01/12/2017 16:54 EST | Updated 01/13/2018 00:12 EST

Amid cries of elitism and conflict of interest, Trudeau hits the road in Ontario

BELLEVILLE, Ont. — Justin Trudeau got back to doing what he does best Thursday, polishing his people skills during a campaign-style road show aimed at countering Conservative and NDP efforts to portray the prime minister as a silver-spoon elitist.

First in the civil servant-heavy university town of Kingston, Ont., and later down the highway in blue-collar Belleville, Trudeau looked at ease in shirtsleeves as he fielded an endless array of questions — some tough and pointed, others less so — during town hall meetings with locals.

At a news conference, Trudeau confirmed he and his family availed themselves of the Aga Khan's private helicopter during a vacation on a private Bahamian island belonging to the famous — and fabulously rich — spiritual leader and philanthropist.

But the glamorous holiday that has critics crying conflict of interest seemed far from the minds of the town hall attendees and their myriad priorities, including public service payroll problems, electoral reform, military veterans and pharmacare.

In Belleville, a long line of people snaked around the Empire theatre where the event was being held.

"It is great to be doing this, which is getting out and chatting with people," Trudeau said as the event got underway.  "This, to me, is what politics is all about."

The first day of the tour was jam-packed with events — everything from a visit to a small restaurant in Ottawa to watching North American river otters swim with children in Brockville.

At every stop, Trudeau enthusiastically embraced supporters, cuddled with babies and posed for countless selfies.

On electoral reform, he said he personally favoured a ranked ballot system, and insisted his government is not backing away from its plans to change the way Canadians choose their leaders.

When multiple government employees demanded that the government fix the trouble-plagued payroll system known as Phoenix, Trudeau acknowledged government missteps and promised swift action.

"I'll admit it, this government, in everything that we were doing in the first months ... didn't pay enough attention to the warning signs that were coming on the transition ... that we were overseeing," he said.

The government is down to 8,000 cases, Trudeau added, noting this is still far too many.

When one person in Kingston asked about the rights of trans prisoners, the prime minister said he would look into the matter.

Trudeau was also asked a number of times about indigenous issues, including how his government's approval of pipeline projects could affect the environment.

"I know that you have your job to do, I understand that, but have you gone to our territories and seen how our people live?" an indigenous woman asked him.

"A lot of our territories, we have to buy water because it's not clean. Please, from the bottom of my heart and my grandchildren, please keep our water clean."

"We are incredibly lucky to have the fresh water resources that we have and we need to protect them," Trudeau replied.

During a news conference, the prime minister insisted the government is working to make life better for aboriginal people, including issues of mental health, which were punctuated this week by the suicides of two 12-year-old girls on a remote northern Ontario reserve.

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