WRAP UP | Trudeau's Niagara Town Hall
Approximately 2,000 people packed the Ian Beddis Gymnasium at Brock University to hear the Prime Minister of Canada speak.
Justin Trudeau answered questions from the public for just shy of an hour and a half during the St. Catharines stop of his nationwide town hall tour.
The first question asked was an open query about how Canada is protecting the environment. Trudeau used it as an opportunity to talk about climate change.
"We've made sure, that we recognize that we have a problem called climate change, which is real. Let's start with that one. Climate change is real. And we have to do something about it." The declaration was met with cheers from the crowd. "The reason it's a problem is because it has been free to pollute into our atmosphere for a very long time. So we know if we put a price on that pollution, we will have less pollution. But the way we are moving forward in putting a price on pollution is making sure that we're supporting ordinary families through that transaction, including by making sure agricultural fuels are exempt, making sure that there is a rural top up on what we're doing when we're bringing in a direct price on pollution."
The province of Ontario is currently fighting the federal government over mandatory carbon pricing. Premier Doug Ford famously cancelled the cap-and-trade program, calling carbon pricing 'government cash grabs that do nothing for the environment.' The federal government has required all provinces to put a price on carbon or a price would be imposed upon them.
The next question asked for advice on how to prevent the rise of 'right wing, xenophobic, populism that we see in parts of Europe and our neighbours to the south.'
When the applause following the question faded, Trudeau remarked that social media allows these voices to connect and amplify, making it seem like they have more presence than they actually do.
However, he noted that many people have real anxieties about things like the job market, education, and the futures of their children and it the responsibility of the government to allay those fears.
"Unfortunately, as there always are, there are shortcuts that some people are taking in politics that realize if you amplify those fears, you can make short term gains. If you take people's anxieties and shout them back at them, they can say, 'Yeah, I'm going to vote for you because you understand me.' Well maybe there's an understanding there, but there aren't necessarily solutions. We live in a world where sometimes packaging really easy, simple sounding solutions can be very compelling."
He then called on citizens to demand accountability from political leaders.
A man from Fort Erie then rose and questioned the federal government's decision not to recognize the new government in Venezuela.
Trudeau was unapologetic. "Anyone who contends to be a friend of Venezuela, whether it's Cuba or Canada or an individual, anyone who contends they are a friend of the Venezuelan people should be very clear in standing up and condemning the Maduro government who has been responsible for terrible oppression, for terrible marginalization, for a humanitarian crisis the likes of which South America has not seen in a long time leading to mass exodus, tremendous number of refugees fleeing all across South America all because of an illegitimate dictator named Maduro who is continuing to not respect their constitution, rule of law, and the principals of what is true and fair for the future."
The re-election of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been condemned around the world, with many leaders calling the election fraudulent.
However, in his answer, Trudeau failed to address the second part of the original question concerning Canada's recognition of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro. The far-right president is under intense scrutiny after his main political rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was jailed, therefore preventing him from running against Bolsonaro.
A Mississauga man was passed the microphone and asked, "Why do you think legalizing and marketing a dangerous drug like cannabis will help prevent it from getting into the hands of children? Because to me, it sounds like you are willing to let the health and safety of Canadian take a back seat to being able to make tax money off dirty and illegal drug money."
Cannabis has been legal in Canada since October 17th, 2018.
Trudeau said legalization was not about a new source of revenue for the government.
Instead, he insisted it is a reflection of a failure of public policy. He went on to ask the assembled crowd to raise their hands if, while in high school, they felt that it was easier to get their hands on a joint than to get a bottle of beer. Many members of the crowd raised their hands.
"We legalized it because the current system was not making it more difficult for young people to buy marijuana. We figured that if we at least treat it like alcohol, meaning that if you want to buy marijuana for your personal consumption you'll have to go to an official store and show ID that demonstrates you are 18 or 19, whatever the age of majority is in your province, that that would not prevent 100% of young people from getting their hands on it, but it would make it more difficult."
The Prime Minister did however admit that there have been challenges with implementation of legalization, particularly when it comes to supply.
He also noted, "If someone is going to make a choice around using marijuana, would we rather they use something that is certified by Health Canada, or would we want them buying something off the street that nobody knows what went into it, or what it could be laced by?"
Canada's Relationship with Indigenous Peoples
The next question zeroed in on the government's relationship with Indigenous peoples.
The issue on many people's minds included more than a dozen anti-pipline protesters arrested by the RCMP in BC.
"You have allowed the forcible removal of Wet'suwet'en First Nation people from their land," a man said. "In 2018 Canada finally adopted Bill 262 in the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People. Would you please explain in relatable, truthful language why you are allowing this to occur in direct contravention of Article 10 where you are forcibly removing Indigenous people from their land."
In his answer, Trudeau said the government is working hard to build a new path with Indigenous people after the government spent centuries failing to live up to the spirit of the treaties.
Addressing the pipeline controversy directly, the Prime Minister said, "There are also continued challenges where Canada hasn't done enough yet, where there is still much more work to do. And the situation with the Wet'suwet'en is an unfortunate example of that, where we didn't do well enough. Where even though there were elected chiefs along that particular pipeline who were in support of that pipeline, there were hereditary chiefs that were not. And the job that we have to do, of listening to everyone and recognizing the input and the legitimacy of a broad range of rights holders, title holders, and voices in questions like this is not something we've perfectly figured out how to do yet."
He went on to say the issue was not handled the way it should have been.
One audience member did not accept that answer, and began to shout indistinguishably from the stands.
For most of the town hall a banner with the words 'Parliamentary invasion of a sovereign nation is an act of war' remained unfurled behind the Prime Minister.
Before the town hall began, a group of anti-pipeline protesters formed a blockade at one of the entrances to Brock's campus.
The last question of the night focused on sexual assault laws in Canada.
Trudeau was asked what the government is doing now that the worldwide climate around sexual harassment has changed.
"We are looking at changes in the justice system. We're moving forward, hopefully, if some Conservative senators in the Senate allow it to happen, we're going to move forward on a bill backed by a Conservative politician Rona Ambrose to bring in mandatory training for judges so there is better dealing with sexual assault cases in our courts. But there is also a change that we need to do - every organization, every institution, from religious organizations to political organizations to the Catholic Church need to be sure they are being accountable and changing not just the way that they deal with these challenges, but the way that they proactively take responsibility for them."