Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government inherited a “high degree of mistrust” from the previous Conservative government that has left Canadians skeptical about consultations on pipelines and environmental protection.
Trudeau was asked Tuesday about Energy East from a man who wondered if public meetings will be held in affected communities and whether detailed maps of the pipeline route would be provided.
“One of the things we inherited from the previous government was a high degree of mistrust by Canadians,” Trudeau said at a town hall event in Fredericton, N.B., as he continued his cross-country tour.
“That’s why we turned around and enhanced the process for pipeline approvals to make sure there’s more public input, there’s more engagement, there’s more rigour, there’s more science and there’s an approach that can reassure Canadians that instead of being a cheerleader or booster for pipelines, that you have a government that’s a referee.”
A National Energy Board review panel will examine the proposed 4,500-kilometre pipeline that would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in New Brunswick.
Later, in Sherbrooke, Que., Trudeau told another town hall gathering his government created a big “shock” to Canada’s immigration system on purpose in order to prove that bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a short time frame was possible.
“I was told we couldn’t do it, that it couldn’t be done, but we pushed anyway,” he told a crowd of several hundred people.
Immigration, refugees and the economy dominated the discussion at the headquarters of the Fusiliers de Sherbrooke, a Canadian Forces reserve infantry unit, located 150 kilometers east of Montreal.
Uniformed soldiers were sprinkled around the gymnasium alongside the prime minister’s security detail with Trudeau standing in the centre of the room. He was flanked by a large Canadian flag hung from the second-floor balcony that almost reached the gym floor.
Trudeau was also asked why his government wasn’t doing more to accept refugees from Syria and other conflict zones.
He said the “precious” desire of Canadians to welcome more refugees is unique in the world.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that we have a process that is as responsible as possible but we need a process,” he said.
“Canadians have to have confidence that the people who came here pass security and medical tests and that they will be successful when they get here.”
The last question of the night was the most emotional and was more of a statement.
It came from 18-year-old Abdullah Hakimi, a refugee from Afghanistan who said he came to Canada six months ago.
“I have followed you through social media and it has been my dream to meet you,” he said. “Thank you for everything you have done for refugees. I lost my father and when I look at you I feel like you are a father to me. I am so happy and proud to be Canadian.”
At a news conference earlier in Fredericton, Trudeau affirmed Canada’s support of NATO, days after president-elect Donald Trump’s pronouncement that the military alliance is obsolete.
But he stopped short of saying he would be willing to boost the defence budget so Canada could meet NATO’s spending target for its member countries.
He also said he backed the decision by Canada’s chief of defence staff to relieve his second in command of his duties, but won’t say anything more about the controversy swirling around Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
Word emerged Monday that Norman was abruptly stripped of his responsibilities by his boss, Gen. Jonathan Vance, on Jan. 13.
Trudeau is scheduled to travel to several other cities in Quebec on Wednesday.