Hundreds attended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s town hall at the Evinrude Center on January 13th, with many who did not RSVP for the event being turned away. The event featured hard questions and tempered optimism from the public. The Prime Minister himself played to his strengths by talking directly to the public with a candor that is starting to feel familiar a year and a quarter into Trudeau’s term.
MP Maryam Monsef kicked off the event by thanking those who showed up, playing the role of gracious host, introducing artists and leaders from Curve Lake. She also embraced her role as Minister of the Status of Women, reminding the audience that “the first woman to be elected chief of a First Nation council was in Curve Lake,” that woman being Elsey Knott in 1954. The group “the singing drums” graced those in attendance with the rich cultural heritage of Nogojiwanong.
Curve Lake’s chief, Phyllis Williams was decidedly more political, telling the audience that Peterborough and Curve Lake live in two separate realities, one where the prime minister visits packed Evinrude Centers, and the other “where Curve Lake, ironically and sadly, is a boil water community”. She outlined that as an Anishinaabe woman, “one of my hereditary and obligated roles is to protect the water, pray for the water, and ceremony the water” and that she “she felt it was necessary to make this reference as a reminder for the responsibility we all have, to protect and preserve our water”.
Women stole the show at this event, and none was more moving than Kathy Kathula, a differently abled single mother, rape survivor, personal support worker, who had to pay a hydro bill of $1085 in a single month. Applause broke out when Kathula asked “How do you justify a to a mother of 4 children, 3 grandchildren, physical disabilities, working 15 hours a day for you to ask me to pay a hydro tax when I only have $65 dollars every two weeks to feed my family”.
Prime Minister Trudeau was forced to face a hard truth: that a good economy comes at the cost of the environment, and vice versa. He stated that carbon emissions are part of everything that we as Canadians do, but followed that up by stating that “we are in a time of transition, and the world is moving off of fossil fuels, and that’s a good thing”. He continued to cite future costs associated with not addressing climate change, while shifting potential future blame on provincial implementation of a carbon tax in a way that does not make “those in the most vulnerable positions carry the burden”.
On pipelines, Trudeau outlined that “it has been a historical duty of Canadian prime ministers to get our resources to market; we are a country of resources”. He followed this up by stating that in the 21st century, this has to be done responsibly, sustainably, and including people in that process through consultations.
However, what was revealing was his statement that “we cannot make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy”. He communicated a rational approach to transitioning from fossil fuels by highlighting that “we cannot dismantle the oil sands tomorrow… we need to manage this transition effectively, and in the meantime we need to make choices… and we are going to create safer ways to get our resources to market, which involves building pipelines”.
Prime Minister Trudeau went on to suggest that “if we don’t build pipelines, Canada will use rail to transport the oil by rail, “which is more expensive, more polluting, and more dangerous for communities”. He framed pipelines as something that reduced carbon, which is a dubious claim considering that pipelines greatly increase the capacity for consumption of oil, providing a seamless conduit from ground to gas tank. The Kinder Morgan-owned Trans Mountain Pipeline will increase capacity for oil transport from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day in British Columbia.
Outside of the Evinrude Center, a protest of about a dozen people was broiling over the Liberal government’s decision to approve two pipeline projects. Activist Crystal Scrimshaw stated her stand “for water, and [as] an advocate against pipelines like Kinder Morgan.” She hoped to convey to the prime minister the message that “water is life”.
Minus two questions asked by children which encouraged PM Trudeau to wax about his childhood, real issues concerning youth went largely unaddressed. Youth unemployment was not discussed, which although in a downward trend, is at 12.6% and has yet to recover to levels seen prior to 2008, the year of the housing market crash. This could have been attributed to the demographics of the room, which were predominantly people over the age of 30, if there hadn’t been a visible faction of Trent students raising their hands throughout the event.
Prime Minister Trudeau, who doubles as Canada’s Youth Minister, was kind enough to answer a couple of questions from Arthur Newspaper regarding his secondary post. When asked what grade he would give himself on advancing youth issues thus far into his term, he responded that “one of the best things about switching professions from teacher to politician was that I no longer have to write out report cards”.
This was after he discussed a few initiatives that included not requiring students to pay back loans until they earned over $25,000 annually. He also mentioned his government “doubling” the amount of Canada Summer jobs available to students. When asked about whether the value of a university degree had depreciated since he graduated, PM Trudeau emphasized the beauty of the knowledge economy. He adamantly stated how “essential” the skills learned in postsecondary institutions would be in any job or field.
The event featured many voices from different backgrounds asking PM Trudeau for reassurance that his campaign would follow through on its ideals. The prime minister seems to believe that they have, and will continue to do so in the future. Time will tell if Canadians mirror his sentiment.
The whole town hall can be found on Trent Variety’s soundcloud