Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's unexpected visit to Western drew a huge audience turnout with more than 2,000 people attending the town hall.
London Liberal MP Kate Young said the event "shattered attendance records" for the PM's prior town halls as the event saw thousands of people lining up all the way up to Western Road in a bid to get a spot in Alumni Hall.
According to David Akin, senior political reporter at the National Post, 1,500 people were turned away from the venue after it reached full capacity.
The event attracted a diverse audience ranging from infants to the elderly, ethnically diverse individuals and people living with disabilities.
Martha Castillo, 41, moved to Canada from Colombia around seven years ago. Her daughter, Anna, said she’s been following Justin Trudeau for a while.
“I want to be prime minister when I’m bigger, so I want to know a bunch of things,” said Anna.
Notable audience members included Western University’s president Amit Chakma, London MPP Deb Matthews and London MP Peter Fragiskatos.
The PM arrived after 7:15 p.m., and despite a rousing reception, a number of tough questions were put forward to him at the town hall.
The first question put forward to the PM was about Canada’s future debt projections with an audience member stating that Canada will be “$1.5 trillion in debt” by 2055. Although many cheered for the question, as it increasingly criticized Trudeau’s government, many members of the crowd booed. Trudeau interjecting and stating, “This is an open town hall.”
Trudeau responded by saying that the Liberal Party in investing in the middle class and he stands by the government’s current fiscal direction.
Controversies surrounding Trudeau’s recent alleged conflicts of interest in giving wealthy interests special access to the PM were brought up by an audience member. Trudeau responded by saying that he takes the trust placed in him by Canadians very seriously and that there are stringent rules on fundraising at the federal level.
A recent Fanshawe graduate who identifies as differently abled asked Trudeau what his government was taking on to help individuals like him find jobs. In Trudeau’s response he cited his government’s comprehensive accessibility act that ensures “Success is accessible for everyone regardless of challenges of disabilities.”
Asked about the role of young adults, the PM said, “Young people do something really important really well — think about the long-term.”
He added that he is committed to bringing youth and diverse voices into important conversations people and that young people should challenge established assumptions.
Multiple questions were asked about indigenous peoples and how the federal government is addressing their needs. One question asked about the government’s progress on missing and murdered indigenous women.
Trudeau said that his government is committed to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and its report is forthcoming.
Mental health was also brought up a few times, with an audience member asking the PM for more adequate and rigorous treatment coverage by federal funding.
“I’ve struggled a lot with mental health in the healthcare system. Getting real help in a timely manner is absolutely essential to saving lives,” stated the young woman.
Trudeau responded by saying, “We’ve put forward five billion dollars over the next five years for mental health” and it’s something he is “absolutely committed to.”
When voting rights for Canadians abroad were brought up, Trudeau talked about an upcoming government initiative that would restore Canadian voting rights for those abroad. Right now, Canadians who’ve lived abroad for over five years are essentially banned from casting a ballot. Under new regulation, expatriates would be allowed to vote no matter how long they’ve been away based on their last resident’s riding.
Focusing the conversation on London, an audience member talked about wanting to see Canadian values reflected in government dealings with countries with questionable human rights records.
Trudeau pointed to London’s local General Dynamics, which has stirred controversy because of its combat vehicle manufacturing contract with Saudi Arabia. Trudeau said thousands of families rely on the employment provided by General Dynamics, and added that while the government cannot cancel deals made by previous governments, he promised that future contracts and deals would be transparent.
Trudeau ended the town hall at approximately 8:45.
A question is asked on Canada's international economic relations and their ties to human rights #ldntont— Drishti Kataria (@DrishtAtGazette) January 14, 2017