Justin Trudeau holds Q&A in Kingston as part of cross-country tour

Prime Minister grilled by locals and students on federal accountability

A gold-tinted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, walking through crowds on his way into Thursday's consultation meeting at Kingston City Hall.

When Justin Trudeau walked into Kingston City Hall on Thursday Jan. 12 under a gold-tinted spotlight, a media flurry followed his every move. But before the glitz, while the Prime Minister’s aides hurriedly set up for his appearance, one of their stories set the tone for the afternoon’s discussion. 

The individual — a member of the technology team who’ll be hurrying around the country in coming weeks with Trudeau, as part of his open-forum tour — only began in the tech field when she was forced to work night shifts to pay for her university education. 

The demands of pursuing an education were frequent topics throughout Trudeau’s visit, as he addressed questions of mental health, post-secondary funding and Indigenous learning. 

“We put billions of dollars of new money on the table for home care and mental health,” Trudeau told the packed City Hall chamber, “which is a personal priority for me.” Health Minister Jane Philpott has been looking into ways to reduce costs for prescription medications, including those for mental disorders, he said. 

During the forum, Trudeau faced emotional appeals over the malfunctioning Phoenix pay system, with others inquiring when long-term disability would be implemented for veterans and whether the Liberal government would firmly commit to Indigenous lands having access to clean water sources. 

Several members of the Kingston and surrounding areas’ Indigenous communities approached Trudeau to thank him for hearing out their experiences. 

Following the Q&A, Trudeau held a press conference in which The Journal inquired about his five-year, $2.6-billion commitment to furthering Indigenous education. In the fall, a briefing note to Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett revealed that the funds were impacting primary and secondary schooling rather than post-secondary. 

“We committed during the election campaign to removing the cap on funding for Indigenous communities, and education. We are continued to be committed to that,” Trudeau said in response. 

“There is an awful lot of work to be done and we know that there is a parity gap in education, accessibility and outcomes. That is a priority, not only for this government but for all Canadians.”  

The National Post reported in September that $90 million was sought by status Indian and Inuit students in Canada through the Indspire program. However, only $15 million was available. At Queen’s, a focus has been placed on Indigenous education in recent years, with a new minor in Indigenous studies and a 133 per cent increase over 2015 in self-identified Aboriginal student enrollment.

Another query from The Journal came in the wake of Trudeau’s recent decision to approve two pipelines in Alberta and British Columbia, for which he’s experienced backlash from young Canadians in particular. In October, three Queen’s students were among the 99 detained during a parliament hill demonstration against pipeline expansion. 

Earlier, during the forum, Queen’s student Jonathan Shepherd interrupted an answer by Prime Minister about clean energy, shouting that his statement on pipelines was “lies”. Shepherd was promptly asked by members of the crowd to sit down. 

When asked by The Journal about pushback from younger Canadians, Trudeau re-affirmed the importance of engagement in response. “One thing I have recognized is how important young voices are in challenging the status quo, pushing for change in the right direction to build a better world,” he said. 

Trudeau was quick to highlight his newly-minted Youth Council, brought together to advise him of matters on domestic policy. One panel is specifically focused on employment in both summer and winter terms for youth. 

In addition, Trudeau mentioned his government’s follow-through on making post-secondary more accessibly for non-Indigenous Canadians as well, saying “we made good on our commitment” to making post-secondary more affordable, citing a 50 per cent increase to the Canada Student Grant for low-income and middle-income students.

The press conference included pressing questions about the Prime Minister’s ethics after he admitted to using the Aga Khan’s private helicopter on a recent family vacation, potentially violating rules on sponsored travel Trudeau set out for his own rules for ministerial accountability. 

The federal ethics commissioner will begin conducting a preliminary review of the instance in coming weeks.

 

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