Justin Trudeau, Canada’s popular and affable Prime Minister, already expressed pride over his multicultural roots last year, when on a visit to Singapore, he said, “I wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for multiculturalism.”
Last November, when he was in the country for the 33rd Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, he made a point to visit the memorial plaque of Esther Farquhar Bernard, his great-great-great-great-grandmother.
Bernard was the daughter of William Farquhar, the First British Resident, and Commandant of Singapore, and his French-Malaysian wife, Antoinette Clement.
On Monday, September 2, the Prime Minister was a special guest of comedian and cultural critic Hasan Minhaj, whose Netflix show ‘Patriot Act’ appears weekly.
Mr Minhaj talked to the Prime Minister over a number of topics, including the environment, oil, weapons, peacekeeping. This episode of ‘Patriot Act’ was entitled ‘The Two Sides of Canada’ and the comic discussed how progressive Canada is in terms of healthcare, multiculturalism, immigration, and integration, while drawing attention to the less savoury side of Canada, when it comes to the environment and selling arms.
However, as Mr Minhaj pointed out, the Prime Minister has many things going for him.
At one point, the comedian tells Mr Trudeau that Canada is like ‘ ’ a reference to the vibrant and progressive African nation in the Marvel universe where the superhero Black Panther comes from.
Minhaj: You guys are like Wakanada
PM Trudeau: Except we’re not covered by a protective bubble that nobody can see.
Minhaj: So minus the bubble, I’m in Wakanada. I’m speaking to the leader of Wakanada, the son of the former leader of Wakanada, which makes you…
PM Trudeau: The Prime Minister of Canada because we have to…
He’s interrupted by Mr Minhaj, who says, “You’re White Panther!”
The Canadian Prime Minister answers, “I’m like 1/16th Malaysian. Oh no. One-thirty-second or whatever.”
Mr Minhaj told him again, “You are White Panther!”
During his visit to Singapore last year, Mr Trudeau took a photo of himself in front of his great-great-great-great-grandmother’s memorial plaque.
He said, “I never actually take selfies. Everyone else takes selfies, I don’t take selfies.”
Later he told the people gathered, including members of the press, “It was a very touching moment to see the history of my family, to appreciate all the crisscrossing, weaving links that make up each of our stories.”
According to the National Parks Board, which posted about Trudeau’s visit, “Mrs Bernard’s plaque, which can be found along the walls of Canning Green, is one of some 400 tombstones of people who had lived in the area during the 19th century.”
One of the grandsons of Bernard moved to Canada, and a few generations later, Mr Trudeau emerged. It was his mother, Margaret Trudeau, who revealed the family’s Singaporean ancestry on a TV show in Canada in 2008. She travelled to Singapore to learn more about the connection with Bernard and Farquhar.
Trudeau told this story at a dialogue in NUS’ University Cultural Centre, called “Canada and Asia in a Changing World.” Furthermore, he made the case for multiculturalism, saying, “I wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for multiculturalism.”
The moderator of the town hall, BBC World News Presenter Sharanjit Leyl, asked Trudeau who was emerging as victorious on the debate on populism and multiculturalism.
Trudeau said, “You can either reflect that anxiety back to people and amplify it to a certain extent, and play up the politics of fear, of anxiety, of division, of negativity. Or you can do what we’ve chosen to do, which is to say, ‘Yes, this is a challenge but it’s a challenge we can overcome together. Here are the complex answers to complex questions’.”
He also explained what Canada’s government has done to address inequality and division, adding, “It’s always been easier to divide in politics than to bring people together. But it’s really hard to govern responsibly once you’ve created wedges within the population — once you’ve turned people against one another and made them more fearful.”
In one lighter moment during the dialogue, one audience member told Trudeau how good-looking he is. He answered, “It’s the Singaporean blood. Gives me high cheekbones and I tan dark.”/ TISG