Justin Trudeau, the newly elected Prime Minister of Canada, received a wave of universally positive press last week after he appeared to explain the mechanics of quantum computing in an impromptu answer during a press conference held at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. Trudeau’s remarkably erudite explanation, captured in an instantaneously viral video, suggested a deep personal interest in the subject, one unrelated to any obvious publicity benefits. According to the sharp-eyed Canadian blogger J.J. McCullough, however, everything about the press conference—the setting, the question, and the answer—was choreographed by Trudeau himself.
On Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau visited the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Ontario. After a tour, he staged a brief photo op with some scientists and gave a short speech about how his government believes in funding science yada yada. Then, at one point he said this:
“You don’t have to be a geek like me to appreciate how important this work is. Although I have to tell you, when we get to the media questions later I’m really hoping people ask me how quantum computing works because I was excited to deepen my knowledge of that this morning.”
Here’s a video of this exchange, seen at 13:46:
And here’s the video of the press conference during which Trudeau explains quantum computing, with the answer everyone is talking about:
You can see what’s going on here. As McCullough observes, one of the present reporters gave Trudeau exactly what he asked for—a question about “how quantum computing works”:
Eventually we did get to the media questions. The first one went like this:
REPORTER: Morning sir, I was going to ask you to explain quantum computing but.. [trails off as audience laughs] When do you expect Canada’s ISIL mission to begin again and are we not doing anything in the interim while we prepare?
PM TRUDEAU: ‘Kay, very simply, normal computers work by….
And that was that.
“To summarize, the PM went to a place and learned about a thing,” McCollough writes. “During the speech that followed, he excitedly suggested he wanted to talk about the thing he just learned. A reporter was disinterested in playing along, and tried to ask a more relevant question, but Trudeau ignored him and launched into what was clearly a pre-prepared treatise on the thing.”
McCollough may be a student of the Glenn Greenwald school of blogging—“What is being falsely presented as a story of a scrappy prime minister resisting a hostile press is actually a story of a slavishly subservient press who are actively shaping their reporting to suit the government’s needs”—but we’re inclined to agree with him here. This definitely looks like a setup.
We’ve reached out to Trudeau’s office for comment and will update this post if we hear back.
Update, 10:25 a.m.
In a telephone conversation with Gawker, Trudeau’s press secretary, Cameron Ahmad, denied that the Prime Minister’s answer was a setup. “It was not staged. I was there. The question was impromptu, the answer was impromptu as well. ... I believe he [requested the question] jokingly, and the reporter who asked him that [did so jokingly] as well. He wasn’t instructing reporters how to ask him questions.”
Asked to explain why Trudeau answered a joking question, one that he had himself jokingly asked for, with a serious answer, Ahmad responded: “That’s obviously all subjective. The question was not staged. It was all impromptu. It all made sense, given where it was.”
Asked whether Trudeau has a pre-existing interest in quantum computing, Ahmad answered: “Yes, he does. And like I said, he had just completed a tour of the institute. ... I just really wanted to emphasize that it was not staged.”
“I think it had a positive impact because it put a spotlight on the Perimeter Institute,” Ahmad continued, “which is obviously a very successful Canadian institution, and also puts a positive spotlight on the city of Waterloo, which is an innovation hub.”
Before the conversation ended, Ahmad provided the name of the reporter who asked Trudeau to explain quantum computing. We’ve reached out to that reporter, Colin Perkel of the Canadian Press, and will update this post if we hear back.
Update, 10:30 a.m.
When asked for comment via a private message on Twitter, Perkel, the reporter who asked Trudeau to explain quantum computing, responded: “I think it’s a hoot.”