— Nicole Kleinsteuber (@NewsualSuspects) January 13, 2017
In his first visit to Belleville since he was elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau was welcomed by large excited crowds.
About 700 people packed the Empire Theatre Thursday night and hundreds more lined Front Street for the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister, take photos and ask him questions as part of his cross-country tour to connect with Canadians.
The prime minister was asked a wide range of questions from the audience during the Q&A portion of the town hall ranging from the economy, the environment and lifelong pensions for veterans to Canada-U.S relations, security and immigration.
Trudeau started right out speaking about his August campaign stop in the friendly city where he promised to “reinstate” lifelong pensions for Canada’s injured veterans and pledged $300 million annually to expand and create military support programs.
“The work with that continues to resonate,” explained Trudeau. “There’s still lots more work to do but just earlier today I met this guy Dave who is coming down to Kingston to work on post traumatic stress disorder with veterans through and yoga and meditation. The amount of passion that Canadians have for this issue and understanding that if we are going to send young women and men into harm’s way we need to do right by them when they come home.”
It was a great segue for local veteran and Belleville firefighter Ryan Turcotte who came to the meeting with pensions on his mind.
Turcotte who admitted he received a full disability pension for PTSD said it was a campaign promise that really applied to him. He asked the Prime Minister if reversing the one-time payout to a monthly cheque is a promise he intends to keep.
“We took some steps to fix some of the shortcomings and challenges that we inherited as a government,” said Trudeau. ‘We got a very clear mandate to do better by our veterans, to do great by our veterans and we’ve taken significant steps but there is more to do. the life long benefits are part of it. The Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada Kent Hehr has just finished working with a broad panel of veteran stakeholders and veteran groups to talk about the gaps in the system. To talk about how we can better respond to the needs people have and it’s no question the life-long benefit continues to be something we are working on. We are year one of a four year mandate but we are committed to getting that done.”
When asked if he felt the prime minister addressed his question, Turcotte said he wasn’t satisfied.
“My issue is that this is something that affects real people in real situations,” said Turcotte in an interview. “Vulnerable people. I’m lucky. I’ve been able to employ myself and keep myself together. There are many who haven’t and aren’t coping as well, who need that monthly cheque. Not some onetime payout. That’s the help that could keep them alive. Keep them from a desperate place where they have nothing and don’t know how they are going to function. It’s important and it needs a timely response and one that I will certainly stay on top of. I believe he’s received the message. I asked. Someone in Kingston asked. And someone in Trenton will be sure to ask.”
The Prime Minister is meeting with 8-Wing CFB Trenton military members and veterans Friday morning.
Another gentleman spoke out calling Premier Kathleen Wynne “out of touch” with small business owners. He suggested the Prime Minister was also out of touch with the small business sector for having a “good relationship” with the Premier.
Trudeau praised his ability to have a good working relationship with all of the premiers across the country.
He spoke again of his plan that cut taxes for the middle class and raised them on the wealthiest one percent. He pointed to how the Liberal’s plan to invest $180 billion into infrastructure over the next 12 years was going to create jobs in public transit social and green infrastructure.
Another question from a woman in the audience was geared to what she called ‘big issues surrounding food security, clean water and agriculture’.
Trudeau told the audience how there is a ‘tremendous global market out there for Canadian quality in terms of agriculture’. He said he is very excited about the kind of innovation and the kind of engagement Canada has as a way of supporting its agricultural industry.
When it came to electoral reform Trudeau encouraged everyone to log on to mydemocracy.ca as they are looking for Canadians’ thoughts on a variety of issues.
The prime minister commended a young girl for her courage in speaking about funding for mental health initiatives.
“There is not much help in our community for mental health,” she said asking Trudeau what his government’s commitment will be to the nation’s youth. She received a large round of applause.
Trudeau said it is ‘high time Canada had a proper level’ of addressing mental health and the stigma attached to it. He said they are ready to put billions on the table adding Canada is overdue in addressing mental health.
One young man seemed to ask the question that was on a lot of people’s minds. “How will president elect Donald Trump’s inauguration affect Canada-U.S. relations?”
“I can see everyone leaning forward in their chairs,” joked Trudeau.
“Canadians expect their government to have a constructive working relationship with the incoming administration and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he said.
“We know any change brings fresh challenges and new opportunities,” he said. “We are going to make sure we are fighting for Canadian jobs. At the same time, Canada is a separate country from the United States and there are things we hold dear. I’m never going to shy away from standing up for what I believe in whether it’s proclaiming loudly to our world that I am a feminist, whether it’s understanding that immigration is a source of strength for us and that Muslim-Canadians are an essential part of the success.”
It was statements like that, that really hit home for 18-year-old Ramez Aljasem.
Aljasem immigrated to Picton a year ago with his family from Lebanon thanks to the efforts of PEC Syria.
“It was amazing, he (Trudeau) is amazing. I wish I could work in the parliament,” he said after the town hall. “I look forward to working in the future with the MP too. Thank you Mr. Trudeau and all the Canadians who helped us.”