OTTAWA — If the Liberal government doesn’t substantially improve the lives of the less fortunate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday, he will have failed to do his job.
Speaking to a packed town hall at the University of Winnipeg, Trudeau told the boisterous crowd he was elected on a promise to help the middle class and those working hard to join it, so that is the barometer that will indicate whether he was successful.
“If by the end of my time as prime minister, we haven’t made a significant and real positive difference in the lives of Canadians who are all too often marginalized or forgotten, not given opportunities, not allowed to succeed, ignored and mistreated, then I will have failed,” Trudeau said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg on Jan. 26, 2017. (Photo: John Woods/The Canadian Press)
The prime minister was asked what he considers to be the one thing that must not happen under his watch.
“We need to lift kids out of poverty. We need to include all Canadians in the opportunities for success that we have, particularly through reconciliation and support for indigenous peoples,” he responded. “Unless we have made Canada a fairer and more just place, with real opportunities for everyone, then we won’t have succeeded as a country and we won’t have succeeded as a government.”
That may be a tall order for a government that faces re-election in less than three years. During his town halls this month, Trudeau has showed empathy for a number of Canadians who came forward with personal questions and comments, but he also pleaded for more time and understanding while enacting changes in matters such as conditions on First Nations’ reserves.
Winnipeg’s town hall — the prime minister’s 10th — was marked by more protests and heated exchanges.
”I'm taking the opportunity not afforded to me in seven-minute news clips on the 11 o'clock news to actually share my thought process.”
Trudeau was questioned by a man who said he didn’t understand why the prime minister was still approving pipelines that, he said, would provide only temporary jobs and put future generations in jeopardy.
“I don’t know if you fully understand the degree to which you are alienating the young voters and progressives who voted you in,” the man said, “because instead of listening to us you are listening to climate-denying Conservatives who have no intention of ever voting for you,” he said.
Several anti-pipeline protesters interrupted Trudeau’s attempt to answer. The disruption was defused when an indigenous elder asked the audience to respect everyone.
Canadians need to be able to have responsible conversations in this country, Trudeau told the audience. People will disagree, but that’s why elections are held, he said, and why he was holding town halls to hear a broad range of views.
"I'm taking the opportunity not afforded to me in seven-minute news clips on the 11 o'clock news to actually share my thought process, my reflection on how we need to move forward responsibly as a country … and I feel uncomfortable having to do that with people shouting over my voice,” Trudeau said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with pipeline protesters at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg on Jan. 26, 2017. (Photo: John Woods/The Canadian Press)
He then finished his answer by saying his government is focused on ensuring economic opportunities in a responsible and sustainable way, and he highlighted the Liberals’ plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions
The prime minister was also asked about a request for suicide prevention funds by the Wapekeka First Nation that the Indigenous Affairs Department denied on the grounds that it was an awkward time to ask for money.
“Now we have private donor who stepped up. This is not the Conservative government; this is your government who said it was an awkward time. We didn’t vote you in for that. Is this the new government now, where the private sector is funding the First Nations suicide prevention programs?”
Trudeau said his government had done a number of things to respond to the suicide crisis in indigenous communities but that they are not enough. “There is more to do,” he said, noting the need to spend more on indigenous students and culturally appropriate learning.
‘Are you going to save Canada for our future?’
The prime minister said he often hears from indigenous leaders who say youth centres are needed in their communities with couches and TVs and ways to “chill and relax.”
“When leadership of a community tells me that is what young people need, I know they haven’t done a very good job of listening to their young people,” Trudeau said. “That couches and TVs is somehow what young people want? No, young people want a place to store their canoes and their paddles. They want culturally appropriate learning, experience of getting back onto the land, and when they do want electronic things, it’s a place with good wifi where they can study, learn and connect to opportunities.”
Trudeau also fielded emotional questions about the province’s child welfare service and federal support for universal child care. At the end of the town hall, two fourth-graders asked Trudeau about U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I wanted to tell something about … Trump,” said a young boy named Evan. “He’s doing something bad. Are you going to save Canada for our future?,” he asked to loud cheers from the crowd.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepts an invitation to attend a Manitoba youth rally while at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg, Jan. 26, 2017. (Photo: John Woods/The Canadian Press)
“Evan is my new hero,” Trudeau said laughing.
The prime minister said Canadians expect the government to ensure stability, prosperity and opportunity that comes from Canada’s trade-dependent relationship with the United States. “We have to have a constructive working relationship with the new administration, and that is exactly what I am focused on.”
At the same time, Trudeau added, Canadians expect the government to stand up for values such as openness, diversity, respect, engaging and listening in responsible ways.
“We are going to be focused on ensuring that Canada stays Canada and that Canada stays prosperous.”
Trudeau’s town hall tour has taken him to:
- Sherbhrooke, Que.
- Kingston, Ont.
- London, Ont.
- Peterborough, Ont.
- Belleville, Ont.
Trudeau is expected to be in Vancouver on Sunday, but a town hall has not been confirmed.
MPs return to work in the House of Commons on Monday.