Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his commitment to developing energy projects that keep environmental and First Nations concerns in mind as he continued his trip to Kamloops, B.C. Thursday.
During a visit to the new Industrial Training and Technology Centre at Thompson Rivers University, Trudeau faced further questions on his government’s response to the ongoing tensions in northern B.C. sparked by the RCMP’s enforcement of a court injunction at an anti-pipeline camp on Wet’suwet’en land Monday.
“There are people on all sides of various energy debates that need to be heard, need to be listened to and need to be worked with,” Trudeau said.
“We know this is the only way to get things done right, to engage with people broadly and demonstrate that we understand the only way to build a strong economy is to protect the environment at the same time.”
The comments came a day after the prime minister was met with protests from both First Nations and the so-called “Yellow Vest” movement as he arrived in Kamloops for a Liberal fundraising event.
WATCH: Trudeau ‘pleased’ with de-escalation after RCMP arrests in northern B.C. blockade
Trudeau also faced anger and frustration from attendees at a town hall event held Wednesday night who took issue with the government’s support of First Nations, particularly in the face of this week’s face-off between First Nations and RCMP at the camp set up by the Gidumt’en clan south of Houston, B.C. meant to block access to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.
On Wednesday, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs said they would open the checkpoint gate at the Unist’ot’en Camp after negotiations with the RCMP, but vowed they would continue to fight the pipeline, which is meant to send natural gas from Dawson Creek to the future LNG facility in Kitimat.
Trudeau said he was pleased the situation in the north appeared to be de-escalating, but wouldn’t comment on whether he felt the RCMP response to the camp was heavy-handed.
WATCH: Trudeau comments on ‘building relationships’ in B.C. energy debate
“We’re in a time of figuring out how to do something new,” he said about his government’s efforts to engage with communities affected by energy projects.
“There are going to be moments where that doesn’t work out as well as it should, and we’re going to need to learn from those moments,” he added. “There are no easy answers on this, but it’s something I know Canadians are going to be able to solve together with thoughtfulness and positive engagement.”
At the same time, the Yellow Vest movement has been taking Trudeau to task on the stoppage of various pipeline projects including the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to B.C., as well as carbon taxing and immigration.
The RCMP and Facebook have confirmed they’re investigating death threats made against the prime minister by some members of the movement both at rallies and on social media. Trudeau said he welcomes political debate and discourse, so long as it’s respectful.
“If someone disagrees with what I’m doing or has questions about where I’m going, I want to be able to hear from them,” Trudeau said. “I want to be able to exchange with them and talk about how we can move forward together.
“With a country as diverse as ours…it’s really important to listen to each other and do so in a respectful manner, because that’s the only way of actually building the kinds of solutions that will keep us together and move us forward.”
WATCH: Trudeau says government moving forward with Trans Mountain pipeline ‘in the right way’
The prime minister said his government was continuing to move forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline “in the right way” following last year’s court appeal of the project, which sent it back to the National Energy Board for further consultations with First Nations along the pipeline route.
He said Ottawa would continue to honour the benefit agreements made between those communities and Kinder Morgan before the project was bought by the government, adding those engagements were the reason why he felt comfortable with the investment.
“[Canadians] don’t want people to pretend that there’s a choice to be made between the economy and the environment,” Trudeau said. “They don’t want Indigenous communities to continue to be marginalized from the benefits of the land they’re traditional custodians of.”
Trudeau framed the entire energy debate as an opportunity to reach new understandings with people who have vastly different views on how to meet Canada’s economic and environmental needs while also continuing towards reconciliation and respect for First Nations.
“We have to make sure we’re respectful and listening as we develop new processes, [and] as we move through inevitable challenges that come with changing the way we do things for the better.”
—With files from Simon Little and Sarah MacDonald
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