Just a few days after Jane Fonda’s reference to be wary of “good-looking Liberals”, the actress and outspoken activist missed a stellar opportunity this morning (January 13) in Peterborough to actually get up close and personal with the federal Liberals’ leading man.
On the second day of what will be a cross-Canada meet-and-greet with Canadians, Trudeau hosted a town hall-style meeting at the Evinrude Centre in Peterborough
For the some 400 mostly pro-Liberal audience members who jammed the meeting space — all had to register prior, bringing cries of foul from the opposition parties that the Liberal Party is deviously gathering names for its database of supporters — the 45-year-old Prime Minister Trudeau delivered the charm and casualness that has been at the centre of his public appearances since his election in 2015.
But there was substance in the mix, particularly as it pertained to the federal government’s stance on various environment-related matters. However, the most emotional exchange involved a Buckhorn single mom’s struggle to deal with rising hydro costs, which falls under provincial jurisdiction.
“My heat and hydro now costs me more than my mortgage,” said Kathy Katula, a personal support worker at Extendicare Lakefield, choking back tears while holding up her hydro bill.
“How do you explain to a woman how she’s supposed to pay a hydro bill of $1,085? How do you justify to a mother of four children, three grandchildren, with physical disabilities, working up to 15 hours a day, asking me to pay a carbon tax when I only have $65 left from my paycheque every two weeks to feed my family? I’m putting my faith in God, and you that you’re going to make my country a place that we can prosper again (but) I make $50,000 a year, Mr. Trudeau, and I’m living in energy poverty.”
In response, a visibly moved Trudeau acknowledged his government’s putting a tax on carbon “is something we’ve moved forward on” and admitting it’s “causing consternation amongst a broad range of people.” But he added “we are in a time of transition” and that moving away from reliance on fossil fuels is “a good thing.”
“We are facing a challenge where we have to change behaviours. It’s important that those change happen in a way that doesn’t penalize our most vulnerable. We are leaving it up to the provinces to determine whether a carbon tax or a levy or a cap-and-trade system is right for them. It will be up to the Government of Ontario to ensure you are not penalized. We haven’t brought in any (national) carbon tax yet. It doesn’t kick in for another few years.”
We are leaving it up to the provinces to determine whether a carbon tax or a levy or a cap-and-trade system is right for them. It will be up to the Government of Ontario to ensure you are not penalized.
Afterwards, Ms Katula was at the centre of media attention.
“I understand that a carbon tax is good for our environment; I understand all these things will make Canada better. But why should someone like myself, who’s barely making it, be responsible for better transit in Toronto … for electric cars? I’ll never be able to afford that.”
“I’m not adding to the pollution, so why should I pay a couple of hundred dollars a month for the air I breathe? Take it from the companies that can afford it, not us. I hope when he lies in bed tonight he’ll think of some answers.”
Trudeau, looking refreshed despite early morning stops at CFB Trenton and Bewdley’s Rhino Roadhouse, took questions on a wide range of issues including water quality woes affecting First Nation communities, the protection of waterways, the wait times experienced by refugee claimants, and electoral reform.
The latter brought a chant of “What do we want? PR (Proportional Representation)” from a sizable number of audience members. Earlier, members of the local chapter of The Council of Canadians unfurled their banner while Trudeau was brought up to speed on the recent approval of the sale of PDI — again, a provincial matter.
However, environment-related concerns were the focus of most who were granted microphone time.
“I have said, from the very beginning, that we cannot make a choice between what’s good for the economy and what’s good for the environment,” said Trudeau. “We need to build a strong economy that protects the environment at the same time and that’s exactly what this government is committed to doing. Are we there yet? No, we’re not. Are we on the right track? Yes, we are.”
Later, he addressed one questioner’s “shock” over the go-ahead granted the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline in Alberta. The aforementioned Jane Fonda was in Alberta earlier this week voicing her dismay over the same, at which time she issued her warning to Canadians that “we shouldn’t be fooled good-looking Liberals” — a clear reference to Trudeau.
“It is a fundamental responsibility of any Canadian prime minister — it’s a historical responsibility — to get our resources to market,” noted Trudeau.
“But in the 21st century, getting our resources to market needs to be done by doing it responsibly, sustainably and including people in the process. We can’t shut down the oil sands tomorrow. We need to phase them out, to manage the transition off our dependence on fossil fuel. That is going to take time.”
“We have to make choices. The reason we were able to move forward is we actually put forward a plan to achieve our emission reduction targets. There was never a plan on how reach those targets. We’ve been able to put in a pan-Canadian framework on climate change; a pan-Canadian carbon pollution pricing goal. We are understanding how to manage this transition.”
Trudeau pointed to Alberta’s “absolute cap” on oil sands emissions, adding it’s “folded into our plan. So the question isn’t are we going to shut down the oil sands tomorrow? We’ve put a limit on oil sands emissions. Think about it. If you don’t build pipelines, you’re just putting more oil by rail, and we all know that oil by rail is more expensive, more polluting and more dangerous.”
“There were a number of very clear concerns. One of them was how can you meet your targets on climate change while you’re building a pipeline? We’re able to do that because it fits within carbon reduction framework that we have.”
As is typically the norm, there were lighter questions taken. A young boy, Dayton, asked Trudeau what it was like growing up as the son of a prime minister.
“I was an extremely lucky kid,” Trudeau replied. “I had a dad who showed me early on how important it is to work really hard and try to make a positive difference in the world.”
Later, in response to as why he chose to seek election as prime minister, Trudeau joked “What was I thinking?” before noting he “had to work really, really hard to try and be worthy of the opportunities that life had given me.”
“We have to think every day about what we can do to be worthy of those chances,” Trudeau continued. “I didn’t think politics would be my path. I figured I’d have to be old like my dad was. He wasn’t that old but he was old to me. I discovered I had a capacity to bring people together, to listen and learn from people.”
In the same response, Trudeau earned a laugh when he added he has been fortunate to meet “amazing people,” listing the Aga Khan among them.
In the aftermath of his family’s recent Christmas vacation on the billionaire’s private island — with Trudeau acknowledging he travelled on the Aga Khan’s helicopter — Conservative MPs have come at him hard, claiming that action breached the Conflict of Interest Act. In response, the Ethic Commissioner’s Office has initiated a preliminary review.
Without question, the biggest smile at Friday’s event was worn by Peterborough MP Maryam Monsef, who formally introduced her political boss to open the proceedings.
In return, Trudeau noted he remains “incredibly proud of” convincing MP Monsef “who wasn’t sure if she was a Liberal, who wasn’t sure if she wanted to get into federal politics, to step up and run here in Peterborough.”
Following his Peterborough stop, Trudeau headed off to the next tour stop of London, Ontario. Later, he’ll visit communities in Quebec, the Prairies, and British Columbia, followed by the Atlantic provinces and the North.
All photographs by Linda McIlwain for kawarthaNOW.