Justin Trudeau, Canada’s popular Prime Minister, is in Singapore this week to attend the 33rd Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. On Thursday, November 15, Trudeau paid a visit to Fort Canning and took photos with 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.
Saying in front of TV cameras, “I never actually take selfies. Everyone else takes selfies, I don’t take selfies,” the Canadian Prime Minister crouched in front of the plaque and took pictures of himself with the plaque, to send to his family.
Trudeau later remarked, “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 traveled 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.”