LOWER SACKVILLE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced the tough questions he was asked head on during a town hall meeting in Lower Sackville on Jan. 9.
The Liberal leader was in town for the first-ever visit to the Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook riding by a sitting Prime Minister, according to MP Darrell Samson who hosted the event, held in the gymnasium at Sackville High School. More than 1,300 people—of all party lines and stripes—attended the event.
Trudeau answered questions from the crowd on his Bahamas vacation; mental health in Canada; Carly Sutherland, who is the mother of a nine-year-old autistic boy that suffers from violent outbursts, asked Trudeau if his government would commit to a national autism strategy; a young girl asked about the $10.5 million payment to “someone that killed a soldier” regarding the Omar Khadr settlement; legalization of marijuana and the minimum age to purchase it; and Indigenous issues, including poverty in Eskasoni and about water protectors on site at the Alton Gas project near Stewiacke.
Sutherland said the Senate has called for a national autism plan, and about a decade ago said in a report more assistance was needed. She said autism care is a human rights issue.
While Sutherland is not alone in the struggle, Trudeau said, more can be done and is being done by the feds on the topic. He didn’t say one way or another if the government would commit to such a strategy.
“We recognize that education and health-care delivery are very much a responsibility for the provinces,” Trudeau responded. “But there is more that the federal government can and is doing on the research side, on the advocacy side, and on the support side.”
A woman, donned in a white shirt with the red Maple Leaf on it, and friends nearby videoing her as she asked Trudeau about being the first PM to be found guilty of committing a crime.
Joking before replying, Trudeau said the question clearly showed that all the questions were vetted beforehand.
“What crime is that?” he said.
The woman then went into explain about Mary Dawson, the parliamentary ethics commissioner, finding Trudeau violated some provisions in the Conflict of Interest Act when he vacationed on a private island owned by the Aga Khan, who has been a long-time family friend of the PM’s.
“This shows that our system works,” said Trudeau. “We have an ethics commissioner that ensures all elected officials including the Prime Minister follow the rules and makes sure they’re exercising the responsibilities to serve their country in the right way and in the responsible way.
“What we saw in this situation is that the ethics commissioner points out there should be a higher bar for friendship for someone in the role of the Prime Minister. I absolutely agree with that and accept that. That’s why every single one of my vacations will be cleared by the Ethics commissioner. It’s really important to me that we follow the rules.”
At one point he jokingly talked to crowd about their companions to the south.
“There are people that are thinking about our place in the world and how Canada is you know, dealing with a somewhat unruly neighbour these days — maybe unpredictable at times,” a smiling Trudeau said as the crowd enthusiastically applauded in agreement.
Trudeau was asked by a young girl in the crowd about the payment to Khadr and why the feds did that. He wants people to stay mad at payouts like this. It was one the government was compelled to make because Khadr’s rights were violated, he said.
“It goes to something that Canadians have a right to expect from their government,” said Trudeau. “We have a charter of rights and freedom in this country, which means we have to stand-up for everyone’s rights.
“You seem pretty upset about the payment to Khadr, and you should be. You have every right to be. Actually, everyone here should be upset. I am. That we had to pay money out that we could be investing in any number of worthy causes, like health care, but we have to remember there is a lesson here for us, for all of us, for future governments.
“When a government violates any Canadians fundamental rights and allows them to be tortured there are consequences and we all must pay.”
On the federal government’s plan to have the minimum age to buy recreational marijuana being 18-years-old, one health-care worker in the crowd said he has concerns, asking how the feds know better than those professionals in the field. The audience member also cited studies showing marijuana use can cause issues for brain development in young people.
“This may surprise you, but I agree,” Trudeau said. “I agree that marijuana is problematic for the developing brain, that we need to keep it out of the hands of our young people. However it’s not working. Right now the current system we have means there’s already marijuana in our high schools.”
He received a chorus of applause in agreement from the crowd, which was a good mixture of people and a lot of youth, the future voters in the country.
“We know that setting the age too high simply encourages the continuation of a black market,” said Trudeau. “It’s not a perfect solution by any means. But it’s a better solution than what we have now. It’s grounded in facts and science and a responsible approach to public safety and public health.”
Among those in attendance were West Nova PC MP candidate Hannah Dawson-Murphy; PC MLA Brad Johns; Dartmouth-Cole Harbour Liberal MP Darren Fisher; Central Nova MP Sean Fraser; Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison; MP Andy Fillmore; South Shore-St. Margarets MP Bernadette Jordan; Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank MLA Bill Horne; Councillor Lisa Blackburn; and Councillor Steve Craig, among those spotted.
Mi’kmaq arm wrestler Trevor Sanipass opened the night with a land acknowledgement, before Samson got the crowd excited for the special guest, Trudeau.
The town halls were set to continue with stops in Hamilton on Jan. 10, London, Ont., then Quebec on Jan. 18, before they head to Western Canada.