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PM gets hardballs from First Nations activists, softballs from international students at Kamloops town hall

A mix of young and old attended the free event at Thompson Rivers University

First Nations land rights, refugee policy, the economy, Trump, China — and even what his favourite part of his day is — were some the issues brought up during the prime minister’s first town hall of 2019.

Justin Trudeau kicked off his cross-country town hall tour in Kamloops on Wednesday night at Thompson Rivers University (TRU). The free event, held inside the Old Gym, offered attendees an opportunity to raise their hand and ask a question.

“What’s your favourite part about your day? What makes you happy?” asked the first audience member who was handed the mike.

“It really depends on the day,” Trudeau answered, adding his favourite part of Wednesday was the beginning of the town hall.

“We’ll see if the end of the town hall is as happy for me,” he joked.

(Trudeau was also asked if he laughed like an ordinary man and how he maintains such a wonderful attitude.)

The next (and more serious) question came from a 65-year-old TRU alumna who told Trudeau she was unsure about how to spend her inheritance. She noted she wanted to invest the money in the green economy in order to leave the Earth a better planet for her grandson, and asked the PM for “practical solutions.”

Trudeau responded by thanking her for “commitment to the future.”

“What we are doing as a country is investing in that clean energy transition, investing in protecting more of our natural environment. We’re moving forward on putting a price on pollution,” he said, referencing his government’s national carbon pricing plan.

The crowd laughed when the PM was given "advice" to push U.S. President Donald Trump off a cliff (the audience member even offered to buy Trudeau a beer).

“I wasn’t expecting a threat of violence against our closest ally,” said Trudeau with a smile. “In politics, people have all sorts of opinions and all sorts of perspectives. The relationship between Canada and the United States goes far deeper than who happens to be prime minister and who happens to be president.”

Trudeau was interrupted a few times by First Nations members in the audience who pressed him about Indigenous rights. He was asked about the 14 arrests made this week southwest of Houston, where members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had set up a camp to control access to a pipeline project across their territory.

Trudeau acknowledged that while significant strides have been made between Canada and First Nations peoples, there’s a lot more work to be done in fixing the relationship.

“We need to move to a place where you are in control of your communities, in control of your territories, in control of your future…that has been, through generations and centuries in Canada, taken away from you. It took decades and centuries to break this relationship. It will take time to improve it.”

You can check out the town hall in its entirety in the video below.

"I thought it was really good and I'm amazed and so incredibly impressed with how Justin held it together," Crystal Moore told KamloopsMatters after the town hall. "I am First Nations and it kind of made me feel embarrassed to be First Nations the way there was such outrage and just blatant disrespect."

Many in the crowd were international students who came to the Tournament Capital because of the university.

"I'm a fan of his. I'm from Mexico and I like the work he's doing in Canada," Abril Gomes said. "I thought they were going to kick the people out who were screaming or not following the talk, but no, he was extremely patient and listening to him was amazing."

Australia's Mike Hall echoed similar sentiments.

"The way he deals with conflict and his conflict resolution is remarkable and I admire that trait. Because he's such a good public speaker, I heard he was in town and I was like, 'This is a chance to see someone I admire.'"

Jane Hewes, a teacher at TRU, said seeing how international students reacted to the prime minister was a good sign.

"I was impressed that all the voices were heard, that the dissenting voices were not shut down and I found it fascinating the perspectives of the international students," she said. "Much of what we take for granted in our democracy, other people don't have. It reminded me of that."


Earlier in the day, Trudeau attended a Liberal Party of Canada fundraiser at the Coast Hotel. A handful of different protest groups gathered outside ahead of his visit, including folks with the yellow vest movement.

Trudeau also got in a quick meeting with Mayor Ken Christan. The pair discussed railways, infrastructure related to climate change and homelessness programs.

The prime minister also had a sit-down with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Roseanne Casimir and Skeetchestn Indian Band Chief Ron Ignace.

Trudeau will return to TRU on Thursday morning for a tour of the Industrial Training and Technology Centre. He’ll then head over to the North Shore to meet with seniors at the Kamloops Centre for Seniors Information. He leaves the River City sometime in the afternoon for a town hall in Regina later that evening.

— with files from Brendan Kergin