FREDERICTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government inherited a "high degree of mistrust" from the previous Conservative government that has left Canadians skeptical about consultations on pipelines and environmental protection.
Trudeau was asked about Energy East from a man at a town hall meeting in Fredericton, who wondered if public meetings will be held in affected communities, and whether detailed maps of the pipeline route would be provided.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fields questions at a town hall meeting during a visit to the Cultural Centre in Fredericton on Jan. 17, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP)
"One of the things we inherited from the previous government was a high degree of mistrust by Canadians," Trudeau said as he continued his cross-country tour Tuesday.
"That's why we turned around and enhanced the process for pipeline approvals to make sure there's more public input, there's more engagement, there's more rigour, there's more science, and there's an approach that can reassure Canadians that instead of being a cheerleader or booster for pipelines, that you have a government that's a referee."
A National Energy Board review panel will examine the proposed 4,500-kilometre pipeline that would carry 1.1-million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in New Brunswick.
Vacation debate continues
The same man, who said he was with the Council of Canadians, also won applause for saying he wished the opposition and media would leave Trudeau alone about his Christmas vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas.
The crowd, smaller than the thousands who packed a Halifax-area arena for a town hall the previous night, was largely friendly even as Trudeau was pressed for answers on issues as diverse as electoral reform, a United Nations declaration supporting indigenous rights, and what his daughter wants to be when she grows up.
The most pointed questions came from a woman who pressed him on whether he would scrap the troubled Phoenix pay system that has left thousands of government employees with either too much or no pay at all.
The woman, a seasonal contract worker at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, called it the "Phoenix nightmare."
Trudeau said a fix is underway at the Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B.
"We are working extremely hard … the folks in Miramichi are working practically around the clock," he said. "Everyone deserves to get paid what they are owed."
He wouldn't agree to replace it or revert to the previous payroll system because he said it was unreliable and inefficient.
"We will end up with a good system … we're working as fast as we can to get there," he said, urging people to contact their MPs for individual help in the meantime.
Asked about NATO, defence changes
At a news conference later Tuesday in Fredericton, Trudeau affirmed Canada's support of NATO, days after president-elect Donald Trump's pronouncement that the military alliance is obsolete. But he stopped short of saying he would be willing to boost the defence budget so Canada could meet NATO's spending target for its member countries.
He also said he backed the decision by Canada's chief of defence staff to relieve his second in command of his duties, but won't say anything more about the controversy swirling around Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. Word emerged Monday that Norman was abruptly stripped of his responsibilities by his boss, Gen. Jonathan Vance, on Jan. 13.
Trudeau was to make several afternoon appearances in New Brunswick before heading to Sherbrooke, Que., Tuesday evening.