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Selfies with Justin Trudeau, meetings with media, refugees; U of T students at the G20

Research group shares its report on summit with the prime minister, scholars

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with recent grad Caroline Bracht and students from the G20 research group (top and bottom photos of G20 Research Group by Adam Scotti/PMO)

It’s almost like Trudeaumania – the disease that struck Canada in 1968 with the election of Pierre Trudeau – is back. But now it’s Justin Trudeau who is generating excitement whenever he enters a room. 

Members of the G20 Research Group, based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Trinity College, had the chance to witness the phenomenon when they met the new prime minister at the recent G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey. 

“He was very personable and very easy to talk to,” said G20 group member Alev Kayagil, a recent political science graduate who has moved back to Turkey. 

“He’s very charismatic but very down-to-earth,” agreed Sarah Scott, a fourth-year political science student and incoming chair of the G20 Research Group. “I’m a fairly calm person but I was caught off guard.”

“There was definitely charisma and electricity in the room,” said Caroline Bracht, a senior researcher with the group. “There was general excitement around him.”

“He was really well received at the summit,” said Antonia Tsapralis, a Munk School graduate who now works for the Bank of Montreal. “People were saying, ‘Oh my god, it’s Trudeau,’ and wanting to take selfies. It’s something we’ve seen in Canada but it was nice to see it translated into the international scene as well.”

photo of Trudeau with Sarah Scott and bookThe students and researchers weren’t at Antalya just to take selfies with the prime minister. For more than 27 years, members of Trinity College’s G7 Research Group, and its offshoot, the G20 Research Group, have attended international summits, to conduct research, disseminate information to journalists and present copies of an annual compliance report on summit goals.(At right, the prime minister poses with Scott and the compliance report.)

The G7 and G20 Research Groups follow the work of the G7 and G20 leaders, finance ministers and central bank governors, and other institutions. Group members attend the yearly summits, produce reports on G20 goals and compliance, and assist world media with questions about the G7 and G20.

They’ve also established a tradition of meeting with the prime minister at the end of summit. The tradition goes back to 1996 when U of T student Catherine McKenna met with Jean Chrétien at the G7 summit in Lyon, France. McKenna, a former adjunct lecturer at Munk, now sits at the cabinet table with Trudeau as the minister of environment and climate change. 

As outgoing chair of the G20 Research Group, Tsapralis presented a copy of the G20 group’s 2015 “briefing book” to Trudeau. “One of our major objectives is to get as much attention and publicity for the report as we can,” she said. Besides the prime minister, the publication, as well as the compliance report, is distributed to media, scholars and international organizations.

The G7 and G20 Research Group members are already at work planning for the next round of summitry. Besides the next G20 summit – scheduled for China next September – there’s the G7 summit in Japan in May 2016.

Fourth-year science student Mike Humeniuk, the student chair of the G7 Research Group, is working on that project. Humeniuk didn’t get to meet Trudeau in Turkey – he had to return to Toronto for class – but he took the opportunity to talk with Syrian refugees in Turkey instead.

Read The Varsity article about Humeniuk's experiences 

The G20 group members who did talk to Trudeau said the new prime minister talked mostly about his personal impressions, rather than summit substance.  

“I have to say that in the last meeting with Stephen Harper, I learned more about what actually happened at the summit than I did in this meeting with Mr. Trudeau,” said Julia Kulik, a senior researcher with the G20 group, and a veteran of 10 summits herself.

“Harper had been to a number of summits by that point and this was Trudeau’s first. So I think that conversations very much centred around what his first experience was like, whereas with Harper, he didn’t need to do that.”

On the other hand, Harper never generated the excitement that Trudeau did, Bracht said.

“With Harper, it was kind of ‘how do we keep him talking?’ With Justin Trudeau, it was much more exciting. He’s young, and he’s new, and we have all these great expectations for our country now.”

Professor John Kirton, who founded and leads both the G7 and G20 groups, says Trudeau had to hit the ground running.

“Justin Trudeau was sworn into office on November 4 and already he’s done the G20 summit and then halfway around the world to APEC and then it’s off to see the queen, see David Cameron, the Commonwealth meeting in Malta, and then he’s in Paris for the climate summit. So he’s living the real world of global summitry with intensity and immediacy.

“For us, it becomes a continuous project keeping track of it. Gone are the days when you’d have a few days off for thoughtful, scholarly reflection.”

Photo of Prime Minister Trudeau with G20 students