As an Irishman in Canada, I’m proud of Trudeau and Varadkar
I don’t like all their policies, but these leaders boost the images of both my countries
Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, is welcomed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Farmleigh House. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
When Justin Trudeau’s visit to Ireland to meet newly elected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was announced last week, I reflected on what it means to me to be represented by two of the youngest leaders in world politics.
I have lived in Canada for more than three years, and became a permanent resident in January 2016. I am now invested in Canada and in Canadian politics. I closely followed the last general election here, when Trudeau was elected as Canada’s second youngest prime minister. I felt pride when my friends in Ireland texted me about the new “hipster” leader.
When my dad called to ask what I thought about that “Trudeau fella”, I was able to respond with relative confidence on how I thought the new Liberal government policies might affect me as an Irish national in Toronto.
I was home in Ireland for a friend’s wedding when Leo Varadkar was sworn in as Ireland’s youngest Taoiseach. Again, I received some texts from across the Atlantic asking about Ireland’s new 38-year-old, gay prime minister of Indian descent.
In every message or conversation I have with my Canadian colleagues or friends, this new, young, polished Irish leader is viewed a positive arrival. The perception of Ireland as an old-school Catholic nation is changing.
Canada’s politics are generally more liberal than in Ireland’s. For example, Trudeau’s Cabinet has 15 men and 15 women ministers. Canada was one of the first countries to legalise same-sex marriage in 2005. Abortion has been legal there for many years.
Canada is also at the forefront in fighting climate change: Trudeau has given the provinces and territories sharp deadlines to cut carbon emissions, and wants Canada to be seen as setting the standard globally.
Recreational marijuana will become legal in Canada next year, whereas Ireland still hasn’t cracked the use of medical marijuana.
I might pay less tax if the Conservative government were in power in Ottawa, but I am still firmly in the Trudeau camp. This is primarily down to his immigration policies. Trudeau has promoted an open immigration policy in Canada. Even as US president Trump’s travel ban took hold, Trudeau declared: “I will continue to stand for Canadian Values and Canadian success in our immigration system as I always have, whether it’s in Washington or Hamburg next week or elsewhere around the world”.
Under a law passed last month, I am eligible to apply for citizenship two years sooner than under the previous rules. Canadian citizenship gives me a safety net: I can start a family here without fear of being deported for some minor offence. I will have the option to leave Canada for a few years and return.
In 2008, Leo Varadkar infamously suggested that Ireland pay jobless foreign nationals to leave the country. I’m not sure how serious or practical an idea he was championing at the time, but I do hope his Government now understands the rights and fears of immigrants working and contributing to society in Ireland in much the same way as Trudeau does in Canada.
Equally, I hope Varadkar creates an atmosphere that welcomes returning Irish migrants from all over the world. His apparent business-friendly approach may hit upon some mechanism to attract back the top Irish talent lost overseas.
When I arrived into Toronto Pearson airport on a snowy March day in 2014, Stephen Harper and Enda Kenny were the leaders of Canada and Ireland respectively. Both were well established, household-name politicians.
Fast forward three years, and hipster politicians have taken over in Canada and Ireland. Both were the first Taoiseach and prime minister to march in pride parades.
I don’t agree with all the policies of Varadkar or Trudeau. Trudeau continues the Harper government’s $15 billion deal to sell military vehicles to Saudi Arabia, and the spotlight is firmly on Varadkar to see how far right his economic and social welfare policies will go.
But as someone with major interest in Ireland and Canada, I appreciate the positive image both leaders have generated globally. That is something to be proud of.