Home News Featured News Justin Trudeau’s serendipitous links to Singapore

Justin Trudeau’s serendipitous links to Singapore

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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Perhaps Singapore is ready for a leader like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. No? From most accounts, he is a people connector, particularly with the young. I was impressed with his answers to questions at the “Canada and Asia in a Changing World” dialogue held at the NUS’ University Cultural Centre on Thursday Nov 15. He was here for the Asean Summit.

There is something I want to say first before we get to what he said and why I see his replies as having resonance with young progressive Singaporeans.

Local media went gaga over Trudeau’s Singapore connection. Indeed, they should since his great-great-great-great grandmother was Esther Bernard, whose father was William Farquhar, the First British Resident and Commandant of Singapore. A case could be argued that Farquhar was the real founder of modern Singapore rather than Stamford Raffles who did not stay for any extensive period on the island. Farquhar was resident here and did all the hard work of building up the settlement.

So there is something serendipitous about Justin Trudeau’s link to Singapore.

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Still on the Singapore connection.

I quote from Wikipedia: “The Bernards were the descendants of colonists in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Francis James Bernard, the husband of Esther Bernard, was the founder of the first Singapore Police Force in 1819. The Singapore Chronicle, the first newspaper in Singapore, was established with Bernard as owner, publisher and editor in 1824 and he opened up Katong, now a densely populated residential enclave, by being the first to cultivate a coconut estate there in 1823.” Yes, Katong, no less.

Justin Trudeau is practically more Singaporean than most Singaporeans.

And there is yet another Singapore link.

Justin’s father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was the Canadian PM from 1968 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984, visited Singapore during his first term. I think he was a bachelor at that time. The Foreign Affairs Ministry was trying to fix him a date. A then University of Singapore undergraduate, Quek Li Lian, was approached and she had dinner with him at the Hilton. Nothing romantic happened after that or else Justin would not be around today to visit Singapore, much less talk about his Singapore connection.

At the NUS talk, Trudeau spoke about more than his links. The 400-strong NUS audience, among whom were smart young minds and future leaders of Singapore, almost nodded in unison when he voiced his anxiety about social polarisation. They probably wished Singapore’s leaders were like him.

He spoke about the intolerance which has toxified public discourse on serious issues:“When you have a polarised population… where you’re talking but not listening to each other, it becomes really hard to find that common ground.

“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.”

Many in the audience at NUS would agree with him. They would relate easily to a leader like him, because of both his obvious charisma and the socially progressive policies of his government. Steps that Canada has taken include a tax cut for the middle class, raising taxes for the wealthiest 1 per cent in society and investments in higher education and research.

Canada is often seen as offering the best quality of life, with high ratings for education, healthcare and public safety. The US News and World Report has it as No 2 after Switzerland in its most liveable countries list. Singapore came in No 16.

We may not ever make it to the top 5 like Trudeau’s Canada. Our social divide needs to be seriously resolved. It is not just about income. It is also about a vocal shut-out minority, a voiceless underclass and a stubbornly deaf and group-thinking establishment. No one in the leadership is as remotely refreshing as the visiting Canadian leader. And, come to think of it, at 46, he could have been a 4G Singapore leader if history had taken a different turn.

Toyota Corollas: 45 million strong and ready for a makeover

The world’s most popular car will be getting a makeover. And it is a significant one. The new Toyota Corolla, to be launched in 2020, will this time be the same Totoya Corolla, with a common architecture – wherever it is being manufactured or assembled. Previous Toyotas were usually different small cars simply sharing the same name, depending on the country it was sold.

As the CNN reported, this would be more important news for millions of motorists around the world than the launch of a supercar which would excite only a few.

“The generally unexciting, unassuming Corolla long ago passed such cultural icons as Ford’s Model T and Volkswagen’s Beetle on its way to becoming the best-selling car model ever. More than 45 million have been sold globally since the Corolla was introduced in 1966, helping to usher in a period of rapid growth for the Japanese auto industry.”

The highly efficient point A to point B Corolla – now selling as the Altis at $123,888 (COE included) – is the heart of TMC (Toyota Motor Corporation). It’s like Changi airport to Singapore, more important than Singapore Airlines, more important than other Totoya cars, including the Lexus, to TMC. This was the impression I got when I spoke to TMC’s upper echelons during a test-drive in Tokyo in the 1990s.

Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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