Debrief at the Desk: Lisa LaFlamme speaks with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau

TORONTO -- Just days from now voters will decide whether Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will lead the federal government for another four years, something he’s spent the campaign arguing is necessary for moving the country “forward.” 

The Liberal Party has released its full platform with key pieces costed, and it includes promises of billions in new spending for students, families, and the environment, while targeting corporations and the wealthiest Canadians to help pay for these proposals.

In the second of CTV News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme’s five-minute interviews with the major federal party leaders, Trudeau speaks about “the choice facing Canadians right now,” what would or wouldn’t be negotiable in a minority government scenario, and how he’d approach international matters like the relationship with China, and the still-under-review light armoured vehicle deal with Saudi Arabia, if re-elected.

This transcript has been edited for length.

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Lisa LaFlamme: Eleven days to go and still a third of Canadians have not decided who to vote for. It seems like the one thing that they have decided though, is that they are losing confidence in politics. They’re losing confidence in you after four yearsof what they say are promises that they did not see fulfilled. So, I just wonder if you bear any responsibility for that erosion of trust?

Justin Trudeau: I think any government that is as ambitious as ours is, is going to continue to work really hard to try and achieve everything we need to do, and that's the choice facing Canadians right now.We've done lots of great things over the past four years, but we need to do even more, we need to continue and that's the reflection that Canadians have right now. Are we going to continue with a government that has fought climate change? That has helped Canadians out of poverty? That has grown the economy? Or do we go back to an approach that didn't work for 10 years under Harper?

LaFlamme: The feedback I'm getting from across the country, Canadians are craving real answers. They don't want the talking points, they want real answers on everything from pharmacare to affordable housing, so are you underestimating them in a campaign that seems to continually be calling out the Harper government or [Doug] Ford or [Jason] Kenny now.

Trudeau: Well, the Conservatives actually haven't put forward an election platform… Elections are choices and the Conservatives are saying exactly the same things that didn't work under Harper, and that's all Andrew Scheer is putting forward and we are saying: ‘we've got to keep going.’

LaFlamme: If you look at the last four years this is what Canadians are saying: There’s still 56 First Nations with boil water advisories.

Trudeau: But 87 of them without, that we ended after many years of not having done anything on that under previous government. We have made steps.

LaFlamme: Crumbling infrastructure that has not been fixed, that was a huge promise in 2015.

Trudeau: And we invested more over the past four years than any government has in history. And yes, we have to continue… Yes, there have been provinces dragging their heels on investments, but there are others and municipalities we've invested in directly because, again, unfortunately some conservative premiers like Doug Ford are not wanting to invest in their communities. It hasn't been easy over these past four years because you're right, from the Rockies to the Bay of Fundy we've had conservative premiers elected, who don't want to invest, who want to cut services, and who don't want to fight climate change.

LaFlamme: Canadians are also very worried about a recession, they see billions more dollars of their money being spent on election promises.

Trudeau: On investments in youth, on investments in seniors, on investments in small businesses, on investments to fight climate change. We believe that the best way to prepare for a challenging future is to give people the tools to succeed today. Not cuts, not austerity, not tax breaks for the wealthiest like Andrew Scheer wants to cut $50,000 in taxes from multimillionaires. That doesn’t make sense and it doesn't help anyone.

LaFlamme: Does that mean debt and deficits don't matter anymore, even though the Bank of Canada says that the economy is going to slow in the latter half of the year?

Trudeau: I think the best way to make sure people can make it through tougher times in the economy is to have invested so that they have greater opportunities, and so they have more confidence, but at the same time we know we have to be responsible. And that's why our debt as a size of our economy is decreasing every year. And that's why the top credit rating agencies in the world are giving a unanimous top credit score to Canada and Germany and those are the only countries in the G7 they're doing that [for].

LaFlamme: If there's one defining issue, its climate change. You’ve been having to walk that tightrope between being a champion of the environment, and also the guy who bought a pipeline. So in the case of a minority government, you're certainly going to get pressure from the NDP and the Greens to abandon the Trans Mountain expansion. Is that negotiable?

Trudeau: We have a plan that has actually delivered in the fight against climate change, which includes, yes getting our resources to new markets through a pipeline and investing all the profits in the clean energy transition and the fight against climate change. We know that experts have found that only our plan is both ambitious and doable and that's what matters to kids and that's what matters to our future.

LaFlamme: But is that negotiable in a minority government situation?

Trudeau: I'm working to make sure that we still have a strong government that's going to be able to stand up to Jason Kenney and Andrew Scheer, and Doug Ford, who are not wanting us to do anything on climate change. That's my focus right now, and that's been my focus for four years.

LaFlamme: So many things have not really been discussed because of other issues on the campaign trail so I just want to talk about Canada's fractured relations with a resurgent Russia, a more aggressive China and the two Canadians still in prison. How can voters trust that another Liberal government, another four years, won’t allow our core security to further diminish?

Trudeau: We have strengthened our security, we have stood up for Canadian interests. We stood up for those Canadians arbitrarily detained. We've continued to consistently defend Canada's interest, like we did against Donald Trump in the renegotiation of NAFTA. We secured access to our most important partner at a time of unpredictability and quite frankly protectionism in a way that pulled all Canadians together, except for the Conservatives who wanted us to cave. There were a lot of people who stood together to make sure we got a good deal.

LaFlamme: I would say that certainly there are Canadians… the farmers, canola farmers they don't feel that. They feel very vulnerable right now and at the mercy of this fractured relationship. 

Trudeau: We cannot back off on Canadian values, we cannot stop defending Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained. We’re continuing to try and make sure that we are defending Canadian interests, but we have to stand up for our values unequivocally at the same time… That's why the world has been supporting us… we have our allies pushing back against China as well, because everyone knows that if you don't push back early, you set up habits that make everyone more vulnerable down in the future.

LaFlamme: It's been over a year since Jamal Khashoggi was murdered. What about Saudi Arabia? We still have heard nothing on the status of the contract of the military vehicles [LAVs] so Canadians are essentially being asked to make a decision on who to vote for without all the information on an issue that many feel is fundamentally important.

Trudeau: We've continued to defend the hardworking Canadians in London, Ont. who have worked hard on this contract that Stephen Harper signed that has massive penalties if we get out of, but we have not admitted any new export permits since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and we're going to continue to stand strongly for human rights against countries like Saudi Arabia that haven't been respectful of them.

LaFlamme: So are you saying that contract is going to go through? You're not reviewing it anymore? It's done?

Trudeau: No we're continuing to work with partners around the world, and have greater transparency, greater accountability. We signed on to the Arms Trade Treaty which the previous Conservative government didn't want to do. The choice on that one, like on so many things, whether it's strengthening gun control versus weakening gun control under the Conservatives is very, very clear. And that's the question Canadians are asking in this election.

LaFlamme: On that military contract in London, Ont., you’ve said for months now, for a year, that the contract is under review. Is it still under review?

Trudeau: It is still under review, but at the same time we were able to secure more of those jobs in London, Ont., by making sure that the Canadian military is going to buy light armoured vehicles for our own use in a way that helps out people in London, Ont. because we know that workers are not responsible for Mr. Harper having signed a bad contract.

LaFlamme: You talk about jobs and that’s certainly been your defence on the SNC ethics violation, and yet the other night at the debate again you called The Globe and Mail story ‘false,’ so I don’t understand why you still deny that?

Trudeau:  I have consistently said that my job every step of the way is to stand up for people's jobs, stand up for Canadian workers, and stand up for the public interest, while at the same time respecting the rule of law. I accept the ethics commissioner’s response, but I don't agree with it.

LaFlamme: But you say that the story is false.

Trudeau: I did not put—I do not feel I put undue pressure on the Attorney General, because the job of a prime minister is to make sure that people are looking out for jobs, make sure that we're always looking out for Canadians, that's what I've done every step of the way.

LaFlamme: So the end of that is then that ethics commissioner is wrong?

Trudeau: No, I accept his report and we're bringing in all the measures of the expert report we had on how to make sure no government goes through this before. The Prime Minister needs to stand up for Canadians, and needs to stand up for jobs and the public interest, and I will not apologize for defending Canadians’ jobs in a way that also defends our justice system.

LaFlamme. Alright, well you have under two weeks to go, not a lot of runway left. We thank you so much.

Trudeau: It’s an important choice Canadians are facing. Are we going to keep moving forward? Or do we go back to the Harper years?

LaFlamme: Mr. Trudeau, thanks for joining us in the newsroom tonight.

Trudeau: Always a pleasure.