Nanaimo Trudeau Town Hall: Student questions

Town hall crowd listening and taking pictures as Prime Minister Trudeau answers questions. Photo by Sarah Packwood.

Vancouver Island University’s gym was fire code maxed-out at 11:30 am on February 2, with hundreds of people waiting to participate in the Town Hall meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In the two-hour long meeting, close to 30 different people were given a mic to address Trudeau. Members from various parts of the community were in attendance, including some of VIU’s own. The following is a transcript of the questions that students got to ask Trudeau:

What should we, as Canadian citizens, do about the tension in the Korean peninsula?

“It’s an issue we struggle with. As we look across the Pacific to the Korean peninsula, and the dangerous actions of the North Korean regime, we are all obviously worried. It’s a question of regional security and stability. But it’s also a question of global security and stability as well.

Canada has been active, including here with a conference in Vancouver a number of weeks ago, pulling together international actors, various states that were involved in sending troops to the Korean peninsula during the Korean War, to try and move forward on diplomatic and political pressure that continue against the regime in Pyongyang[.] [B]ecause what they are doing is a threat not [just] to us, but to all of us. Canada has continued to be a voice pushing for sanctions, pushing for dialogue, with regional partners like China and Russia.

Understanding that we all have a role to play in this and if Canada can play a role as intervenor to find other solutions than military solutions, which some people seem more enthusiastic about than others, I think we will be on the right track. What can ordinary people do? Continue to stay informed, continue to engage, and hope that we’re going to move forward towards peace. Stay interested, keep talking to your elected officials about your concerns, and ensure that we continue to be a consistent voice for peace.”

Large university gymnasium with three sets of bleachers against three walls are full of seated occupants. Rows of chairs with seated occupants arranged in square formation in middle of gym floor. Stool and sound equipment sit in centre of lined up chairs and Canadian flag hangs as a backdrop on side of gym without bleachers.
VIU gym at full-capacity shortly before town hall began. Photo by Sarah Packwood.

First of all, I’d like to thank you for your time and for visiting our school. You went over your reasons for passing Kinder Morgan, but what’s the plan for when there is an oil spill?

“First of all, the decision on moving forward with Kinder Morgan vs. Northern Gateway is Kinder Morgan arrives in a well-serviced, busy port that actually has a capacity to deal with incidents and challenges. At the same time, we’ve set forward significant numbers of conditions that are going to have to be met by the proponent as we move forward.

We know that building a strong economy and protecting the environment need to go together, and it’s a combination of technological and regulatory challenges that are going to protect us. We’ve also invested over a billion dollars in upgrading our protections for the oceans and that’s something we’re moving forward on a science basis. We know that we have to reduce our carbon emissions, we know we need a Pan-Canadian plan on climate change. We’ve got that plan for Pan-Canadian climate change because we were willing to move forward and demonstrate that, at the same time we can continue with developing our resources in safe and secure ways. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

We’ve just moved to Nanaimo because we could not afford the houses in Vancouver. Now we need decent living wage jobs to have a basic quality of life here in Nanaimo. What is being done on a federal level to ensure jobs in Nanaimo?

“…we’re moving forward with the Pan-Canadian housing strategy and national housing strategy. And 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. This is something that continues to cause challenges. So hopefully there will be—no, there will certainly be positive impacts on you and your family in terms of being able to afford your homes here. But on economic growth and how we’re going to support the creation of good jobs there’s a whole bunch of things that we’ve had to do and that we’re working on doing. The first one is to recognize that it’s not the Government that creates economic growth. It’s Canadians who create economic growth. And the decision we took early on is to lower taxes on the middle class, raise them on the wealthiest one percent, [and] put a little more money in the pockets of those who need it.

On top of that we’re delivering a Canada Child benefit, that I’m sure you’re getting, that nine out of ten families get across the country[.] [T]hat is reducing child poverty by 40 percent across the country, making a real difference every single month with a significant cheque, tax-free in their pockets. What that’s leading to is not just help for the families, but it’s leading to more confidence in our communities, in our country. And that leads to more investments, more economic activity, and that’s one of the reasons why we have one of the lowest unemployment rate[s], universally across the country, in over 40 years. And the fastest growing economy in the G7. It’s not the government that did that, it’s Canadians who have done that. With their confidence, with their investment, with their innovation.

That’s the other piece. Investing in infrastructure like public transit, and housing. But also investing in innovation like the extraordinary research that goes on here at Vancouver Island University, and institutions and research laboratories across the country. We know that recognizing the need for investments, and science, and knowledge, and research, is going to be essential in a world that is more automated, filled with AI, and technology, and disruptive workplaces. We are investing in people being able to access the tools they’re going to need to be successful in the coming years. And we’re going to continue to do that. So we’re going to keep the economy growing by focusing on giving the tools to people to be successful. A big part of that, of course, is insuring we close the gender wage gap, bring in pay equity, bring forward opportunities for promotion and advancement, better child supports, and family supports, to make sure that everyone can fully participate in [the] growing of the economy the way we need to.”

Sheila Malcolmson sits turned around in chair on right side of foreground, and out-of-focus crowd members are visible in background.
Nanaimo—Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson listens to a crowd question. Photo by Sarah Packwood.

It’s been my first year here [at VIU]. I’ve learned about Residential Schools here. I’ve never learned about them in elementary school, or high school. And part of what I’ve learned is that they didn’t do anything beneficial. What are you going to do to make sure that people know about Residential Schools?

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered 94 calls to action when it ended its work a couple years ago. And we have taken on the responsibility for making sure all of those are implemented. Some of them are not directly for federal level to do that. Getting the Vatican to apologize, for example, there’s no bill I can pass to make that happen. But I’ve had conversations with the Pope about moving forward on that and we’re optimistic on that. Other issues are slightly more provincial. K-12 education is a provincial jurisdiction. I was a teacher here in BC for many years so I know how the BC Ministry of Education controls their curriculum. But I also know that it is something that is understood across the country, the federal government is providing support for, to ensure that there are courses properly teaching and understanding Residential Schools as a historical shame. But also, as something that has created a lot of legacy of intergenerational trauma that exists to this day that we have do a better job of supporting and working through. One of the more recent articulations of the same kinds of errors that lead to Residential Schools is the amount of Indigenous children across the country in Child and Family Services and foster care. That is something that we absolutely have to deal with in a concrete way, and I was pleased that our Minister of Indigenous services, Jane Philpott, is moving forward on addressing the issue of kids in care.

More awareness about it is absolutely important, and I’m really pleased that people get that reconciliation is not just about government and Indigenous people. It’s about non-Indigenous Canadians as well. We all have a role to play, and I want to thank you all for the role you play, and I want to thank you for your question.”

My cousin is 19 years old, works a full time job, goes to school, and has a two-and-a- half-year old daughter. From the government, she has only received $500 in funding, although she cannot pay her own rent and struggles to pay off debt that she owes. How are you and the Liberal government going to support teen moms who are returning to school?

“Do you know if she’s getting the Canada child benefit? Because that’s the first thing. It’s sixty-four hundred dollars a year for a single parent with young children. (She is not.) Okay, then we have to make sure she has applied for that, it’s supposed to be automatically delivered, if she’s not. That’s one of the things we do right off the bat to make sure that people have enough money to raise their kids and get their kids the kinds of things that they need. The $6,400 a year for single parents, for any parent at the lowest income levels, is a significant step forward in reducing child poverty. She should absolutely be getting that tax-free monthly payment to help with that. On top of that there are lots of income support programs, lots of programs to help young moms go back to school, to succeed, to get the kind of support they need. Because we got two lives at stake here. Your cousin and her future, in terms of getting a good education and a good job. And at the same time being able to be the good mom I know she wants to be for her child. We have to do a better job, obviously, of making sure that people know the supports that are out there. And we have to do a better job of making sure those supports are there, whether it’s that national housing strategy, whether it’s the investments we’ve made in post-secondary education to allow people to have more up-front grants so that they can pay for their education, whether it’s making sure that you’re not paying back your students loans until you’re at least making $25,000 a year. There’s lots of things we’ve put into this situation; we have to make sure she’s not falling through any cracks.”

Woman wearing bright clothing sneers as police restrain her arms and guide her out of crowd.
One of a number of protesters removed from the event. Photo by Sarah Packwood.

Midway through the townhall the mic was given to a nine-year-old girl, one who will hopefully be a VIU student in the future:

Prime Minister Trudeau, I’m really worried about the politics in the United States and Canada. I have seen racism, discrimination, and bullying. This is happening here too. I know what I’m doing to make this country a better place. What are you doing?

“Oh man, it’s moments like this that make me know our future is in great hands. Thank you for your engagement, for your question. Canada is a country that we have worked very hard, over generations and centuries, to build. And we have made lots of mistakes along the way. The biggest and greatest of them is in the systematic mistreatment, marginalization, breaking of promises to Indigenous people who welcomed the first settlers into this land. But on top of that we’ve had troubles with systemic racism and discrimination over generations. We need to move forward, and quite frankly, as we look at the country we are, we’re actually doing a pretty good job. Not perfect by any means, but a pretty good job demonstrating the differences, the diversity; where it’s conflict-generating in parts of the world, [it] is actually a strength for us. We learn that resilience and understanding comes through learning different perspectives and listening, too. So we do a good job of it, but there’s still a lot more to do.

There’s been an increasing string of Islamophobia and racism in our country these days. Anti-immigrant sentiments that’s creeping up. It’s still not mainstream by any sense, but the strength of this country has been people arriving from all different parts of the world and learning to live together in respect and co-operation and collaboration. And that is something we need to protect and maintain. And that happens through listening to each other, through respecting each other, through learning from each other. So, what I am trying to foster as a culture of politics—and a lot of people will point out that it’s not perfect because nobody is and there’s still a lot more work to do— is a climate in which we can have reasonable discussions and differences of opinion but still enjoy our presence here in conversation about how we best move forward. And people will have different perspectives, different priorities, different outlooks on life. But the more we learn from each other, the more we figure out together how best to move forward, the better our politics, our country, our world will be. So, I want to thank you. And one of the ways we can ensure that we are working to build a better world is to think about how each of us individually [are] in our daily actions, in our engagement with others. Reach out to each other, understand each other, understand our impact on the community, on the world around us. It’s something I’m trying to do, but certainly something I need a lot of help with. And all of you being here today is a great sign in that direction.”

Do you have a question for the Prime Minister that you didn’t get to ask? You can send an email to <>