NEW YORK – Justin Trudeau went boxing in New York City on Thursday – metaphorically sparring with students before doing the real thing in a famous Brooklyn gym.
The prime minister held a question-and-answer session at New York University where some queries packed a punch. One student asked how he could justify backing new oil pipelines after campaigning on climate change.
The prime minister replied that he was very explicit before the election, noting he backed the now-cancelled Keystone XL project and didn’t actually campaign against the fossil-fuel industry.
Halting fossil fuel development is “a simplistic solution that can be very appealing,” Trudeau said.
“If it does then involve everyone leaving their car at home, and everyone stopping to use fossil fuels tomorrow, our world would come to a crashing halt. So we have to be a lot more thoughtful and reasonable.”
His political opponents were throwing their own jabs, using the daily question period in the Commons to dismiss the prime minister’s decision to “fly to New York and work out in front of TV cameras,” in the words of Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose.
Nearly half the students at the forum were Canadian – including one young man in a red Maple Leaf-emblazoned hockey jersey who asked Trudeau about Lester Pearson’s peacekeeping legacy.
Trudeau replied that one reason Canada had the international clout to shape the creation of the United Nations and the design of its peacekeeping system was that it had previously fought in conventional wars.
How did the students react? They applauded warmly – even if they found some of his answers a bit light on detail.
“This was a good introduction,” said Sundus Nasir, a first-year dentistry student originally from Toronto.
“There wasn’t a lot of specifics …. Just that he’s here, to engage in a dialogue, I think that’s an important step.”
She said expectations for Trudeau are high. Nasir said he’s well-known abroad – her friends, for example, saw the recent video of him talking about quantum computing.
Trudeau slid on the boxing gloves later Thursday for another viral-video moment.
He jabbed for the cameras at the legendary Gleason’s Gym, where champions Muhammad Ali, Jake (Raging Bull) LaMotta and Mike Tyson trained, albeit in the gym’s previous locations.
The regulars all have their favourite stories about famous boxers who drop in to the gym near the Brooklyn Bridge. Tyson still swings by. Ali wandered in a few years ago.
The gym owner received a phone call last week asking if the prime minister could train there. He agreed – and contacted Frosso Adamakos, a Canadian-raised doctor he knows, to stand ringside lest the photo op go horribly wrong.
Trudeau sparred with former WBA super welter weight champion Israeli Yuri Foreman. They also trained with some kids participating in a youth program.
He arrived in New York a day early for Friday’s signing ceremony of the global Paris climate agreement at the United Nations.
It’s the prime minister’s fourth trip to the U.S. since last month, including stops at a White House state dinner, a nuclear arms-control summit and meetings at the UN after announcing Canada’s bid for a seat on the security council. But a fifth U.S. visit this spring is not in the cards.
On Thursday, Time magazine named him one its 100 most influential people for 2016, a media accolade that includes an invite to a gala. Trudeau’s not expected to attend that soiree.