NANAIMO — Not a single question was answered at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s rowdy town hall event on Friday without someone shouting about the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.
Whether he was talking about furthering efforts to make Canada a more fully bilingual country or changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program, cries of “No Kinder Morgan” and “Good leaders don’t build oil pipelines” were heard.
The pipeline dominated the first 25 minutes of the town hall event at Vancouver Island University, with an older woman saying she’d voted for Trudeau in the last federal election and was saddened by his approval of the pipeline expansion.
She approached Trudeau from the crowd, saying “please” over and over again, even as she got too close to the Prime Minister and was briefly restrained by his security details before being released for a hug with Canada’s leader.
When Trudeau spoke in response about his love of the B.C. coast, he was repeatedly interrupted, causing him to show his frustration at one point by exclaiming: “Come on! Come on! Really?”
“If you can’t respect the people in this room, you need to leave,” he said before asking the police to remove those who were disrupting the event.
Police physically removed a man and a woman as someone else shouted: “Shame on you Trudeau.”
Questions about Kinder Morgan emphasized the concern about Canada’s economy and its place in the world.
Paul Manly, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidate for the federal Green Party, asked about NAFTA and how much the complex negotations and trade agreements, specifically ones that let corporations sue government for projects which don’t happen, would cost Canada.
“I don’t want to be paying out billions of dollars to Linder Morgan after we tell them we can’t have their pipeline coming to the B.C. coast,” Manly said to loud cheers.
Trudeau replied by saying Canada is negotiating on those rules and wants to find a way to make sure the government can’t be sued if projects are cancelled for good reasons.
“We had enough of trade deals that benefit the one per cent, benefit big business, benefit the countries but don’t benefit the workers and the citizens. And that’s what we’re trying to change, that’s what we’ve been pushing on.”
A young Indigenous child asked a question from the crowd about the relationship between Canada and the US.
“I’ve seen racism, discrimination and bullying. This is happening here too. I know what I’m doing to make this country a better place. What are you doing?” she asked.
Trudeau replied by saying while Canada has a not perfect history or relationship with other counties, “as we look at the country where were are, we’re actually doing a pretty good job, not perfect by any means but a pretty good job, demonstrating that differences and diversity…is actually a strength for us.”
It was in the last 20 minutes of the town hall when Kinder Morgan protests became fiery once more, with activists standing on chairs and yelling at the Prime Minister.
One woman lobbed a bottle at Trudeau while he was sitting and listening to a separate question, before she stormed out with her arm raised high.
“Shame on you, shame on you!” another woman yelled with such force her upper dentures popped out of her mouth.
Other town halls across the country had some heated moments, but Nanaimo’s event was the most confrontational by far.
The final town hall of his cross-country tour started almost an hour late because of travel delays caused by weather, officials said.
So many people wanted to attend the event that organizers were shifting seating in the gym at the last minute to make room.
Since the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau has made a virtue of interacting with ordinary Canadians, be it posing for selfies with star-struck teens or absorbing the vitriol of disgruntled voters. In government, it’s proven a handy way of beating back the opposition narrative of a privileged prime minister who prefers to hobnob with the upper class.
Trudeau fielded no shortage of voter anger last year during the first iteration of what has now become an annual tradition of sorts: venturing into carefully selected locales sans jacket, sleeves rolled, to show off his people skills — and generate more than a few Liberal-friendly photo-ops — while communing with supporters and detractors alike.
“Sometimes in the bubble in Ottawa, we get wrapped up in things that aren’t resonating, and aren’t really top of mind for a lot of Canadians,” Trudeau said in an interview at the launch of this tou from Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press