migration, all these new challenges – and we need a fresh way of thinking. Young people can be the source of that, because change is all you’ve known.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, Canada

While his wife Sophie Gregoire drew applause for this insight into how the Canadian government functions:

In every single decision this government makes, there’s a gender-based lens, we see if the marginalised are going to benefit.
Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Former TV Host

One thing to be said for the Trudeaus, their commitment to gender justice and diversity was commendable, and didn't go unnoticed by the appreciative audience.

Indeed, transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi drew her loudest applause when she said, "Political commitment, like Mr Justin Trudeau has shown, is what is needed to get gender on an equal footing."

Corporate Social Responsibility?

Attending a UN-affiliated event hosting a visiting foreign dignitary, one would expect a certain degree of sincerity. But that's not quite how the event was.

The CEOs and heads of the conclave's major sponsors were given pride of place on stage, invited to give speeches alongside entrepreneurs before Sophie Gregoire and husband Justin Trudeau came on.  Co-founder of Mytrah Energy, CEO of video streaming service Hotstar, and India head of airline Air Canada all gave their innovation solutions for clean energy and digital innovation, as leaders of industries that are among the world's most polluting and the hungriest for consumer data. If that's not a conflict of interest, I don't know what is.

"The fundamental question is, how do you address the inequity of access to data?" said the Hotstar CEO, whose business is dependent on increasing its subscriber base. It was interesting that this event, billed as a platform to affect real change and innovation for and by young people, had big corporates up on stage utilising the language of social justice to further their brands, lending a rather trade-fair-ish colour to the whole thing.

Thanks to a stadium-wide audio issue for a part of the event, the addresses made by many of the entrepreneurs unfortunately couldn't be heard or understood.

But what was audible were the minute-long ads by Mytrah, Hotstar, and Air Canada.

“It's always good to get a captive audience to watch your ads,” quipped Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan in a facsimile of a joke as he played two back-to-back ads for the assembled impressionable minds.

It is understandable for an event to have corporate sponsors, and we know that corporates only sponsor to promote their brands, however, when a platform promoting real change starts feeling like you're at the beginning of an unskippable YouTube ad, there's something amiss.

Scripted Questions

After the main event, the Trudeaus sat down for a conversation with former beauty queen and actress Dia Mirza, and the floor opened up for questions.

Surprisingly, given Trudeau's reputation for taking audience comments freely, the questions had been preselected. Mirza directed the mic to specific students in the audience, who asked rather softball questions – like one about what the PM was going to do about plastic waste.

One wonders why the media was invited along to cover the event if they were supposed to simply sit down and watch.

At the end of the day’s speeches, the Trudeaus left to rousing applause, and then the audience was made to sit in place ‘for security reasons’ while the UNYCC organisers gave effusive praise to their big three sponsors. Then the UNYCC's 20-30 volunteers and staff were all called up on stage facing the audience while an MC thanked them and led applause, rather in the style of those old-school theatrical productions, which I suppose is apt.

(Hey lady, what makes you laugh? Do you laugh at sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, or other 'sanskari' stereotypes? This Women's Day, join The Quint's Ab Laugh Naari campaign. Pick up that beer, say cheers, and send us  photographs or videos of you laughing out loud at

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