Video highlights, photos and the complete transcript of the Maclean’s Town Hall
Wells: Welcome to the Maclean’s Town Hall with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. We’re here at Canada’s National Art Centre in Ottawa. This is his first town hall style meeting with Canadian voters since his extraordinary election victory in October, and the Prime Minister’s here for an hour.
I’m Paul Wells, the Political Editor of Maclean’s magazine. At first, he’s going to take questions from myself and from some of my colleagues at other Rogers publications, but for most of the time here, the questions will come from our live audience and from Canadians across the country. And there are already a lot of questions.
So Prime Minister, thank you for accepting our invitation. Let’s get down to it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: My pleasure.
Wells: We haven’t spoken since October 19th when you won. I want to ask first of all about the tempo of, of your government’s operations. One of your predecessors, Lester Pearson, campaigned on 60 days of decision, and on the 59th day, his Finance Minister submitted his resignation. (laughter) Saturday will be the 60th day since the election. So far, Bill Morneau, your Finance Minister seems to be okay. But one hears around town a lot of people saying that you’re taking things rather quickly. You’ve started all your forums at once. Do you worry sometimes that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?
Trudeau: Actually Canadians told us very quickly over the past few years the kinds of things they needed action on, particularly around growing the economy and we made a very serious commitment to start off in the very first act in Parliament to lower taxes for the middle class, and that’s exactly what we did.
On other issues, we made very clear commitments to move forward rapidly on bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees and, and needing Canadians’ support and involvement to do that and that’s what we ramped up right away. And the international calendar dictated that climate change would be at the top of everyone’s international engagement list and we moved on that.
There’s an awful lot more to come and one of the things that I, I have been particularly grateful for in the opening of, opening round, I guess, of this, this mandate is that we have an extraordinary team of amazing Ministers who I’ve been able to say, you know, get started on this, you know, start rolling on that, start consulting and acting on this and they go and do it, and I’m able to watch a whole bunch of people do amazing things and help them where necessary.
Wells: Folks in my line of work have been watching to see signs of slippage and things that might not be working out as well because we’re a cranky lot, (laughter) and already there are signs that that campaign commitment to $10 billion in deficits is not going to be met. How, how much, I mean, once you decide that you’re not going to cap your deficits, how much bigger can they go? And will you still be able to meet your electorate in four years with a balanced budget?
Trudeau: Well, the, the commitment we made was to create growth for an economy that, quite frankly, hadn’t had growth that it needs in quite a while. I mean, as, as you may have heard me say a few times during the election campaign, Stephen Harper had the worst record on growth of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett in the depths of the Great Depression.
So we put forward, as a commitment to Canadians, that we weren’t going to stress about balancing the budget immediately, which both Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair did. We were going to focus on investing in Canada to make that growth happen and to help the middle class directly. We said that we proposed modest deficits, that we were hoping to have around $10 billion or less, but we would be open with Canadians about how things were looking once we actually got into place.
The one commitment we did make was to recognize that Canada has a low debt to GDP ratio, and is getting lower and we were going to ensure that it kept getting lower every year through our mandate. And that’s what we’re holding to.
Wells: Okay. If it’s reasonable to run deficits now as long as you’re under that debt to GDP cap, why not keeping running them right through to the end of the mandate?
Trudeau: Well, you know, we, we understand that what we need is to demonstrate at the same time a level of fiscal responsibility, as we’re creating that growth. So investing record numbers in infrastructure, in public transit, in green innovation and infrastructure, the kinds of things that we know are going to create jobs now and growth over the long term is what Canadians asked us to do and that’s what we’re focused on. But I also think it’s also realistic to not, not just decide that oh, deficits or discipline doesn’t matter.
We, we, you know, committed to, to, to balance that budget by the last year of our mandate because we do need to keep, keep things responsible cause Liberal governments have always been responsible.
Wells: You’re also getting advice from some economists to reverse the GST cuts of your predecessor. They say that GST should never have been cut that much in the first place. Might as well bring those revenues back. Is that something you’re contemplating?
Trudeau: No. No, it’s not. As, as we’ve said many times, our plan is to lower taxes for the middle, reduce taxes for the middle class and that’s what we’re focused on.
Wells: Okay. I could go on all afternoon, but I’m going to get chances to come and ask you questions as the, as the afternoon proceeds, so I’m going to hand it off now to two of my colleagues from other Rogers publications. We have here from Chatelaine magazine, Rachel Giese, who’s a editor at large at Chatelaine. I’m going to ask Rachel to ask you some questions now.
Rachel Giese: Thanks, Paul. Thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you for speaking to Chatelaine and its readers.
You’ve made very big promises to indigenous communities in Canada, and you have committed to a total renewal in Canada’s relationship with First Nations. You’ve met with the AFN, you’ve met with members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And, but previous governments in this country have made big promises to indigenous communities before and have not followed through.
So to use the words of Minister Bennett, what are the concrete actions we can expect to see in the next four years on indigenous issues?
Trudeau: Well actually, I’m, I’m going to start by, by pointing out that yes, previous governments made commitments, but they also followed through on them. The Kelowna Accord was a landmark agreement that involved a substantive, measurable series of investments along priorities set out by the, by First Nations, Métis nation and Inuit communities. So in a meeting I had this morning with leaders of five of the major indigenous organizations across this country, we talked about how we pick up where Kelowna got cut off 10 years ago, and substantially invest.
It’s not about image. It’s about substance. And that’s what so many of my political opponents haven’t understood.
What it means concretely, a national public inquiry into the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, action on all 94, the recommendations coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including ensuring that school kids across the country learn about the mistakes and the failings of past governments. But also moving forward on closing the gap between investments in education in, in indigenous communities versus indi-, investments in education for non-aboriginal kids. There’s a huge inequality there, and Canada’s supposed to be a fair country.
Also issues like moving forward on infrastructure, whether it’s all the, the boil water advisories on far too many indigenous communities across the country that we need to address. So there are a lot of very measurable, tangible things we’re moving forward on, on infrastructure, on education, on health that as we laid out this morning, some of them are going to take more than a year or even a mandate to do. We’re talking about setting in place things for decades and even generations. But getting right now, to the kinds of actions that are making up for lost time is essential.
Giese: Your family’s childcare arrangements made the news last month and caused a bit of a stir. And it also highlighted the fact that for a lot of Canadians, finding good quality care for their children is a huge struggle. So what I wanted to know what’s your commitment to ensuring that kids have high quality childcare, high quality early childhood education and also what’s the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that the people who do the work of child minding and, and educating children, the bulk of whom are women, receive a fair wage?
Trudeau: Well, we made significant commitments around social infrastructure in the campaign. We talked about a $20 billion investment over 10 years, which includes things like social housing and childcare spaces. But as the Liberal Party discovered years ago, when we negotiated landmark childcare agreements with all 10 provinces, you need to coordinate with the provinces. Some provinces need more spaces, some provinces would like to reduce the cost of childcare and there are different needs right across the country.
And what I certainly feel is that it’s not up to the federal government to dictate in areas of social policy and constitutionally, it’s not our responsibility or our ability to do that. But to work with the provinces and provide the funding for their priorities. So that’s what we’re going to do on the childcare side. But also we’ve committed to bringing in a Canada Child Benefit that is significantly more generous than the monthly cheques that families get now.
Right now, they’re, they’re taxable, so at tax time, people are going to get dinged for the big cheques they received last summer. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to give substantially more money every month that doesn’t get clawed back at tax time, that will be more generous for low income families and families in the middle class, but won’t send it to the wealthiest families.
Giese: Do I have time for one more, Paul?
Wells: You bet.
Giese: Okay. I want to pick up on something that Paul had mentioned earlier, which is the pace of these first couple of months of your government, and your own personal pace. This has been an unprecedented access to you and, and visibility. You have taken selfies, you have appeared in the media. Last night, you went to a screening of Star Wars with a group of kids from the Children’s Hospital here. And I unders-, it’s been, it’s been very delightful and I think, very ––
Trudeau: Sorry. Everyone in the room is going he actually saw Star Wars? (laughter) You know, you can’t ––
Giese: –– My question is ––
Trudeau: –– just drop that.
Giese: –– my question is what happened? Tell us all. No, no. My –– (laughter)
Trudeau: I can’t tell you what happened, but oh, it’s so good and see it early before no one else spoils it for you. See it as soon as you can. It’s so good. Sorry. Go ahead. (laughter)
Giese: I knew we’d get you off track with that one.
Giese: So I, you know, it’s been delightful to watch, and I understand that it, this is part of your image and the image of your party, but what I want to understand is how is this charm offensive the right tone for Canada’s government right now?
Trudeau: It, it, it’s not about image. It’s about substance. And that’s what so many of my political opponents haven’t understood. That if you want to serve Canadians well, with the kinds of things that they want to see for themselves, for their families, for their future, you have to listen to them, you have to get to know people, you have to be engaged in real conversations and talking about their hopes and dreams for the country and, you know, find out what’s worrying them, what’s, what, what, what, what’s going well, where they need a little extra help, what’s preoccupying them.
That capacity to lead is not just to respond to what polls are, what people are saying is priority. It’s understanding where people’s concerns are and then bringing them to a place where we’re actually dealing with those. And that’s where, whether it’s talking to a broad range of publications in a lot of different ways, where we can actually connect with people who might not get a lot of politics in their daily reading or, or news, is a really important thing.
So the more I can stay connected with people, the less I run the risk that Prime Ministers run of getting disconnected from the very people you’re supposed to serve.
Wells: In that spirit of talking to different publications, Prime Minister, and with thanks for that spoiler-free answer on the Star Wars question, (laughter) we’re going to go to my colleague, Alec Castonguay. Alec Castonguay and the chef du bureau politique du magazine L’actualité. Il est ici pour vous poser quelques questions.
Alec Castonguay: Bonjour M. Trudeau.
Castonguay: Merci de vous prêter à cet exercice devant le public. Cette conversation de fin d’année organisée par Maclean’s en collaboration avec L’actualité et Chatelaine.
Ma première question en français va concerner les baisses d’impôts que vous avez annoncées la semaine dernière. On vous a beaucoup entendu parler de baisses d’impôts pour la classe moyen. Alors, ceux qui vont en profiter le plus, en réalité, sont ceux qui font entre $89,000 et $200,000 par année. Pourquoi avoir exclus ceux qui pourraient en avoir eu le besoin plus, ceux qui font moins de $45,000 par année, puis eux ne vont rien toucher dans votre plan?
Trudeau: Bien la réalité c’est que quand on veut effectuer des baisses d’impôts sur des tranches d’impôts, on doit comprendre que les, les, les premières tranches d’imposition bénéficient à tout le monde. Et donc, c’est un outil très grossier pour aider les gens. Mais nous, on a trouvé que de faire ça de façon large pour la tranche de $45,000 à $89,000, de réduire le taux d’imposition de, de 1.5% pour ces gens-là, bien de 7%, mais de 1.5 points, ça allait faire une grosse différence tangible dans la vie de bien des gens.
Et en même temps, on reconnaît que depuis bien des années, le 1% et même le .1% ont très bien réussi. Alors de demander un peu plus en, en termes de, de, d’impôts sur ceux qui font plus que $200,000 par année, c’est une façon de le faire. Mais c’est pas l’ensemble des, de l’aide qu’on va donner à la classe moyenne ou ceux qui vont se joindre à la classe moyenne, on a aussi un, un gros investissement dans l’allocation canadienne aux familles, qui va être dans notre premier budget, qui va donner plus d’argent à neuf familles sur 10 dans le pays et qui va pas donner de bénéfices aux, aux mieux nantis.
Ça va sortir des centaines de milliers de jeunes de la pauvreté au Canada et c’est l’ensemble des mesures que nous allons effectuer un impact positif.
Castonguay: Parce que pour l’instant, ceux qui font que $45,000 ne touchent pas de réduction d’impôts, alors qu’il y en a là-dedans dans ces familles-là qui auraient pu en avoir besoin?
Trudeau: Effectivement, mais beaucoup de gens qui font moins de $45,000 par année ne paient pas d’impôts du tout et nous, on a cherché vraiment un outil pour aider précisément la classe moyenne parce qu’on sait que il y a beaucoup, beaucoup – on en a toujours besoin de plus – mais il y a beaucoup d’outils pour aider les familles en détresse, en vraie difficulté. Trop souvent, on a négligé les familles de la classe moyenne.
Or, c’est la classe moyenne qui crée le, le, la plus grande activité économique au pays et on a besoin justement de redonner confiance et redonner une réussite à cette classe moyenne.
Castonguay: En matière d’environnement, d’ailleurs c’est une des questions suggérées par, par une lectrice, Carine Prud’homme, et je l’ai trouvé excellente. On sort de la Conférence de Paris sur les changements climatiques. On vous a beaucoup entendu parler dans le passé de votre volonté de, d’exploiter, d’exporter les ressources naturelles canadiennes, notamment le pétrole. Est-ce que c’est pas un peu en contradiction avec ce qui vient d’être décidé à Paris? On va devoir diminuer de manière importante notre empreinte de carbone. Comment on fait pour réconcilier les deux?
Trudeau: Bien, on, on le sait très bien, et ce, d’avoir parlé à bien des Canadiens, que les gens savent qu’on a besoin d’emplois, on a besoin de, de croissance économique, mais faut pas que ça vienne au prix de, de, de l’avenir de nos enfants, au coût de notre environnement. Alors, rétablir cet équilibre qui, qui n’a pas été bien géré depuis 10 ans, et, et donc, le gouvernement précédent n’a pas pu de créer de pipelines pour exporter nos ressources parce que les n’avaient pas confiance que on allait faire ça de façon responsable.
Alors nous on sait, et avec l’accord de Paris, c’est très clair que les années à venir vont être de moins en moins dépendantes sur le carbone, sur les carburants fossiles. Nous avons besoin de faire partie de la solution et donc, on va emmener le, le Canada en transition vers l’au-delà du pétrole. Mais pour ce faire, il va falloir qu’on, qu’on, qu’on se déplace à une, à un rythme qui permet quand même aux familles canadiennes de, de réussir, de payer leurs, leurs loyers et de chauffer leurs maisons.
Et donc, cette transition-là équilibrée, c’est l’essentiel.
Castonguay: Est-ce qu’un projet comme Énergie Est, par exemple, qui vise à prendre le pétrole des sables bitumineux, l’exporter vers les, les provinces maritimes mais aussi vers l’étranger est compatible avec cette volonté-là d’avoir une transition? Est-ce que c’est un, un bon projet, selon vous?
Trudeau: Bien, la réalité c’est que c’est aux, aux, aux Canadiens de décider ce qu’un gouvernement se doit de faire, c’est d’établir un processus clair par lequel les Canadiens peuvent décider s’ils ont confiance, s’ils appuient un, un tel projet. Il y a des emplois qui vont être crées par ce, cette, ce projet d’oléoduc là. Mais il y a aussi des préoccupations au niveau de l’environnement. Si les, les, les faiseurs du projet peuvent réconcilier ces deux aspects-là, les Canadiens vont être ouverts à ce projet-là.
Mais c’est au gouvernement de démontrer qu’on est préoccupé par cet équilibre et par cet avenir long terme qui se veut de, de quitter la dépendance sur le pétrole.
Castonguay: En matière de fédéralisme, vous le savez, la plupart des provinces sont en déficit actuellement. Il y a des grands besoins en matière de santé, la population vieillit; en matière d’éducation aussi, on sait on est dans un pays qui, qui doit innover. Comment on fait pour aider les provinces à remplir leurs demandes, à remplir leurs besoins? Est-ce qu’on a une manière, du côté fédéral, de, d’augmenter les transferts, de donner un peu d’oxygène aux provinces qui en ont besoin.
Trudeau: Bien, c’est pas juste une question d’argent. Çà on le sait très bien. C’est une question de, de créer un, un meilleur partenariat pour qu’on puisse résoudre les problèmes. Il y a des meilleures pratiques que certaines provinces sont en train de faire que d’autres n’ont pas adaptées encore. Il y a des solutions (inaudible) pour respecter leur juridiction, leurs champs de compétences, aider aussi dans la livraison. C’est pour ça qu’on a mis un engagement de $3 milliards sur les soins à domicile à travers le pays.
Mais c’est, c’est un, un esprit de collaboration et de respect que ça va prendre, et un partenariat réel, ce qu’on n’a pas eu depuis et ce que j’offre aux provinces.
Castonguay: Rapidement, est-ce que vous croyez qu’il y a un, un déséquilibre fiscal dans la fédération actuellement?
Trudeau: Il y a toujours des enjeux à regarder et à écouter les provinces. Certaines provinces le disent, d’autres refusent. Il faut rassembler les gens pour pouvoir s’assurer que les gens ont les moyens nécessaires pour réussir.
Wells: Merci Alec et mer-, merci monsieur le premier ministre pour ces questions.
As you can see, we’ve always got a lot of questions for you, but I know the folks in the audience do too. And so to help get through those questions, as well as questions that were submitted online by Canadians across the country, we have City News Political Specialist, Cynthia Mulligan, and she’s going to ask some folks in the audience to ask the Prime Minister their questions. Cynthia?
Mulligan: Prime Minister, we had a lot of questions on social media, and one of the dominant theme concerned Syria. It was asked right across the country, and here’s a question from a City News viewer in Toronto. His name is Wayne. He asks: please help me understand why you are taking the CF-18 fighter jets out of the war on ISIS? So far, all I have heard is what you are going to do, but I would like to understand why?
Trudeau: That’s a, that’s a great question. Thank you, Wayne, for the question.
The fact is everyone understands that the so-called Islamic state are terrorists who want to destabilize the region, you know, kill anyone who disagrees with them, and pose real threats to the western world specifically. Canada has an important responsibility, as part of the coalition, to fight against the Islamic state militants and to establish a level of peace and security in that region.
What people understand well is there is no purely military solution. You cannot defeat ISIS by military means alone. We need a broad way of engaging. And that, that means humanitarian support, it means supporting on refugees, as we have started to do significantly. But it also does include military engagement, there’s no question about it. And the question that we have to ask as a government and as a country, is how best can we help?
Trudeau:There’s no question that the men and women of the Canadian Forces are extraordinarily skilled and brave and able to do whatever mission we send them in on, as they are doing right now in air strikes. But the question becomes are airstrikes, is a combat role the best way for Canada to actually help?
Now for 10 years, we spent an awful lot of time gaining hard fought experience in Afghanistan about training up local troops to be able to bring the fight directly to terrorists in their communities, in their, in their towns. And we know that western armies engaged in combat is not necessarily the way to solve challenges in the Middle East.
So what we’re doing right now is we’re working with our allies, with coalition partners to look at how best Canada can continue to help militarily in substantive ways that offer real help in a way that is specifically lined up with our capacities as Canadians. We do some things better than just about anyone else in the world, and looking at our capacity to do that in smarter ways is exactly what Canadians asked me to do in the last election campaign.
Wells: If I can follow-up on that, Prime Minister, Ashton Carter, the US Secretary of Defence, wrote to your Defence Minister last week, as he’s been writing to US allies around the world asking for more in the fight against ISIS. Did anything in that letter suggest a change in Canadian policy?
Trudeau: I have had, as you know, three or four good conversations with President Obama, and I’ve made it very clear that our commitment was to with-, withdraw the six CF-18s. He didn’t ask me to keep those in, nor would I have kept them in if he asked me. But what he wanted to know, and I was able to reassure him, is that Canada is going to stay a substantive and substantial member of the coalition against ISIS, including military engagement, probably around training, but we’re working with our allies to ensure that we’re doing something useful and we’re not leaving them in a lurch.
Wells: Okay. I believe Cynthia’s got another question from a member of the audience. Cynthia?
Mulligan: Yes, I do. We’ll get back to social media in just a moment, but right now, I have Briana Fayad, who has a question for you.
Briana Fayad: Hello, Mr. Trudeau.
Trudeau: Hi Briana.
Fayad: So do you plan on cancelling Canada Post community mailbox service project despite the fact that it saves them $100 million annually or do you plan on reinstating the project?
Trudeau: What I plan on doing is doing something that should have been done a long time ago, which is actually speak with Canadians about what they expect from home mail delivery. As we see the world moving on towards greater use of e-mail and, you know, courier parcels and packages. There is some legitimate questions to be asked around the service that Canadians expect from Canada Post.
What we’ve committed to doing is to do a serious examination of what kind of service they have and our commitment during the election campaign was to stop the transfer towards community mailboxes where it is because there wasn’t adequate consultation. But we understand, Canadians expect Canada Post to deliver a service and that’s what we need to make sure that we’re doing. How that service gets delivered is exactly what the review and consultation process that we’re going to engage in will be focused on.
Wells: Okay. Thank you. Cynthia, I believe you got another question.
Mulligan: Yes, I do. This is Manjit Basi. Hello.
Manjit Basi: Hello.
Mulligan: What is your question?
Manjit Basi: Okay, my question. Prime Minister, 85% of Canadians live in cities and yet, our cities’ hands are tied from a, especially from the perspective of power and revenue base to actually become the innovative and resilient hubs that they need to be and economic engines, and also provide social resiliency for all of the communities that live in them. So what would you do to ensure that our cities thrive and can compete at a global level, but also include the voices of the citizens who actually live in cities through a deliberative process to shape them since for, except for the people, what is a city?
Trudeau: Yeah. No, I, I absolutely agree. And it’s interesting, because when Canada was conceived and, and created as a, as a constitutional entity, or as a, as a dominion anyway almost 150 years ago, the rural-urban balance was 80% rural, 20% urban. Now, it’s completely flipped, as you point out, but we have a similar, the same constitutional structure, as was established 150 years ago.
So what we need to do now, without reopening the constitution, cause I’m not going there, is to build a much better partnership with the cities, because as you point out, cities are drivers of innovation, they’re clusters of creativity and arts and economic success and opportunity, while at the same time there are communities in rural and remote areas across the country who need to continue to, to be able to be successful. So getting that balance right is really, really important.
That’s why one of the things that we’ve engaged in significantly is better collaboration, better partnerships with the Big City Mayors, and working a lot directly with the provinces on municipal issues and we’re going to continue to make sure that instead of sloughing off responsibilities to different levels of government, recognizing that cities, for example, deliver 60% of services on about 8 to 11% of tax revenue. Understand that we’re all serving the same citizens and cities and those clusters that they represent generate a tremendous amount of economic growth and activity and are certainly essential for the coming success of all Canadians, including Canadians in rural areas.
So getting that balance right within the existing structure simply means a lot more collaboration, cooperation and respect. But I will point out that our $20 billion commitment towards public transit is going to be something that, by necessity, gets focused on the big cities because the public transit needs of rural and remote communities simply aren’t of the same scale or, or neighbourhood as, as what we need in terms of building light rail or subways or, or more seabuses in Vancouver.
I mean, these are things that are necessary to create both productivity and quality of life increases for Canadians.
Wells: Okay, let’s keep going. Cynthia, what’s the next question?
Mulligan: Yes, I have Maria Jacko here with me now.
Maria Jacko: (native language) Prime Minis-, Prime Minister Trudeau. I’d first like to say thank you for meeting with, with NWAC this morning and other indigenous, nat-, national indigenous organizations. As she said, my name is Maria Jacko, and I am the aunt of Maisy Odjick, who’s 16 years old. She went missing with her friend, Shannon Alexander, over seven years ago from our community of Kitigan Zibi, Quebec, which is an hour and a half north of here.
They went missing without a trace and we have no answers right now. So I would like to thank you for, for saying that this is a priority for your government and I would like to thank you for initiating this national inquiry, that for me, I’m very grateful for that so thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Being a family member, I know how hard it is, I know, like, how much time we take. I know how much money and how much, how much of our mentality and how, how, how much, how much it costs us to, to look for our loved ones, for our missing and murdered loved ones. So I want to ask you, I want your reassurance to, that families will remain at the forefront and that, that each of the 1,181 missing and murdered indigenous women, each of their cases are specifically looked at and given a chance to, to be fairly solved, to be fairly solved and stuff because, because we, we definitely need answers.
Like, for me, with my, my niece, like, some days I think she’s here still. It’s been seven years and no, we have no answers, and it’s, it’s really taken a toll on our family. So —
Trudeau: Well first of all, thank you, thank you, Maria for, for sharing your story and for being here today to continue to call, call for action. The ongoing tragedy that has been going for more than 30 years across this country needs to be addressed. That’s why we’ve called for a national public inquiry, but we’ve also recognized that even as we set up the national public inquiry, we have to fold in voices of families, voices of organizations and communities that have been looking for answers for a long time.
And making sure that we set up a proper, broad engagement inquiry and, and consultation is going to be essential to make sure that we give justice to the victims, healing to the families, and mostly put an end to this tragedy and I certainly hope to be able to find answers in your cases and, and so many others. But what is most essential is that this is something that we do together, that we recognize together is not just a problem in indigenous communities, but it’s a Canadian problem that we shall address together.
Wells: It was striking in your mandate letters to all of your Ministers, that you mentioned a new relationship with First Nations in every letter to every Minister. Why that broad?
Trudeau: Because you can’t just expect the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to deal with something that is, and she’s going to be doing amazing work, but this really requires a whole of government approach. Whether you’re talking about, talking to Defence about indigenous Canadians in the military and specific challenges they have, whether you’re talking about health care, whether you’re talking about natural resources, whether you’re talking about finance, whether you’re talking about labour and training, whether you’re talking about heritage and indigenous languages and culture, whether you’re talking, — you can run through every single department and this has become, as was highlighted in the, in the truth and Reconciliation Commission, not just an indigenous issue. It’s a Canadian issue.
And we have a large number of Canadians, the very first Canadians, who are living in third world conditions across this country, and it is time and Canadians know that it is time to fix what has been centuries of a failed relationship.
And the one thing that, and I have to admit this, when I was originally thinking back about stepping into politics, back in 2006, I remember having some conversations with friends and future advisors about the things that needed to be done in Canada. And one of the senses we had was oh my God, we have to build a right relationship with indigenous Canadians. And the sense that we had back in 2006 was it’s a nice thought, but there’s no political capital in there. There’s no desire by Canada to address this at this point.
And one of the things that we’ve seen over the past years is a tremendous will by non-indigenous Canadians to get this right. I mean, Canadians like to think of ourselves as a fair, open country that has all sorts of rights respected and examples to give the world, and we’re happy and proud of our image to the world. Well, there’s a biblical parable about taking care of the beam in your own eye before you go to your neighbour’s moat. And we have a large number of Canadians, the very first Canadians, who are living in third world conditions across this country, and it is time and Canadians know that it is time to fix what has been centuries of a failed relationship.
Despite moments of tremendous good will and desire to, to engage with it, it just hasn’t been possible to move forward and I want Canada to be able to engage in a respectful renewed relationship that focuses on the kind of partnership, cooperation, collaboration and shared stewardship of this land that was present from the way the first European settlers were welcomed by people who’d been here for millennia and who knew how to thrive in a place that has winters that are too long, too cold, too dark with too much space between communities.
I mean, there is, there is an urgent need to get this right and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. All of us.
Wells: This is a conversation on these issues that I’m sure we’ll be pursuing in many ways in the years ahead. In the meantime, I know that Cynthia’s got more questions from social media and from the big internet. Cynthia?
Mulligan: That’s right. We’re going to take a completely different direction now. This could possibly be the toughest question you’re going to face here today.
Trudeau: I know you’re saying that jokingly, but these questions are the toughest for me. (laughter)
Mulligan: Are you ready?
Trudeau: Yes. I think I said that. No, that’s the question, that was the question they asked during the campaign. (laughter)
Mulligan: No, that wasn’t the question.
Trudeau: Am I ready? How do people feel? (laughter)
Mulligan: This is from a Facebook reader in Winnipeg who wants to know what’s with those shoes you wear even if they don’t match your pants? Are they your lucky shoes?
Trudeau: Hmm, shoes. I, I, see? Again, the most difficult shi-, no. Paul, at one point, remarked that I wore ridiculous footwear from time to time, but I have grown up since then, and I, I do like my socks, but I, I give no thought to my shoes. I have black shoes, I have brown shoes, and I wear them until they wear out, and I get a new pair. (laughter) I, I, I really don’t spend as much time thinking about it as apparently the internet does. (laughter)
See? Tough question.
Wells: Maybe not the last one this afternoon. Cynthia, I believe you got a question for the Prime Minister of your own.
Mulligan: I do. It’s regarding Donald Trump, and we also have a viewer who, an Oakville reader, will you stand up to Donald Trump and condemn his hateful rhetoric? But I’m going to add to that with my own question. You’re basking in your post-election win, and one year from now, America will have a new President. Polls suggest that Donald Trump is surging in popularity. What do you think of his politics? What would you say if you could sit down and talk to him?
Trudeau: First of all, I think it’s extremely important that someone in my position doesn’t engage in the electoral processes of another country. So I’m, I’m certainly going to be very cautious about engaging in this particular topic, just because I think it’s going to be important for Canadians, for Canadian jobs, for Canadian prosperity to be able to have a positive relationship with whoever Americans choose as their President.
However, (laughter) I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that I stand firmly against the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance or hateful rhetoric. I stood clearly against that in the Charte des valeurs divisive issues put forward by the former Premier of Quebec. I took a very strong stand against the previous government’s playing dangerous games with veils and citizenship issues. I think Canada and indeed any modern society does best when we understand that diversity is a source of strength, not a source of weakness, that the elements on which we are similar are always far greater than the elements on which we are diverse.
And if we allow politicians to succeed by scaring people, we don’t actually end up any safer. Fear doesn’t make us safer, it makes us weaker. And at this time, when there is reason to be concerned for security around the world and here at home, we need to remain focused on keeping our communities safe and keeping our communities united instead of trying to build walls and scapegoat communities that, I mean, to talk directly about the Muslim community, they are predominantly, they are the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world at the present time.
And painting ISIS and others with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims is not just ignorant, it’s irresponsible.
Wells: On that note, I think we’ve got another question from the audience. Cynthia?
Mulligan: We did. I would like to introduce to Colum Grove-White. Hello.
Colum Grove-White: Hi there. Prime Minister Trudeau, your government’s committed to having this last election be the last election of using first past the post, and you said you’re going to strike a all-party committee to explore different options. My question to you is why is voting reform to important to you and why is it important that 2015 was the last election using first past the post?
Trudeau: I think one of the things that we saw over the past years is declining voter turnout as people feel that less and less, their votes matter, that they can actually effect real change. And one of the things that we committed in this election was to engage Canadians in, in active politics once again. And one of the things that I’m, that I look at as the greatest success of the electoral campaign was that voter turnout went up, that Canadians engaged in our political process again to, in greater numbers than before.
I think that’s a victory for all of us. It’s a victory against the kind of cynicism that too often drives politics. But I have met and heard from far too many Canadians who are frustrated that they don’t feel like their votes count. They don’t feel like they have a concrete way of making a difference in our electoral process and I’ve committed to ensuring that we move beyond the first past the post system.
Now, what that looks like, there’s a number of different possibilities and alternatives out there, and some seem to work better for some parties than others, and, you know, in any situation, there’s going to be questioning about whether the government in place is just picking a path that they think it might benefit themselves.
I mean, what I am focused on, and what I want Canadians to focus on through these consultations and important discussions about electoral reform and democratic reform are what kind of electoral process do we want to give us both the level of stability, the level of accountability, the level of diversity, the level of engagement and Canadian voices and choices that people feel they need to feel like their political system works for them. And I think that’s an (inaudible), an important conversation to have.
If we allow politicians to succeed by scaring people, we don’t actually end up any safer. Fear doesn’t make us safer, it makes us weaker.
In a minority government situation, or in a, a highly charged election campaign, you know, things can get very intense. But I think in a reasonable, broad consultation that involves a whole bunch of people about before we even talk about the specific types of electoral reform, what are the values that we want for how we want to choose our government? What kinds of governments do we want? Do we want a government that offers stability? Do we want a government that is more partisan or less partisan? Do we want a government that engages with broad numbers of voices? Do we want a government that tries to pull people together and be acceptable the largest number of Canadians? Do we want to keep that bond between a specific MP and a specific group of Canadians?
I mean, these are all important questions that lead us in different directions, depending on our answers. And I think a mature democracy should be able to have a responsible, informed and quite fas-, quite, quite frankly, interesting discussion about how we pick the governments that bring us forward and prepare us for the future.
Wells: To proceed with that reform, do you think that your government needs to demonstrate support that’s broader than the Liberal caucus in, in Parliament?
Trudeau: Oh, absolutely. I think, I think we need to engage with Canadians, and I know the question’s leading towards do we need a referendum on that? We’ve committed to consulting broadly as many Canadians as possible, as many different communities and, and organizations, including political parties as possible, and we’re going to move forward with that and we’ll see where it takes us. I, you know, we’re, we’re going to do that in a responsible way.
Wells: Okay. Cynthia, the next question please.
Mulligan: Yes, I’m joined by Maddie Adams.
Maddie Adams:So my question today is do you think your style of negotiating and soft power leadership are effective and sustainable in the long term? And how do you plan on making them work in an international setting, among other leaders that may have a harder or like, more direct leadership?
Trudeau: Well, I think, I think it’s a mistake to equate understanding soft power with weakness. I think getting things done is absolutely essential. And, and to look at, you know, the contrast of, of the last election campaign, you know, there was an incumbent party there that spent a lot of time talking about strength and tough and taking swings at, at all of its opponents and trying to show how strong they were.
I took a very different approach that was much more inclusive, much friendlier, much more focused on listening and engaging and solving problems rather than creating conflict, and Canadians responded very positively to that. Now, why would citizens in the international community be any different?
Let’s take an example of, of the country of origin labelling issue that has been festering for a while between Canada and the Untied States, which has been costing Canada, Canadian farmers, specifically pork and beef producers, millions of dollars because the Americans were imposing unfair sanctions. You know, we were ready very much, and are ready, to impose retaliatory measures and we’re justified to do that if the Americans don’t fix it, but because we presented a very firm case, but at the same time, you know, I brought it up directly with President Obama a few times, and said look, we need to engage.
Well, right now, Americans are generally feeling slightly more positively inclined towards Canada than they might have been in the past where Canadian foreign policy consisted of, you know, telling Americans what pipelines they needed to approve of, or else – never explaining what the else might be – we’re actually moving forward substantively on issues.
Now that doesn’t mean we’re going to always get along with the Americans or our allies on every issue, but it does mean we should be able to sit down and have substantive reasonable conversations about how to create prosperity in our economies, how to keep our citizens safe and how to have productive engagements with the world. So I don’t see being smart and reasonable in how we engage with others as a sign of weakness.
It was Wilfrid Laurier who actually pointed out that making concessions and finding compatibility and compromise is actually a more difficult thing to do than sitting on your position and refusing to take any comers on, to learn how to listen and to get to yes is more challenging, but ultimately much more satisfying and production, and productive.
Wells: Prime Minister, one of the things we’ve noticed as we’ve gathered questions from across the country is that a lot of people are preoccupied, not with the process of how things go in Parliament, but how government policy really affects them in their day-to-day lives and their, making progress for them and their families, and I believe that the next question from Cynthia and a member of the audience is that kind of question.
Mulligan: Prime Minister, I’d like you, to introduce you to Larry Agbana.
Larry Akbana: Hello Mr. Prime Minister.
Trudeau: Hello, Larry.
Akbana: I, the TFSA has been an important savings tool for the low income and medium income families in Canada. With the reduction coming, with the contribution limits, how does your government intend to assist families with building savings and strengthening their financial security?
Trudeau: That’s, that’s a great question, Larry. Thank you very much. The Tax Free Savings Account was brought in a few years ago by the Conservative government and set at a $5,000 limit. And it was indeed, as you point out, a vehicle that a lot of Canadians have used to, to help save for, for future needs or for their retirement.
Last year, the government decided to double the maximum savings account, amount to $10,000 for the Tax Free Savings Account. What we found was only 6% of Canadians were maximizing those savings at the $10,000 level. And quite concretely, of all the people I’ve talked to across the country, there’s not a lot of Canadians who have $10,000 at the end of the year that they can put into a Tax Free Savings Account. That’s just beyond the, the, the scope of what so many Canadians are able to do.
So we said you know what? The $5,500 limit is perfectly reasonable as a tool, as an encouragement, but throughout our campaign, we’ve been focused on giving help to those who need it and giving less help to those who don’t. So one of the things that we’re very much focused on in encouraging people to save is actually strengthening the Canada Pension Pli-, Plan, because we know that provinces like Ontario and others are looking to strengthen because retirement security is more and more difficult for people.
We know that the average 35-year old today sets aside less than half of what their parents saved at that same age when they were there. So we have a problem for saving for retirement and we need to create ways that are accessible for a broad number of people and that’s why we’re going to be working with the provinces to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan and why we believe in TFSAs, but we believe in making them useful to the broadest number of people and not rewarding wealthiest people with tax free savings cause that money could be better spent by the government on helping the people who actually need it most.
Wells: Okay. We’ve got another question from Twitter. Cynthia?
Mulligan: Yes, we do. Back to social media. And this is a tweet that just came in in the last few minutes. It is from Justin Frederick, and he asks you should there be a federal minimum wage like NDP leader Tom Mulcair was proposing during the campaign?
Trudeau: One of the things that was interesting about that, that proposal is that we, when it was discussed in the House, we certainly weren’t opposed to it. It’s just not what the NDP pretended it was. Federal minimum wage doesn’t apply to 99% of people making minimum wage in this country because it’s set by the provinces. Now, people working in the airline industry, in banks, in telecommunications would be ad-, affected by minimum wage, but not many of them are making the minimum wage.
So the NDP points out that oh, it’s a symbol that should encourage the provinces to raise the minimum wage. Well, I think that’s a conversation we should be having with the provinces and, and that certainly is something to reflect upon. But I don’t think that pretending you’re going to raise the minimum wage for everyone across the country when in fact, you’re not going to be able to do that was a particularly responsible kind of campaign to be running and that’s why we, we certainly didn’t engage in that, in that type of politics.
Wells: Monsieur le premier ministre, si vous voulez bien, je vais passer la parole encore une fois à mon collègue Alec Castonguay parce que les lecteurs de L’actualité ont aussi répondu en grands nombres à notre appel de questions.
Trudeau: C’est avec Plaisir.
Castonguay: M. Trudeau, notre lecteur, Robert Cusson, veut savoir comment le gouvernement arrive à trouver un milliard de dollars pour accueillir les réfugiés syriens alors qu’il y a encore des milliers de sans-abris au Canada et qu’il y a également des milliers d’enfants canadiens qui ne managent pas à leur faim? Comment peut-on justifier ça?
Trudeau: Bien, je pense que il faut comprendre que le choix n’est pas l’un ou l’autre. Le Canada a toujours compris que d’accueillir des gens qui vivent en situation de détresse à travers le monde finit par être un, un, un bénéfice extraordinaire à notre pays. On, on pense à, à la communauté Ismaélite qui, qui est venue dans, dans les débuts des années 70 de l’Uganda, de l’Afrique de l’est qui, qui a contribué énormément à l’essor économique de notre pays.
On pense aux, aux vietnamiens, par exemple, qui sont venus dans les débuts, débuts des années 80 qui sont extrêmement bien intégrés et qui contribuent énormément à notre société. Alors j’ai, je sais profondément que d’accueillir ces réfugiés syriens, oui, c’est un investissement maintenant, mais c’est aussi une question de, de, du genre de pays qu’on est de démontrer qu’on est accueillants et ouverts, mais aussi, c’est dans notre intérêt d’accueillir des gens qui vont contribuer énormément à, à l’épanouissement économique de toutes nos communautés dans les années à venir.
Et si on peut en même qu’on les accueille, souligner le besoin criant en matière de logements abordables qui existe partout au pays, ce besoin criant d’enfants qui vivent dans, dans la misère et dans la pauvreté, des enjeux pour nos communautés, pour les communautés autochtones qu’il faut adresser, je trouve que c’est une conversation que, que nous devons avoir.
Et quand on accueille des syriens, tout à coup les gens découvrent ah, c’est très difficile de trouver des logements abordables, ah bien, faudrait investir en logements abordables. Alors pour moi, d’utiliser cet accueil comme une, une, une occasion de réfléchir aussi sur comment on, on, on donne les mêmes opportunités aux Canadiens, je trouve que c’est un, c’est un très beau principe, et je remercie Robert de l’avoir souligné.
Wells: Another question, Prime Minister, on security and related issues comes from another member of our audience and Cynthia’s got that question now.
Mulligan: Yes, I’d like to introduce you to Judith Lewis.
Judith Lewis: Good afternoon Prime Minister.
Trudeau: Good afternoon, Judith.
Lewis: My preoccupation recently has been with civil liberties. As a citizen of Canada, I never questioned until recently whether they were 100% secure. I’m not convinced. Please give me some hope. Thanks.
Trudeau: Well, thank you. And, and I entirely understand that. I’ve heard from many, many Canadians who are expressing those twin concerns of wanting to be safe in a world that we see on the nightly news all too regularly is increasingly insecure in many ways. But at the same time, to know that our rights and freedoms and privacy is also being protected.
Now, people, quite frankly, expect that their governments be able to do both of those together. There shouldn’t be a contradiction between what it takes to keep us safe and what it takes to keep us Canadian: free and, and, and defend our rights. So a responsible government should make sure that when you’re giving more powers to police or security agencies in order to keep people safe, that at the same time, you bring in more oversight, you bring in more limits to ensure that those new powers aren’t being overused or even abused.
And that’s why we’ve committed to do what all of our Five Eyes allies, UK, US, New Zealand and Australia have done, which is bring in a committee of parliamentarians to oversee all the actions of our national security agencies so that we can have elected representatives from all parties of Canadians, to ensure not just that our investigative bodies and police agencies aren’t abusing people’s rights, but also to make sure that those agencies are doing everything they possibly can to keep Canadians safe.
That’s the balance. And the thing that sort of bugged me a little bit in the past election campaign is it was very much playing the politics of fear. On one side, we had a party saying, you know, if, if we don’t do this, then if you’re not willing to strengthen our security agencies, well then you want terrorists to win, and we should be afraid there are terrorists behind every leaf and rock. Well that obviously doesn’t apply.
But on the flip side of saying suddenly if these measures go through, Canada’s going to, all of a sudden, be a police state is also a kind of politics of fear that, quite frankly, I reject. Because again, fear doesn’t keep us safe. What keeps us safe is responsible checks and balances and a defending of our Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And that’s very much what Canadians expect us to focus on and that’s exactly what I’m going to be focused on.
Wells: Prime Minister, we’ve got another one of those tough questions for you from the young gentleman in the front row here.
Mulligan: I bet Paul didn’t warn you we had a secret weapon.
Mulligan: And his name is Isaac and he’s 8 years old and Isaac has a very important question for you.
Isaac: Is the Star Wars: The Force Awakens as good as Harrison Ford says it is? (laughter)
Trudeau: I, I, I don’t know what, what Harrison Ford said about it, but I can tell you it is as good as I had hoped it was. It was, I, I was your age when I first saw Star Wars, and like everyone of my generation, or everyone I knew of my generation, maybe I just hung out with geeks, but it was, it was a life changing movie, and I am, I am very confident that this, this new iteration of it is going to make everybody very, very happy.
Justin Trudeau responds to a question about Star Wars from eight-year-old Isaac
Wells: And perhaps on that note, we’ll begin to wrap things up. As you head into the holiday season, are, do you see the next two weeks, now that the House is up, as a chance to drive forward your agenda even further or are you going to take some family time?
Trudeau: If, if I don’t start taking some family time, I’m going to be in real trouble, not just, not just with my family, but I’ll be in real trouble because one of the most important things about this job is to stay connected with why you’re doing this job. It’s easy to get wrapped up in oh, what question is Paul going to ask me next, or you know, what are the opposition parties saying, or what’s going to be on the front page tomorrow? I mean, there’s, there’s so much that is urgent around you all the time, that if you just focus on that, you can forget about what’s important.
So for me, what’s important is remembering that I’m doing this job not in spite of the 8-year old, 6-year old and 2-year old that I have at home, but because of the 8-year old, the 6-year old, the 2-year old I have at home. I’m doing this because I want our kids to have a brighter future and I feel I can do some things meaningfully that will move us along in the right direction.
And making sure that I take time to, you know, to offer myself as a punching bag for Xavier’s karate lessons, or, or marvel at Ella’s gymnastic classes or help Xav with his, his, his math or even just sort of sit back and watch our third child, who’s very much a third child, Hadrien, be completely independent and not need mommy or daddy nearly as much, well not need daddy anyway, as much as I might like. That’s what really matters for me.
And my capacity to take a little time with them over the holidays, and quite frankly, to encourage my Ministers. You know, we, everyone talked about the, the dynamic nature of our, our new Cabinet, 30 extraordinary Ministers that represent 50 children, 50 kids amongst our, our, our Cabinet, and reminding them that after having worked incredibly hard for two months to get this government up and running with the kind of energy that I think we were able to dev-, to demonstrate, it’s really important for them to take some time with their families over the holidays, over Christmas to resource, to recharge cause quite frankly, you folks ain’t seen nothing yet. (laughter) We got a lot more to do in the coming months and years.
Wells: I think we’ll stop there. thank you very much for this extraordinary exercise of coming out to meet with voters. I, we got a lot of messages from people who don’t live in Ottawa who were quite upset that you’re, you’re stuck in, in the Ottawa bubble here. So maybe at some future point down the road, we could take this show on the road and have a town hall somewhere in Eastern Canada, Western Canada.
Trudeau: I look forward to it, and actually, I’m, I’m going to be doing that sort of thing more and more often, getting out of the bubble, but understanding there’s a lot of good people in Ottawa who aren’t part of the bubble, (laughter) who deserve to be listened to as well is, is a part of it, and getting out and staying connected is the heart of what’s going to be ––
Wells: Thanks very much Prime Minister.
Trudeau: –– our success.
Wells: And we’ll see you again soon.
Trudeau: Thank you, Paul.
All photos by: Blair Gable
Published: December 16, 2015