Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau charmed audiences at the Women in the World Summit

By Diana Pearl
April 06, 2017 04:46 PM
Justin Trudeau
Credit: Richard Drew/AP

Even in these deeply partisan times, it seems there is one thing that can still unite many Americans: a mutual love of Justin Trudeau.

The Canadian prime minister and self-declared feminist has become something of an Internet sensation since he took office in 2015.

Trudeau was a guest speaker at the 2017 Women in the World Summit, where he took the stage for a conversation with event producer and host Tina Brown. Taking the stage at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City to a round of applause on par with those usually reserved for rock stars, Trudeau sat down with Brown to chat about feminism, his own past, and working with President Donald Trump.

Trudeau was quick to say that though Canada may seem to some like a magical place — universal health care, paid family leave, stricter gun control laws — it takes work to get there, and stay there.

“A lot of people know you can’t fix things with a Band-Aid,” he said. But effective change, he says, comes from standing by the issues and causes you truly support.

“Is someone going to stand up for what they truly believe in, and not just the way the wind is blowing?” he says.

Brown also asked how he’s been adjusting to working with the Trump administration, after saying goodbye to his more like-minded counterpart, former President Barack Obama. But Trudeau said that from the start, he steeled himself for all possible outcomes.

“You never know what’s going to happen in a given campaign,” he said. “I said, ‘I will work with whomever the United States elects.’ Canada needs to have a constructive working relationship with whoever is in place, and that’s exactly what I’ve stayed focused on.”

Trudeau — who has worked with the president’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, on a task force for female entrepreneurs in the weeks since Trump’s inauguration — says that their relationship has proved there are many different ways to collaborate with a foreign government.

“It’s way bigger than just prime minister to president,” he says. “We’ll use all sorts of avenues to highlight that relationship.”

“Canada doesn’t have the biggest military or population around, but we know there are lots of ways of influencing the world stage,” he adds.

One of the ways he’s spread that influence is through accepting 40,000 Syrian refugees into Canada in the midst of the Syrian conflict. Credit for the influx, he says, is due not only to his government, but to individual citizens working with philanthropic and church groups.

“It’s a testament to everyone wanting to do more,” he says.

Of course, at the Women in the World Summit, he spoke of the importance of bringing more women into business and politics, especially in leadership roles.

“We have to lean on the success of each other if we’re going to be successful,” Trudeau says. “[Progress] doesn’t happen by accident and it won’t continue without effort.”

“We can’t just talk about how women need to be empowered without talking to the people who, unfairly, still have more power: the men. When we start realizing that including and promoting women is not just the nice thing to do, but the smartest possible thing to do, you start connecting it in more meaningful ways to the workplace.”

Speaking to an audience filled with women, and to be sure, proud feminists, Trudeau illustrated just one of the many reasons why he’s captured the hearts of so many: his vocal support of women’s rights.

“His leadership, globally, and his policy with refugees, the parity of women in his government, you just don’t see that in the United States,” Women in the World attendee Samantha Tartas tells PEOPLE. “Having someone who is a major world leader to be so favorably towards women and their success is amazing.”

“He’s tailor-made for a conference like this. He checks every box you could want, except for actually being a woman,” Betsy Fischer Martin, another attendee, says. “He’s supportive of women, he has a cabinet that is diverse, and this crowd here just eats that up.”

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It seems everyone is charmed by Trudeau, from Princess Kate to Ivanka Trump — even his former grade school bully Matthew Perry admits he’s fond of the guy. And really, it started from his first few days in office, when he explained his equally male and female cabinet with three simple words: “Because it’s 2015.”

“When he said, ‘Because it’s 2015,’ when he first came into office, I think that was pretty astounding,” says Alyse Nelson, a Women in the World attendee and the president and CEO of Vital Voices, a global non-profit dedicated to women leadership. “That, ‘This is not news, people, it’s not revolutionary or radical, it’s the way it should be. It’s a no brainer.’ I think he’s moved the conversation beyond. Men can’t just say, ‘Let’s empower women,’ they have got to be part of that solution.”

“It’s not some special interest issue, it’s 51 percent of the population,” she adds.

Trudeau has earned even more fans by giving glimpses into his personal life through photos like this recent one, of him painting murals on the walls of his home with his kids.

And this throwback shot of a young, Internet-crush-inspiring Trudeau.

The women and men in the audience at Trudeau’s question and answer session at Women in the World were similarly smitten.

“I think he acknowledges the role men have to play in the feminist movement,” says attendee Saumya Gulati. “People can think of the feminist movement as female-centric movement, but he addresses the idea that for the movement to succeed, we need male involvement, and how beneficial it is to men and masculinity in itself, and that’s why people have really taken to him.”

In particular, some women are impressed with Trudeau in comparison with America’s own leader, President Trump.

“Right now, especially with everything going on in this country, seeing that there’s a male figure in power that really does believe in the importance of women in our government and society, really gives you a breath of a fresh air,” says Suna Garcia, another attendee. “It’s always great to see people who care, especially men in power. The fact that he’s saying that women do deserve to have the same opportunities is so important.”