December 16, 2015 / 10:05 PM / in 4 years

Canada's Trudeau takes audience questions, says not a lightweight

OTTAWA (Reuters) - New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down in his shirt sleeves on Wednesday for a rare televised town hall, insisting his relaxed style of governing did not mean he was a lightweight.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts during a Maclean's magazine town hall in Ottawa, Canada, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie -

The 43-year-old leader, whose Liberals won a majority in an October election ending almost a decade of Conservative Party rule, has sparked worldwide interest by stressing the positive in politics and appointing a Cabinet with an equal number of men and women.

Critics have decried what they see as his obsession with style, noting a gushing Vogue magazine profile in which his wife, Sophie, posed for photos wearing an expensive dress.

Trudeau and his broad smile are rarely out of the media. He often stops for selfies with passersby and - as his office disclosed - he took a group of sick children to see the new “Star Wars” movie on Tuesday.

“It’s not about image, it’s about substance,” he told the town hall, arranged by Maclean’s magazine.

“If you want to serve Canadians well ... you have to listen to them, you have to get to know people, you have to be engaged in real conversations and talking about their hopes and dreams for the country,” he said.

No other prime minister in recent history has sat down for a town hall outside an election campaign. During the hour-long event he was probed about the economy, civil liberties and his decision to pull jets out of a mission against Islamic State.

Trudeau favors what he calls soft power - working with other country to help solve problems.

During the campaign, opponents accused Trudeau of being weak on terrorism and said he would be pushed around by hardline leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and powerful allies like U.S. President Barack Obama.

“It’s a mistake to equate understanding soft power with weakness. ... I don’t see being smart and reasonable in how we engage with others as a sign of weakness,” he said.

Only one topic remained out of bounds - the new “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” movie.

“I can’t tell you what happened but oh, it’s so good,” he said.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney

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