Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a whirlwind visit to Saskatoon Wednesday, taking questions from the public at a town hall hosted by the University of Saskatchewan.
Indigenous, health and education issues were top of mind for members of the audience during the ninth stop of a cross-country engagement tour for the PM.
Trudeau said the country had failed to live up to its responsibilities to First Nations and Metis communities.
“[Reconciliation] is going to be a long process,” he said. “There are fundamental injustices that continue that you just can’t snap your fingers, or put down a pile of money and hope to fix.”
In a response to a question asked by Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas, the prime minister said the country needed to end the poverty cycle that began because of residential schools.
But he warned the results may not be felt for decades.
“It’s not happening as fast as everyone would like, I’m impatient as well,” he said. “But we also know we have to get it done right.”
When asked about health and education, he reminded those asking questions the issues were under provincial jurisdiction.
“I very much respect the Canadian constitution,” he said, quipping that it’s tempting to step in as a former teacher.
Carbon tax, pipelines
Prior to facing the public he answered media questions in a separate briefing room.
He addressed pipelines, noting the recent approval of Line 3 as a victory for Saskatchewan workers before shifting focus onto the environment.
“The only way to move forward on the economy in the 21st Century is to make sure we’re doing right by the environment,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister noted new jobs will emerge as innovation and industry changes take effect in the oil and gas industries.
Questions on carbon tax brought Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s name into the conversation.
Trudeau said “every penny collected in Saskatchewan will stay in Saskatchewan.” He then added it would be up to Wall to determine on how that money will be spent.
When asked about Wall’s renewed pledge to fight the carbon tax, Trudeau said the two don’t see eye to eye on everything, before launching into their agreement on health funding.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with Saskatoon city council Wednesday afternoon ahead of the town hall.
Infrastructure was on the agenda, with talk turning to investing in transit and improving water lines.
Mayor Charlie Clark also gifted Trudeau with a pair of gloves from Wanuskewin Heritage Park as an affirmation of the city’s commitment to indigenous issues.
Long lines, limited space
The town hall Wednesday evening was packed into the Dubé Theatre, which only seats 500 people.
With 400 people pre-registered to attend through the Liberal website, hundreds lined up in the early afternoon to get a chance to participate.
At one point, the line extended down Wiggins Ave. and continued around College Dr.
“Our hands and feet were completely frozen,” said Almas Aasia, an education student who stood in line with her friends for nearly four hours. “But it was worth it.”
Aasia said she appreciated the style of the forum, with the questions appearing to come without prior approval on a range of subjects including Iranian diplomacy and negotiations with the Trump administration.
Once the theatre had filled, others were funneled into an overflow room that held 120 people. Still, others were turned away or forced to wait in the health science centre lobby.
“I guess I’ll just blame Trudeau for making me stand out in the cold,” said Tyler Kerr, who waited for over two hours and didn’t get in.
‘Rushed’ event, missed questions
Not everyone who made it into the event was pleased with how the town hall was structured either.
First year student Jesse Hayward was passed over for a question, after some confusion over who Trudeau had chosen in the audience.
“I think it was a little bit too rushed,” he said of the forum. “I don’t think the prime minister had enough time to adequately get around to everybody.”
An armed forces veteran who stood at attention for the first half-hour of the evening’s Q and A was also passed over.
Ret. Private Dave Bona had been hoping to draw attention to ask a question about a drug used during the Canadian Armed Forces engagement in Somalia in 1992.
“He made eye contact with me three times,” Bona said of Trudeau. “The last time… he turned away and took a question from the opposite side of the theatre.”
Trudeau was set to move on to Manitoba in his cross-country tour Thursday, with a town hall scheduled in Winnipeg in the afternoon.
–With files from JT Marshall