Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to a crowd at Western University's Alumni Hall, January 13, 2017. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Trudeau On The Hot Seat Over Deficit, Veteran Affairs

In what is being billed as his biggest town hall to date, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed concerns over the federal deficit, human rights, mental health funding, and veteran assistance while on a stop in London.

Roughly 1,800 people filled Western University’s Alumni Hall to capacity Friday night to hear the Prime Minister speak on his tour meant to reconnect with grassroots Canadians. Many more people were left standing outside, due to the large number of those who had registered in advance to attend.

That demand forced organizers to change the venue for the event twice, each time to a larger space. The second move, from the Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre, came just hours before Trudeau was due to speak.

Walking into the packed room with his sleeves casually rolled up, Trudeau was greeted by a thunder of applause and a standing ovation.

However, the mood quickly shifted with the first question, as 21-year-old Zack grilled the Prime Minister over what he called Trudeau’s “insane and reckless” spending habits.

“It is predicted that under your government we will run deficits until 2055 and we will have an enormous $1.5-trillion in debt. That is totally unacceptable. You are intentionally setting up millions of young Canadians, like myself, for complete and utter failure and for what? To pander to your own moral superiority complex?” said Zack, as he was interrupted by many in the crowd, angry over his question.

Trudeau was quick to come to Zack’s defence.

“Please, please everyone this is an open town hall and we will let Zack finish his question,” a calm Trudeau said.

The Prime Minister went on to explain that unlike the other two major parties, the Liberals have chosen to invest in Canadians, rather then “balance the budget at all costs.”

“My party recognized that what this country needed was investment, for infrastructure, for the middle class,” said Trudeau. “We needed to help people get ahead because quite frankly, under the previous government we had the worse record on growth since R.B. Bennett and the depths of the Great Depression.”

In an emotional moment of the evening, a 30-year-old veteran, injured in Afghanistan, spoke of the struggles he has faced receiving his pension cheques since retiring from the Canadian Forces six months ago.

“I’ve had a really rough time… I’ve had to rely on my father, friends, and family just to get by, just to buy groceries and this is unacceptable,” he told Trudeau. “This issue needs to be taken care of. It has been hard and it has been hard for not just me but for all of the other veterans who have retired, too.”

Trudeau thanked the man for his service and acknowledged the government needs to do more to assist Canada’s veterans.

“As a country we have a sacred obligation if we are going to send our young men and woman into harm’s way, we need to promise that we are going to take care of them when they come home injured,” said Trudeau. “This is something that we are committed to and it is something that we are working very, very hard on. We have made significant improvements on the system we inherited when we formed government, but we haven’t done enough yet.”

When concerns were raised about Canada’s business dealings with countries with poor human right records, Trudeau made it clear a decision to uphold a controversial $15-billion contract between London-based General Dynamics and Saudi Arabia was neccessary .

“There are thousands of families here in London that depend on that industry and are benefiting from a contract that was signed by a previous government,” said Trudeau. “The NDP local member, the Conservatives, and the Liberals were all unequivocal on that issue, that you cannot cancel a contract that was signed by a previous government. If every time the government changed all of the contracts we signed internationally were suddenly in question, you would rapidly find that nobody would take Canada’s word on anything.”

During the one-hour question and answer period, Trudeau also addressed concerns over missing and murdered Indigenous women, the recent controversy over his ride on a privately owned helicopter, and climate change.

Lori Sands, who brought a Syrian mother and her three children to the event, spoke highly of Trudeau’s decision to stage town halls across the country.

“I am incredibly proud to have a prime minister who wants to engage across this country, to see on a one-to-one basis and talk to many of the residents of this beautiful country in order to have this feedback,” said Sands. “It’s that constant communication that we need to have to keep building a stronger, better country together.”

Sands also commended Trudeau on his government’s decision to bring thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada.

Marilyn Hall, who attended the town hall with a friend, was also impressed with Trudeau’s performance.

“He did a wonderful job at answering all of the questions because some of those questions were pretty bold, and he didn’t hesitate to answer,” said Hall.

London Liberal MPs Kate Young and Peter Fragiskatos introduced Trudeau at the start of the evening. Also in attendance were Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and London Mayor Matt Brown.