author: Ethan Williams | Contributor & former staff writer
Approximately 1,100 people gathered to listen to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answer questions at a town hall event on Jan. 10. / Ethan Williams
Many issues take forefront during PM’s visit
Supporters of Justin Trudeau, as well as his protestors, lined the entrance to the Centre for Kinesiology, Health, and Sport (CKHS) at the University of Regina on a cold Thursday evening. They waited anxiously for the doors to open, and to get a good spot to see the PM in action.
Trudeau made a stop in Regina during his cross-country town hall tour on Jan. 10, and he couldn’t have come at a more politically active time in Saskatchewan. With the provincial government fiercely against the Trudeau Carbon Tax, oil workers concerned about inactivity, Indigenous peoples concerned about their futures, and others with their own concerns, there was a lot to tackle at this event, and many wanted their voice heard.
According to the CBC’s Stephanie Taylor, around 1,100 people were packed inside the gymnasium in the CKHS as the event got underway. After brief addresses from University President and Vice Chancellor, Vianne Timmons, and Minster of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Ralph Goodale, the PM entered to loud applause. But it was down to business after those first few seconds.
Selecting at random, the PM answered questions from audience members. First up was a woman who had concerns about funding for mental health services and specifically for those who look after people who are dealing with mental illness. Trudeau explained that his government’s main plan is to intervene with services at younger ages, so that youth can get easy access to help sooner. He said managing the healthcare system is a difficult balance.
“We are looking for ways to improve and to accelerate the process, but at the same time, we do have to protect the integrity and the quality of the Canadian medical system,” he said.
Another question came from an international student studying at the U of R who was concerned about the costs for students coming from other countries to study, especially when the countries they come from don’t necessarily have the money to support them. The PM spoke at length about the opportunities international students have and how the government encourages international education; however he admitted there is still work to be done to support students.
After a fairly quiet beginning, many hot-button issues came to the forefront as the evening wore on. Trudeau was questioned first about border security by a man who said he was concerned that more open borders could lead to terrorism. He cited what he believed was lax border security for a rise in terrorism in several European nations. He received applause for this, but things quickly turned after he switched the conversation to religion.
“The people [of European countries] are saying no. Because these two cultures will not mix.”
“Which two cultures are those, sir?” the PM asked.
“Islam and Christianity,” the man replied, to which many in the crowd heckled him.
Trudeau told the man that this was not necessarily the case, and that many coming to Canada are coming “to live in peace, raise their families…”
Another man was concerned about what he believed was the hastiness of Canada signing on to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement [USMCA].
“Why would you sign on with the USMCA while the . . . tariffs [on steel and aluminum] are still active? Why didn’t you walk away?” the man asked.
He then asked why negotiations went in a way that decided “. . . we here in Regina just weren’t good enough?”
Trudeau noted that the government is working to get the tariffs eliminated, and pointed out that they are affecting everyone involved.
“It’s not just Regina. It’s companies in Sault Ste. Marie, it’s companies in Hamilton, it’s aluminum companies in B.C. and in Quebec that are all being negatively impacted by these punitive American tariffs.”
He also explained that American companies are also seeing negative effects from the tariffs. The man then questioned him on the purchase of a major pipeline.
“We have this Trans Mountain Pipeline that was going to be funded one-hundred percent by private investors without a single cent of public money.”
The federal government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan last year for an original cost of $4.5 billion. Trudeau claimed he had no choice but to purchase the pipeline away from Kinder Morgan.
“Let’s be very clear: Kinder Morgan was walking away from the Trans Mountain Pipeline. They were walking away because they felt the political risks were too great.”
Another question that raised eyebrows came from a young woman who works in the oilfield. She questioned Trudeau about comments he made in November during the G-20 summit in Argentina about gender impacts on construction sites in rural areas.
“You might say, ‘What does a gender lens have to do with building this new highway or this new pipeline?’ Well, there are impacts when you bring construction workers into a rural area – there are social impacts because they are mostly male construction workers. How are you adjusting or adapting to those [impacts]?” Trudeau was quoted as saying.
“I feel like you have painted myself, my coworkers and friends in a negative light with your comment. What exactly did you mean by ‘gender impacts’ when you bring construction workers into a rural area?” the woman asked.
But the PM dodged the question, thanking the woman for her work in the industry, and leaving it at that. The crowd in the gymnasium heckled for some time, but the PM moved on.
The PM did get a chance to speak about the carbon tax, when he was grilled by a man from Estevan on the issue. The man asked the PM:
“Why would you charge a carbon tax on something that is not even proven to be factual and taking money away, out of our pockets?”
Trudeau first addressed climate change,[the issue that the man said was “not even proven to be factual”.
“Let’s start with the fact that climate change is real,” Trudeau said.
“What we need to do is look at a way that Canada can do what it needs to do to fight climate change and grow our economy and support regular people while we are making that change,” he added later.
Trudeau acknowledged the fact there is division on whether the government should be working to fight climate change, and blamed the Conservative Party for not having a plan to fight it.
Trudeau answered a few more questions and listened to statements, including an endorsement from prominent Saskatchewan Indigenous elder, Noel Starblanket, who said he believed Trudeau has done more than any other PM in terms of dealing with Indigenous issues. The PM thanked Starblanket for his comments, but remained focused on what lies ahead.
“There’s much more to do, and I certainly am committed to doing more in the coming years, depending on the will of Canadians,” he said.
He also mentioned that the government is on track to eliminate all long-term boil water advisories on reserves. Trudeau claimed that over 70 advisories have been lifted since he took office, and that there are just over 60 remaining. The deadline to remove all advisories has been set for March 2021.
The PM met with local leaders the next morning before leaving Regina to discuss freshwater management. According to CKRM, no solutions came out of the meeting. However, there were hopes from farmers that the meeting will lead to more in the future.
Later that morning, the PM toured the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, where he announced $25.6 million in federal funding for a geothermal power project near Estevan. The project will include the deepest well to be drilled in provincial history, in order to reach the material necessary to provide geothermal energy.