Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes questions from the audience during a town hall Feb. 2 at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island University. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Opinion: Town hall questions needed to be asked

This month’s town hall with Trudeau didn’t strike the right tone for a lot of people

This month’s town hall with Trudeau didn’t strike the right tone for a lot of people.

We’ve received quite a few comments and letters to the editor about the forum with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Readers are saying they were embarrassed at the reception Nanaimo gave the prime minister and were disappointed by the atmosphere at the event.

I’m going to have to disagree. No matter how some of the questions got asked that day, I’m glad they got asked.

There are indications that the rowdiest protesters at the Feb. 2 forum at Vancouver Island University were ‘professional protesters,’ as my colleague Tom Fletcher calls them, and were intent on making a scene. (Yes, we at the Bulletin dutifully filmed the shenanigans.)

VIDEO: Pipeline opponents vocal at Justin Trudeau town hall in Nanaimo

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Town hall tone unfortunate

RELATED: First Nations fishing rights questions remain after town hall

But the thing is, those loudmouths were demanding the answers that a lot of people in Nanaimo wanted. That Feb. 2 town hall fell the same week that B.C.-Alberta pipeline politics had re-intensified. There was keen awareness that day in the VIU gym, and across B.C., about the decision the federal government had made – and was sticking with – regarding fossil fuel industry expansion in our province and our coastal waters.

Trudeau, upset at the interruptions, provided a hurried reply, talking about a billion-dollar investment in ocean protection and saying that national carbon reduction and caps on emissions would allow Canada to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. He also seemed to suggest, without irony, that pipeline expansion would grow the economy to help pay for environmental protection.

“It is in the national interest to move forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline and we will be moving forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” he said. “But as I said, we will be protecting the B.C. coasts at the same time.”

And that was that, someone changed the topic, and the town hall continued as town halls tend to go. Afterward, the prime minister was whisked away, and Nanaimo will probably have to wait awhile until its next visit from the PM in a nation so vast.

Those who were hoping the conversation was going to circle back to pipelines left the campus disappointed. Questions went unanswered, like the one our B.C. government had posed earlier that same week, about further studying the behaviour of spilled bitumen. I expect other good questions went un-asked, too.

Last week, the federal government announced fairly major changes to the environmental approval process for projects such as pipelines. The new Impact Assessment Act seeks to streamline the process, but at the same time, start First Nations dialogue earlier and provide more opportunities for scientists and members of the public to become engaged. It’s the fulfilment of a campaign promise and it’s positive by most accounts, but it follows that Kinder Morgan was approved under an old system that needed overhauling.

Probably, pipeline expansion is coming. Probably, one day, a spill is coming. And when we’re literally or figuratively washing ducks with Dawn dish soap, I think it might be some consolation that Vancouver Islanders registered a protest vote when we had the chance. At B.C.’s only town hall, Nanaimo wasn’t content to ask questions politely. We demanded answers.



editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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