Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions against a backdrop of signs held by anti-pipeline protesters at a town hall meeting at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo on Friday. The town hall got rowdy at times with several protesters being ejected from the meeting by police. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

UPDATE: Pipeline opponents vocal at Justin Trudeau town hall in Nanaimo

Prime Minister holds forum at Vancouver Island University gym

Justin Trudeau’s nationwide town hall tour ended in Nanaimo with some fireworks.

The Canadian Prime Minister was at Vancouver Island University on Friday, Feb. 2, for his final town hall meeting, which at times saw audience members become passionate, lively and truculent.

Previous town hall meetings had been held in Edmonton, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Lower Sackville, N.S. and London, Ont. Nanaimo’s town hall was the only one scheduled in British Columbia.

Trudeau entered a packed university gymnasium, to cheers and boos. Almost immediately after he took the microphone, heckling from the audience began, with many vocalizing their displeasure at the federal government’s decision to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project

“No more pipelines,” one member of the audience yelled.

The prime minister was often interrupted as he said that Canada will meet its Paris Accord commitments through carbon pricing and caps on oil-sands emission despite the Kinder Morgan decision, adding that the government is carrying on with its ocean protection plan.

“We have to make sure, as I’ve said, that we are investing in historic world class oceans protection and that is exactly what we’ve done. We are moving forward with the ocean’s protection plan,” Trudeau said.

The ocean protection plan was announced in 2016 by the Liberal government and calls for $1.5 billion worth of investment to improve marine safety and protect Canada’s marine environment.

It didn’t take long before some hecklers were removed from the town hall. At one point, after repeatedly telling a group of people sitting behind him, specifically one woman, to be respectful and not interrupt him or others in the room, Trudeau asked the audience to raise their hands if they felt the woman should be tossed from the town hall.

“We have been doing this for 25 minutes now and I have answered two questions. That’s not fair … show of hands, how many people think its time for [you] to leave?” he said.

Once things calmed down, Trudeau answered a range of questions related to Kinder Morgan, free trade, the opioid crisis and First Nations reconciliation. There were no questions regarding the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana by July.

The prime minister said the decision to approve the pipeline was a compromise and is in the best interest of all Canadians. He said the government has balanced environmental protection with economic growth.

“In order to do that, part of moving forward is approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline which will be able to get our resources responsibly and safely to new markets across the Pacific,” he said. “It is something that many people feel very strongly about on either side, but that is the nature of the compromise. We had to make in the best interest of Canada. To grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time, we have to make tough decisions.”

On the topic of NAFTA, Trudeau said it would be extremely harmful and disruptive to both Americans and Canadians if a new deal couldn’t be reached. Although Trudeau said Canada won’t be bullied into accepting a deal that isn’t right for Canada and would be willing to pull out of negotiations, he felt that wouldn’t be the case.

“We are confident we are going to be able to get the right deal for Canada,” he said.

When it came to housing and affordability, Trudeau said the government will push forward with a national housing strategy.

“It is going to make sure that there is new construction, new rental construction, new opportunities to alleviate the kinds of pressure, both on affordable housing and housing affordability,” he said. “This is something that continues to cause challenges.”

The PM said the government doesn’t create economic growth, but that Canadians do. He said the government is investing in innovation, public transit and is aware of the impact artificial intelligence could have on jobs.

“We are going to keep the economy growing by focusing on giving the tools to people to be successful,” he said, adding that a big part of that is closing the gender wage gap.

Trudeau said “we are failing in the opioid crisis” and said efforts need to be redoubled. The federal government, he said, will continue to work with provinces and municipalities to address the issues at hand.

He also said regarding residential schools, there needs to be more public awareness about the impacts and an understanding that they have “created a legacy of intergenerational trauma that we have to do a better job of supporting and working through.”

Trudeau also touched on a question related to racism, explaining that there is an increasing “strain of Islamophobia” and anti-immigrant sentiments “creeping” up in Canada. He said the nation was built on diversity and that shouldn’t change.

“The strength of this country has been people arriving from all different parts of the world and learning to live together … and that is something we need to protect and maintain,” he said.

Toward the end of the town hall a number of First Nations members walked out and large sections of the audience became increasingly vocal. Afterward, while leaving through a swarm of people, Trudeau told the News Bulletin that he felt the town hall session went well.

“It was wonderful,” he said.

For more, follow @npescod and @NanaimoBulletin on Twitter.

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