Trudeau makes stop in Belleville
It was a chilly and blustery night in January as residents of Belleville and surrounding townships and counties lined Front Street in hopes to get a seat at the Empire Theatre for the arrival of their prime minister. Justin Trudeau was hosting a question-and-answer-style town hall in Belleville. The ongoing taxpayer funded town hall was a part of the cross Canada tour meant to connect with Canadians. Bundled in winter jackets waiting, was everyone from seniors to small children. They were all hoping to ask Justin Trudeau some of the questions that concern them and might even keep them up at night.
As the residents piled into the theatre it was clear that not everyone would fit in the 700 seat venue. Over 300 people who arrived a little too late were at a loss, despite standing in the chilled air for over an hour, as the venue filled up without delay. The crowd began to get restless with anticipation due to the fact that their prime minister was over half an hour late. But just as their patience began to run dry, Trudeau entered the stage from behind a bright red curtain and the crowd erupted with a roar of applause. It was not long before Trudeau got down to business and began to answer questions.
“Being able to come out and spend an evening with you is essential to keeping connected with the important job that you all sent me to Ottawa to do,” Trudeau said in his opening remarks with a tender smile.
Issues that were raised by audience members, from teenagers to seniors, ranged from animal rights to Canadian-American relations and Bill C51 and included questions regarding mental health, veterans, small business owners, agriculture, immigration, drug coverage, and the Site C Dam in British Columbia.
One of the first questions that was answered was asked by a young teenage girl. With a shy voice she stood up and asked Trudeau about what kinds of support that youth suffering from mental illness have from the government.
In a kind voice Trudeau responded.
“Thank you for your courage. We know that addressing mental health is hugely important for families, for individuals, for schools and it’s also very important for our economy,” he said.
Trudeau then referenced his mother’s work for lessening the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“If I wasn’t an advocate for mental health, I wouldn’t be my mother’s son and I am proud to be my mother’s son,” he said.
The prime minister received a shrill standing ovation from the crowd who seemed to agree with what he was so proudly saying.
Another early question the town hall meeting was asked by a concerned small business owner asking about what the government was doing for him.
Trudeau reassured the man by saying, “That’s at the heart of what we got elected for. We need to turn around growth in this country. We put forward a plan to grow the middle class. What we did, right off the bat, was lower taxes on the middle class and raise them on the wealthiest one per cent. We did that as of January 1, 2016.”
A worried woman from Stirling stood up and told her touching story about her well running dry, an issue that has affected many people in the area. She was worried about Canada investing in the oil industry and fossil fuels and the affect it would have on our environment.
Trudeau answered her question very seriously by stating that Canada needs to become a leader in developing solutions and creating technology that reduce pollution and that move the world towards renewable energy.
This process has begun by “putting forward a national price on carbon pollution that every single province is going to have to take on and that will allow us to move towards those Paris climate commitments that we made,” Trudeau said.
“Yes, the young man in the back,” Trudeau said as he pointed to a teenage boy sitting with his parents near the back of the crowded theatre.
When he stood up with confidence and asked the prime minister about how the Donald Trump presidency was going to affect Canadian-American relations, the crowd erupted in applause.
Despite their great concerns, Trudeau encouraged the audience with certainty that he was, “never going to shy away from standing up for what I believe in. Whether it’s proclaiming loudly to the world that I am a feminist, or that Muslim Canadians are an essential part of the success of our country today and into the future.
“We will work with him in a thoughtful and constructive way,” Trudeau said of President-Elect Trump.
As the town hall neared a close many people were still anxious to have their questions answered by their prime minister. The last question was asked by a man in his 30s. He stood up and became emotional when recounting a story about his friend who was falsely accused of possibly working with terrorists. He spoke for about five minutes while the audience listened to
him intently. His question was regarding Bill C51 and terrorism.
As he finished speaking all eyes in the theatre went back to Prime Minister Trudeau who was listening to the man with focused attention.
Trudeau stated that the balance between the government keeping Canadians safe and respecting its citizen’s rights and freedoms is difficult to achieve but is what they are aiming to do.
“We’re creating a committee of parliamentarians who will be people from all different parties empowered to look and see everything our intelligence agencies and our police agencies are doing in the name of keeping us safe,” Trudeau said with assurance.
Following the town hall, Don Fulford, a retired press operator, said he thought that overall, the event was good, although he was not chosen to ask his question.
“I’d like to see him do more for the older people that are on fixed incomes. Right now, I see a lot where he is helping people with kids and stuff like that, but what about everybody else? They’re struggling just as well,” Fulford said with a matter-of-fact expression.
Over 1,000 people showed up to the event, lining Front Street to as far as Victoria Avenue, before the doors opened at 5 p.m.
Empire Theatre’s capacity is 700 seats, meaning that many did not get in to the event, despite sending their RSVP to Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis.
Earlier in the day, Trudeau made stops in Manotick, Brockville, Kingston and Napanee and later went on to stay the night at CFB Trenton. His tour continued the next day as Trudeau and his team headed to Bewdley, Peterborough, Toronto, and London on Friday.