Welcome to the lion’s den, Trudeau
The prime minister visited the University of Calgary in his cross-Canada town hall tour
By Anna Junker, Contributor
We need to “phase out” the oilsands. This was a comment made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Jan.13 at a town hall in Peterborough, Ont.
That single comment created outrage in Alberta and has plagued him since.
On Jan. 24, Trudeau had a chance to explain himself in a Town Hall at the University of Calgary, the Town Hall tour has taken him across Canada to discuss hot button issues with Canadians.
Bouncing into the Jack Simpson gymnasium with a smile on his face and waving to a crowd of an estimated 1,700 people, most of whom were students, Trudeau was greeted with both cheers and jeers.
Off the bat, the prime minister faced vitriol from two outspoken individuals sitting higher up in the bleachers of the gym.
One man, Merle Terlesky, was wearing an “I love the oilsands” t-shirt and a “Make America Great Again” hat, which he waved around in the air. The other, an elderly man, would consistently stand up and heckle Trudeau as he tried to speak.
The prime minister responded to their leers, saying, “As a teacher, I try not to reward bad behaviour by giving them too much attention.”
One audience member acknowledged the risk for the prime minister to speak in Alberta, especially after the oilsands comment.
“Thank you for stepping into the lion’s den… I know I appreciate it,” he said.
For the most part, the so-called “lion’s den” was fairly tame. The questions fielded from the prime minister hit on some big topics: what Canada’s role will look like with peacekeeping, how President Trump pulling out of the TPP will impact Canada, engaging with young voters, and violence against murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
Throughout the night the two most vocal individuals would yell over Trudeau’s answers. At some point other audience members yelled right back for them to sit down and be quiet. Again, the prime minister repeated that he does not reward bad behaviour.
The environment in the Jack Simpson Gymnasium then became a guessing game of ‘will he or won’t he?’ answer the concerns these individuals had in regards to Trudeau’s previous oilsands comment.
As the night was drawing nearer to a close, Trudeau still had not answered any question regarding the oilsands. When he announced he would be taking his last question, Terlesky, the man with the oilsands t-shirt, stood up angrily and demanded the prime minister address his comment.
Trudeau conceded and took Terlesky’s question after much urging from other members of the town hall audience.
Terlesky then accused Trudeau of being confused and demanded a retraction. “There is one of two things Mr. Prime Minister. You are either a liar or you’re confused. And I’m thinking it’s both,”said Terlesky. “You cannot come down to this province and attack the single biggest employer, that employs hundreds of thousands of people.”
He continued, “Over half this crowd, I’m thinking 80 per cent in this room are university students. They are going to depend on a job that relies on what this shirt says — I love the oil sands. And yet you are attacking their future. Would you…tell Albertans that you are not here to attack Alberta oilsands, that you will support it and you will do nothing to stop the Keystone pipeline?”
Trudeau had stated earlier in the day during a press conference for his cabinet retreat that he had “misspoke” during the town hall in Peterborough.
The prime minister responded, “I have repeatedly said that yes, the responsibility of any Canadian prime minister is to get our resources to market, and yes that includes our oilsands’ fossil fuels…I have also said that in a responsible, sustainable way, that you cannot separate what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy.”
At one point, Trudeau asked for a show of hands as to who believed in climate change in which virtually every hand in the audience shot into the air.
“If you know the oilsands sir, you know the kinds of innovations, the kinds of advances, the kinds of high technology, the kinds of research that is being done right here at the University of Calgary and up at the oilsands. To be more innovative, to lower emissions, to be more efficient, to be able to demonstrate what Albertans know, what Canadians know, that we can build a strong economy with good jobs and protect the environment at the same time. That’s what Canadians want.”
With that, the prime minister thanked the audience for participating and left the gymnasium to thunderous applause.