The most contentous issue of the evening was Indigenous rights as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau conducted a town hall session at Brock University last night.
A First Nations blockade stopped traffic at one entrance while inside, a banner raised in support of the peaceful protest was present.
A man who identified himself as Matthew of the Bear Clan thanked Trudeau for the forum and for listening but asked, “You’ve mentioned that the most important relationship in Canada is with the Indigenous people, yet you allowed the forceful removal of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation people from their land. Why are you allowing forceful removal from their land when it's in contravention of article 10 of Bill 262?"
Trudeau thanked him for his passion on making sure we are on the right path to reconciliation.
He started by admitting the country has failed to live up to its partnerships with First Nations people.
"We know it's time to walk the true path of reconciliation but it's very difficult," he conceded.
He said over the past three years in power, his government has embarked on two different levels of engagement with Indigenous people. First, working on the Crown/Indigenous relationship looking at treaties, self-government, settling long-standing land claims and moving forward in getting more communities out from under the colonialist relic that is the Indian act.
And secondly, "working on delivering on, in an immediate way, all kinds of opportunities and services that have not been delivered to Indigenous people as they should have been."
He focused on what he considered positive strides, but admitted "The situation with the Wet'suwet'en is an unfortunate example where we didn’t do well enough. There is going to be turbulence as we figure out how to be fully respectful and thoughtful in our approach to people who have lived here for millennia. We have much more work to do."
At one point he said, "What I’m trying to do is this -- to come together to have real conversation, make sure there’s room for us to disagree on certain issues and explain our reasoning as to why we think we’re right and maybe the other party or other person is not on the right path, but to do it in a respectful way that doesn’t shut down the other person or party but tries to bring them along. That’s the big challenge."
In fact, the recurring theme of the evening was that Trudeau believes progress has been made but much more needs to be done. Inclusion and communication, he argued, are keys to all the problems facing Canadians.
Trudeau opened the session by saying, "One of the challenges of democracy is that we seem to be in a space where people are talking very, very loudly but not necessarily listening to each other. We need to listen to each other and understand where they’re coming from, even if we disagree with them."
Trudeau was challenged to retract his condemnation of the BDS (an international campaign to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction against the Israeli government policies in Palestine) movement.
But he defended his position, saying it's perfectly okay to challenge decisions of the democratic choices of the Israeli government. He cautioned that is not to be channeled into anti-Semitism which is still prevalent even in Canada.
"It’s not right to discriminate or make someone feel unsafe on campus because of their religion and unfortunately, the BDS movement is often linked to those kinds of things. So yes, I will continue to condemn the BDS movement," he said.
He added, "Canada’s position is that we need a two-state solution that will be negotiated directly by Israel and the Palestinian people."
Another contentious issue arose when Dave from Fort Erie asked why Trudeau supports the Cuban, but not the Venezuelan, government.
Trudeau strongly countered that anyone who is a friend of Venezuela or its people should continue to condemn the dictator Nicolas Maduro, who he says has denied his people their basic democratic rights in a manner not seen in South America for a long time. (see video below)
Asked by teacher Jennifer, from Sir Winston Secondary School, about preventing the rise of right-wing populism that we see in Europe and to the south, Trudeau said people are often worried about a lot of things.
"There’s always been anxiety. Social media and means of mass communication have had the ability to aggregate and in some ways empower voices that would have been a little more on their own. They get to connect and amplify each other and it seems like they have a lot more volume and presence than they actually do," he said.
However, he warned, "Unfortunately, there are shortcuts that some people are taking in politics that realize if they amplify those fears you can make short-term gains. If you take people’s anxieties and shout them back at them, they can say ‘Yeah, I’m gonna vote for you because you understand it.' Well, maybe there’s an understanding there but there aren’t necessarily solutions."
On the legalization of pot, Trudeau was accused of putting revenue generation ahead of public health.
But the PM responded, "It’s not about a new source of revenue. It’s a reflection of the failure of public policy. Prohibition did not work to protect our kids and communities."
He asked the audience to raise their hands if they found it easier to get a joint in high school than a bottle of beer. And the response was substantial.
"We legalized it because the current system was not making it more difficult for young people to buy marijuana. Now you’re going to have to go to an official store and show ID. It will make it slightly more difficult."
Trudeau added that while revenue was not the impetus of legalization, "Before we legalized it about $6 billion every year was going into the pockets of organized crime."
A youngster, identified as Mustapha, asked what can be done to mitigate Alberta oil sand pollution.
Trudeau responded that with Alberta's own cap on emissions, Canada will meet its obligation to the Paris accord on climate change.
He argued that modern pipelines are safer and less polluting than transporting by train. And he acknowledged that not all in attendance agreed with that.
Noting we're in transition to a greener way of doing things, he said, "So we are working to reduce pollution from the oil sands while we are dependant on oil, but we’re looking to create the kind of solutions we need next."
Olivia, a Brock student, asked, "What are the government's plans to provide information on certain misconceptions of advancements in science, such as vaccinations and genetic modification?"
Trudeau responded that people are always worried about new ways of doing things, so the government has appointed a National Science Advisor. Part of that job is to advise government and the scientific community to ground our decisions based in science.
The Prime Minister also commented on moving forward with ways to combat sexual assault, including a bill, brought forth by Conservative MP Rona Ambrose, for mandatory training for judges to better understand sexual assault.
The PM also fielded questions about homelessness, pay equity for women, and a plea to help bring the disabled brother of a new Canadian from Columbia to Canada.
In the latter issue, he referred the woman to local Liberal MPs Chris Bittle or Vance Badawey for help.
A fitting question to sum up the evening came from Emily, a high school history teacher. She asked what Trudeau would like to see as his legacy.
In keeping with the theme of communication and inclusion, he said, "If my legacy is linked to actually empowering citizens to feel connected and responsible for the direction of our country, to understand that every single one of us is empowered, through this modern society, to be active, engaged citizens, that we are agents of change in our own community, in our country and the world, then we’re on the right track."
Trudeau defends Canada's Position on Venezuela