OTTAWA – Dozens of delegates at a youth labour forum turned their backs Tuesday on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, using body language to express their frustrations with everything from global warming to so-called precarious work.
As Trudeau began taking questions from two of the forum’s hosts, some delegates began to heckle and jeer while several rows of young people turned to face the back of the room, prompting harsh words from the prime minister himself.
“Honour your promises!” the crowd yelled, as event moderators tried to regain control.
“We don’t have dialogue with liars,” the crowd shouted. “You’re acting like Harper.”
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was heckled and jeered as he took questions at a youth labour forum in Ottawa.
Their actions sent the wrong signal to the other young people in the room, Trudeau told his detractors.
“I will tell you, it is a little bit frustrating for me to come in, sit down and look forward to hearing from you and talking with you, and seeing a room full of people who are standing in a way that shows they are not listening to me, that you don’t want to engage,” he said.
While Trudeau was applauded and cheered by some for defending himself, several delegates shouted back, calling the PM a “hypocrite” and holding signs reading “Keep the Promise.”
Clara Pasieka who attended the young workers summit said she did not support the protests and heckling.
“This is about everyone getting to share their voices,” Pasieka told Global News. “I’ve heard other people say their voice didn’t get to be heard, or there were people standing in front of them and they didn’t get to see or hear what was going on.”
WATCH: Justin Trudeau heckled by young workers
Many of the delegates were upset with the Liberal government’s support for the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, as well as Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s recent comments about “job churn.”
“We let people know how we feel and sometimes its not going to be nice,” Zenne May told Global News. “We’re going to be unapologetic if we want to see improvements in our country and improvements for workers”
This past weekend, Morneau told Liberal party insiders in Niagara Falls that the government needs to prepare for high turnover and short-term contracts among youth because such jobs are here to stay.
“How do we train and retrain people as they move from job to job to job? Because it’s going to happen. We have to accept that,” Morneau said.
The comments prompted cries of arrogance from the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats, who accused the finance minister of lacking an understanding of Canada’s youth unemployment problem.
Many young people at Tuesday’s forum, which was organized by the Canadian Labour Congress, voiced frustration about their employment prospects, and booed as Trudeau also suggested that precarious work – including jobs with no pensions – is a fact of life.
“It’s simply unacceptable when the minister of finance is saying young people need to get used to precarity, young people need to get used to not having the same opportunity as other generations have had,” said Briana Broderick, a youth delegate representing the United Steel Workers union at the forum.
“This concept that we won’t have as much as other generations had, that’s really frustrating people.”
Trudeau said the issue of precarious employment is a major concern for his government, and why the Liberals pushed so hard to reach a recent agreement with the provinces to make improvements to the Canada Pension Plan.
The youth unemployment rate in Canada is almost twice the national average and has been since last year’s election campaign, when the Liberals promised to create 125,000 jobs annually for young people by spending $1.5 billion over four years on a youth employment strategy.
Employment numbers for August showed the youth jobless rate was little changed from a year ago at 13.2 per cent.
Vass Bednar, who chairs a new federal panel on youth unemployment, has warned the country could see economic and social ripples in the future without a clearer picture about where and how young people are failing in the labour market.
*With files from Global News