On his first trip to British Columbia since the approval of the controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked to Global BC’s Chris Gailus and a number of local stakeholders about a range of issues occupying the minds of British Columbians.
Pipelines and tanker traffic being one of the most pressing issues that people in B.C. have been very outspoken about, Trudeau says there is no more pretending that there is a choice to be made between what’s good for the economy and what’s good for the environment.
“In the 21st century, they go together,” Trudeau said. “Few places understand it better than B.C. does.”
Trudeau says two major concerns that arise in his conversations with British Columbians about pipelines are the movement toward, and not away, from fossil fuels and what happens in case of an oil spill.
The prime minister says it’s difficult to reconcile these concerns, but his government has been making strides by announcing what he calls “historic investments,” such as the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan aimed at keeping Canada’s oceans safe.
“I grew up on this coast,” Trudeau said. “I know how important it is to protect these waters.”
The prime minister says he is staying committed to reducing carbon emissions and the country’s dependency on fossil fuels. “But we have to make that transition smooth and we have to pay for that transition,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau says he is well aware there are some British Columbians who are ready to fight tooth and nail against the Kinder Morgan pipeline extension.
“Protesting and making your concerns heard is one of the great things that we have available to us,” Trudeau said. “But we have to respect the rule of law.”
However, Trudeau says he does not envision British Columbians going the route of the people protesting the Dakota Access pipeline in the United States, many of whom have clashed with law enforcement, resulting in arrests.
“There was no Indigenous engagement process over that pipeline. There was very little public consultation,” Trudeau said. “Whether you agree with the results of the [Kinder Morgan] decision, there was a lot of public consultation and tremendous level of respect and science that went into it. There is no need for the kind of escalation that was seen south of the border.”
In April, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency, sounding the alarm about the soaring number of illicit drug overdoses around the province. Despite an increased public awareness and more support for first responders, the most recent numbers released by BC Coroners Service on Monday paint a bleak picture. Last month saw the highest number of illicit drug deaths in B.C. for a single month — 128 people died from illicit drug use in November, averaging four deaths a day and bringing the total for the year to 755 people.
In meteorite, Alberta researchers discover 2 minerals never before seen on Earth
Mauna Loa, Hawaii’s biggest volcano, erupts for 1st time in 40 years
Trudeau agrees the overdose crisis is a tragedy that’s touching communities right across the province and putting significant stress on first responders.
“People are dealing with this in ways they did not expect to have to deal with it,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister says the federal government can and will do more to help tackle the crisis, starting with significant investments in mental health treatment.
Trudeau would not give the specifics of just how much money the federal government is ready to commit to fighting the opioid crisis, but says the spike in overdoses is increasingly becoming a nation-wide problem.
Legalization of marijuana
Following up on his election promise, in April Trudeau announced he will introduce legislation legalizing marijuana in the spring of 2017.
Asked why he refuses to decriminalize marijuana by B.C. marijuana activist Dana Larsen, Trudeau says the current legal framework stands and cannabis continues to be an illegal substance.
He says he has been a big proponent of legalization because as things stand — it’s far too easy for young people to access marijuana and the lack of regulations breeds a gang-fueled black market for the drug.
“Decriminalization does nothing to protect our kids, does nothing to take gangs out of the equation, and that’s why I have never and will never support decriminalization,” Trudeau said.
Working with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump
While Trudeau acknowledges the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president has caused some anxiety and uncertainty, he says it’s also part of what has led to a polarized discourse in the United States.
“People are worried that progress is no longer working for them; that trade deals and globalization benefit very few at the top of the society, but not the ordinary, middle-class people…I think an awful lot of people voted for Trump because they felt he heard their anxiety better and he knew better how to respond to worries about their future.”
Trudeau says his job is to counter and allay those concerns and find middle ground with the new administration.
“That means making a positive case for immigration and trade deals,” he said. “We know that openness to immigration is a benefit to our society, has been for generations and will continue to be. For people to lash out and close off, they are going to end up poorer and less successful. We are going to stick with what we know works.”
Refugee crisis and the war in Syria
During the fall 2015 election campaign that ran in the middle of the global refugees crisis, Trudeau promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015. As of the end of November, over 35,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada, 2,100 of them settling in B.C.
“I always have to point out it’s not something I did or could have done on my own,” Trudeau said. “It’s Canadians themselves — families, communities and provinces — everyone stepped up and said, ‘this is who we are.'”
Trudeau says Canada’s role in resolving the crisis in Syria is to remain determined and lead the way on the diplomatic front to put pressure on the Bashar al-Assad government.
“There are issues that the global community will and must come together on. Canada’s thoughtful and progressive voice, not one bossing people around…, is always going to be valuable around the table.”
As to his personal relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Trudeau says it’s one of disagreement but also collaboration.
While Russia’s interference in Ukraine is still a major stumbling block for his government, Trudeau says Canada is still very much a partner with Russia when it comes to the Arctic and counter-terrorism.
“You have to be firm where you disagree, but you have to be constructive where you can be,” Trudeau said.
The full interview with the prime minster will be aired on Global BC and BC1 on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.