Justin Trudeau's Empire state of mind

What did we learn from Justin Trudeau's trip to the Big Apple?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (C) addresses members of the media during his arrival to United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 16 March 2016. Others are not identified. Trudeau later the same day was scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (Jason Szenes/EPA/CP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (C) addresses members of the media during his arrival to United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 16 March 2016. Others are not identified. Trudeau later the same day was scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (Jason Szenes/EPA/CP)

In the wake of a state dinner at the White House, and an extended period of American media infatuation with Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau visited New York City for the first time since his Liberals came to power last year. His agenda in the Big Apple included a speech at United Nations headquarters and a town hall with Bloomberg Television.

Here are five takeaways from Trudeau’s two-day trip:

1. Trudeau’s gunning for Canada to get a seat on the UN Security Council

Many considered it an embarrassment when Canada was overlooked in 2010 for a seat on the 15-member UN Security Council, losing out to Portugal. Now Trudeau is leading the charge for Canada to earn a seat for the 2021-22 term.

“Protecting vulnerable populations, leading on the world’s stage and engaging on some of this era’s greatest challenges—this is the Canada of today, this is how we build the world of tomorrow,” Trudeau said at a visit to the UN on Wednesday, before meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The Prime Minister was quick to face questions about his role as peacemaker as his government announced it would move forward with a $15-billion deal to sell light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, despite calls from groups like Amnesty International to suspend the sale.

“A change of government does not endanger everything that was previously signed,” Trudeau said of the arms deal that was initially struck when the Conservatives were in power.

That might be good for business, but will it endanger Canada’s chances for the two open UN Security Council seats when up against Ireland and Norway?

2. Trudeau has a fan in billionaire Michael Bloomberg

With its seemingly Star Wars-inspired headline—Canada’s New Hope—it’s clear from an editorial penned by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg that he has high hopes for the new Prime Minister.

Bloomberg agreed with Trudeau’s plan to invest in infrastructure at a time when interest rates are so low, and compared Trudeau’s youthful energy and optimism to that of former president John F. Kennedy, adding Canada’s promise to tackle climate change is also in line with where investors and the market want to be.

“By prioritizing greater investment in a low-carbon economy, Trudeau is swimming with the market’s currents and local government trends,” Bloomberg wrote. “Strong economic leadership, as Trudeau seems to understand, does not begin with protectionist or socialist policies that vilify scapegoats. It begins with uniting people around a hopeful and realistic vision that can be fulfilled if government works in concert with markets.”

3. Trudeau’s thinking “unsexy” thoughts for the upcoming budget

With his first federal budget less than a week away, Trudeau is setting expectations low for any flashy announcements. “We’re going to do the unsexy things that governments hate to announce,” Trudeau said in a Bloomberg TV town hall, listing examples of recapitalization of infrastructure and restoring subway signals. It’s investment he emphasizes is badly needed, just not the type where you “get to cut a ribbon and announce a shiny new building.”

The Prime Minister also confirmed his government will reverse the previous Conservative government’s plan to raise Old Age Security eligibility from 65 to 67, which Trudeau called a “simplistic solution to a very complex problem.”

As for the “modest” $10-billon budget deficits Trudeau campaigned on, some early reports note that could swell to closer to $30 billion. For Canadians who preferred the balanced-budget approach of the NDP or Conservatives, it won’t be pretty.

4. Trudeau’s a feminist—in case you didn’t know—but as the U.S. shows, words are easier than actions

You’ve probably heard it before. He’s said it repeatedly—on the campaign trail, at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland earlier this year, again in New York—and he won’t stop saying it, which is the point.

“I’m going to keep saying loud and clearly that I am a feminist until it is met with a shrug,” Trudeau explained during a UN women’s conference on Wednesday. “It’s just really, really obvious that we should be standing up for women’s rights and trying to create more equal societies. Like, duh.”

Trudeau also talked about encouraging more fathers to take parental leave, and argued a parental leave that’s exclusively for men would encourage work-life balance and help young families.

While Trudeau can point to his half-female cabinet in Ottawa as a move forward, such gender-parity ambitions have long proven tough for even the most forward-thinking organizations—such as the United Nations itself.

The UN first set gender targets for its own organization at a general assembly back in 1986. Despite committing to 50-50 gender distribution at all levels—including managerial and decision-making roles—by the year 2000, that target is still far out of reach. By the end of 2013, women made up approximately 42 per cent of all roles at the UN, with gender parity solely achieved within entry-level positions. For jobs at the director level or “ungraded” (e.g. Under-Secretary-General, Assistant Secretary-General, Deputy Director-General, Assistant Director-General, Director-General, Secretary-General), the representation of female employees at the UN is just 30 per cent.

UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took a line out of Trudeau’s “Because it’s 2015” playbook during his visit, saying, “It’s 2016—the UN Secretary General should be a woman.” After decades of missed gender-balance targets, it’s time for results instead of more promises.

5. Everyone wants to know what Trudeau thinks of Trump

Without uttering his name, the Prime Minister has become quite deft at answering questions about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. After all, he’s been asked about Trump by Maclean’s, by 60 Minutes, and pretty much every other news outlet that’s had an interview with the PM.

So when asked yet again on Bloomberg News (owned by Trump-critic and Trudeau-admirer Michael Bloomberg) about the possibilities of working with a president Trump, Trudeau explained that the Canada-U.S. bond goes beyond the relationship between two individuals or between ideologies.

“The connections across our border, the integrated supply chains, the travel—Canadians who move to the United States, Americans who move to Cape Breton—is part of what we deal with,” Trudeau said. “There are always issues you can find common ground on.”