Trudeau’s town halls have a new format. Here’s what’s different
Every town hall begins the same way: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in a blue or white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, takes the microphone, waxes poetic about the state of the world, and acknowledges the challenging years Canadians have recently faced.
The people in the crowd who will have the chance to ask unvetted questions of the prime minister are no stranger to those struggles.
There’s the Muslim mother who fears for the safety of her children. Immigrants who worry about their future in Canada. The blue-collar worker who can’t afford to eat. People who can’t find work or access mental-health supports. Young adults who lose sleep over climate change. Indigenous people who say they feel left behind.
At the 14 hour-long town halls Trudeau has attended in the past 11 weeks, the prime minister has put himself in a position to hear their concerns during the question-and-answer sessions that follow his speeches.
But though some attendees who participated in the events said they were encouraged by Trudeau’s efforts, others found themselves cynical about whether he and his government were actually listening.
For Trudeau, it’s a familiar format _ and one that some pundits say could serve the party well, even if its utility to the broader public is in question.
“This is something I love doing,” Trudeau said to a group of tradespeople in Winnipeg earlier this week.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the prime minister had been limited with his interactions with the public because of public-health measures that kept people distanced from one another.
“I’m betting that he was itching to do these during the whole pandemic and during the 2021 (election) campaign, because for the most part he couldn’t do it,” said Philippe J. Fournier, the polling analyst behind the 338Canada poll website.
“I’m thinking that he’s really happy to be back on the road. This is what he does best.”
But after nearly eight years in office, Trudeau faces a different political culture.
Fournier pointed out that in 2016, Trudeau was treated like a rock star when he would visit places such as Mississauga, Ont. _ but when he ran for a third mandate in 2021, he was met with angry protesters at many campaign stops.
One man in London, Ont., even threw rocks at him.
“The country changed,” Fournier said. “People are angry out there and would take a shot at him if they could.”
So while Trudeau used to attend town hall events that members of the general public could attend, his office said it has had to change the format because of new security threats.
To set up the tour, the Prime Minister’s Office reached out to specific special-interest groups _ such as unions, universities and businesses _ asking if they’d like to host a town hall.
Some attendees said it forces people to be respectful because they’re in a professional setting that often links to their workplace.
“We were told that we can ask questions, and feel free to ask some hard questions, but be respectful,” said Christina Brock, who helped organize a town hall in Port Coquitlam, B.C., with trade workers and apprentices who were members of a local union.
The groups who organize the town halls are responsible for the guest lists, but must keep the events under wraps. It’s a way to get around security risks without vetting each member of the audience.
“We had to keep it secret, and be cautious with who was invited,” Brock said.
Most people who are invited to the events don’t know who the speaker is, and are simply told it will be a “high-ranking government official.”
Many Canadians who attended the town halls know it’s a rare opportunity to air their grievances face-to-face with the prime minister, and say they are grateful for the chance.
It’s common for people to live-stream their interactions with him on social media, and swarm him after the event to get a selfie or shake his hand.
When in Winnipeg this week for a University of Manitoba town hall, Trudeau was confronted by a self-proclaimed People’s Party of Canada supporter in an exchange that was recorded by a Reddit user and quickly went viral online.
The young man said the Liberal party’s support of abortion rights made it “against Christianity,” and when the prime minister asked whether women should have the right to “choose what happens to their own bodies,” he replied: “Personally, no.”
The back-and-forth continued, with Trudeau ultimately patting the young man on the shoulder and saying: “Sounds like you need to do a little more thinking, and, and a little more praying on it as well.”
Trudeau received some praise on social media for how he handled the interaction _ and Fournier suggested that’s no surprise.
“Historically, these events have been very kind to Trudeau,” Fournier said. “He’s really good when speaking with people.”
However, Scott Reid, a former senior advisor to Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, cautioned that town halls can become a bubble that are not necessarily reflective of a nation’s mood _ even if there are some political benefits to holding them.
And the excitement of being in a room with the prime minister can quickly wear off.
Tyler Fulton, a cattle rancher in Manitoba, attended a town hall hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in Ottawa, where he asked a question about preserving prairie grasslands. He called it a good opportunity to engage with the leader, even though he said Trudeau can come across contrived.
But Fulton said that when he tried to reach up to Trudeau’s office to follow up on his concerns, he didn’t get a response.
“If you’re going to have these venues, then you need to follow up,” said Fulton, who also works for the Canadian Cattle Association.
“Otherwise, people just become cynical about the purpose of them.”
At the Port Coquitlam town hall, Brock asked Trudeau a question about mental health, and his answer included a recommendation for people to take a mental health first aid course _ something she’d already done.
She later joked that she should have worn her “mansplaining-free zone.” But she said that she was pleased with the event overall.
“I think it shows a different side of Justin. It makes him more relatable,” Brock said. “I hope that he understands and takes the suffering he hears from people back to Ottawa. If he does that, then it does serve the public.”
At the end of the day, the town halls benefit the Liberal government because it gives Trudeau an opportunity to talk about his agenda and promote what the government has been doing, said Stuart Barnable, senior director of public affairs at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
“I think that this can only serve to benefit what the Liberals are trying to accomplish,” said Barnable, who also served as a chief of staff to Senate Speaker George Furey.
“They’re setting their narrative,” he said. “Whether or not it resonates with Canadians.”
Remaining residents urged to flee Tumbler Ridge immediately as crews continue to fight wildfire near townsite
Crews continue to fight the West Kiskatinaw fire in northern B.C. that moved closer to the town of Tumbler Ridge on Friday, burning about three kilometres from the townsite, according to the district.
But winds are expected to change directions Saturday, according to the B.C. Wildfire Services (BCWS), potentially pushing the fire away from Tumbler Ridge.
“We are certainly not in the clear at this point, but we are leaning toward a little bit of cautious optimism,” said Karley Desrosiers with the BCWS on Friday afternoon.
The town of about 2,400 people went on evacuation order Thursday evening, two days after the wildfire was discovered.
As of Friday evening, 90 per cent of the town had left, officials say, urging those who remain to flee immediately and register online or at reception centres in Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, and Fort St. John, which will open 10 a.m. Saturday.
Tumbler Ridge fire Chief Dustin Curry says about 150 people remained on Friday, some of them emergency personnel, but others residents who refuse to comply with the order to leave.
Those who need hotel accommodation are being asked to go to Fort St. John, 170 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge.
Vancouver Island highway shut down indefinitely
On Vancouver Island, the Cameron Bluffs wildfire continues to burn near Port Alberni. The wildfire made its way to Highway 4, prompting the closure of the major east-west route on Tuesday.
It’s now closed indefinitely after officials determined that the fire was causing instability in the incline above the highway, which has caused debris such as uprooted trees and rocks.
“As we approach this weekend and recognizing that Highway 4 will continue to be closed, we just ask people to really consider whether or not they can go or whether or not they can wait,” said Janelle Staite, deputy regional director with the province’s Ministry of Transportation.
The province announced a detour on Wednesday, but cautioned that it should only used for essential travel. The route extends travel time by hours and features rough roads and some single-lane bridges.
The logging-road detour, closed for eight hours Friday as crews worked to extricate a vehicle that rolled into a lake along the route, re-opened at 9 p.m. that evening.
Drought season ahead
While a chance of rain is in the forecast for Saturday, Tumbler Ridge is in an area experiencing drought conditions.
The hottest May on record resulted in a rapid snowmelt and record-low provincial snow levels in most B.C. mountains, according to the Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin.
The bulletin states drought risk has been exacerbated by the lingering effects of the 2022 drought and the high likelihood of above average summer temperatures.
“This is the earliest snowmelt on record ever … Prolonged drought could have major impacts on water availability, on fish and streams and other ecosystems,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the River Forecast Centre.
Forecasts in the Tumbler Ridge region show a chance of rain on Saturday, with temperatures expected to reach 26 C on Sunday and Monday.
Later in the week, temperatures are expected to cool to 17 C with the possibility of rain showers.
Check the CBC News Climate Dashboard for live updates on wildfire smoke and active fires across the country. Set your location for information on air quality and to find out how today’s temperatures compare to historical trends.
‘High risk of province-wide drought’ this summer, authorities warn
Much of B.C. could face a long, significant drought this summer, according to provincial forecasters.
The warning is particularly worrying to those who depend on water for their livelihoods, such as cattle ranchers and the agricultural sector.
“What we’ve seen now from the past month of heat is that the high-elevation snow is rapidly depleting,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre. “We’re on pace to be the earliest snow-free that the province has recorded.
“We’ve had just a phenomenal melt so far, and where it’s a little bit scary is … we’re moving into this year in a really precarious position.”
The most recent B.C. Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, released Thursday based on June 1 data, warned of “long-term, significant drought” unless there is substantial and sustained rainfall over the coming months.
According to provincial data, current snow levels are 29 per cent of what’s normal for this time of year. That’s down from 66 per cent just two weeks ago, indicating a very fast melt.
The possibility of a severe drought comes after high-temperature records for May were smashed in multiple communities across the province, causing faster and earlier snow melt than usual.
While raging wildfires are top-of-mind for many in the province now, a prolonged drought could worsen the economic toll of this year’s extreme hot and dry weather.
‘We are not going to starve our animals’
Previous droughts have hit the province’s agriculture sector particularly hard, with many ranchers forced to cull many of their cattle because of food shortages going into winter.
“It’s a little bit bleak out there right now as we look through the cracked crystal ball we’ve got,” said Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, which represents ranchers. “And we don’t know what’s coming, but it’s enough that we’re concerned.”
He said there are basically two main resources ranchers need to support their herds: grass for food, and water.
“If we don’t get the rain to grow the grass, we have no choice but to reduce the amount of cattle we have,” he told CBC News. “We are not going to starve our animals.
“Unfortunately when we see a widespread drought … often the only opportunity for that breeding stock is to send them to market and to be processed for food, and that is very challenging for our guys that have spent generations building herds.”
In 2021, the provincial and federal governments announced increased supports for the ranching sector, including a more than $100-million boost to the joint AgriRecovery fund, supports for cattle relocated by wildfires, and a Wildfire Emergency Feed Program to offer two weeks of support for commercial livestock businesses without feed.
“In our industry we’ve developed a very good infrastructure for water storage,” Boon, himself a long-time rancher, said. “Water storage is the key to everything out here right now, as we see climate change and climate adaptation — the more we store, the more we’re able to manage.”
The B.C. report released this week warns of “severe water availability concerns” for human use.
The drought concerns are especially for the province’s Northeast, North Peace, Vancouver Island, South Coast, Southern Interior, Kootenay, and Columbia regions.
“If we continue this for another three or four months, we could be in a situation come September or October like we were last year, but potentially even worse,” the River Forecast Centre’s Boyd said.
“It becomes an issue for fish and and other stream ecosystems — and an issue for water availability and just extreme, extreme low flows.”
Canada's visaless entry system crashes, leaving many travellers stranded – CBC.ca
The collapse of the website that processes Canada’s Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs) has caused missed flights, stress and financial pain to many travellers trying to reach Canada.
This week, Canada expanded the number of countries eligible for the eTA system, which replaces a full visa requirement for countries whose citizens are considered at lower risk of overstaying. Travellers from these countries pay a $7 Cdn fee and fill out an online application in a process that would normally take just minutes.
“This exciting development means that more individuals from around the world can now embark on unforgettable adventures, explore our diverse landscapes, reunite with family and friends, and immerse themselves in our vibrant culture without the hurdle of visa requirements,” said a statement from Sean Fraser, minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which oversees the eTA system.
But the immediate effect of the change was the opposite.
A predictable surge, not predicted
IRCC appears not to have anticipated that adding 13 new countries with a combined population of over a quarter of a billion people would lead to a sudden surge in applications, but that’s what happened.
A spokesperson for IRCC said the biggest spike in applications came from the Philippines.
Servers were overwhelmed and the collapse of the system affected not only applicants from the 13 new countries, but from others that were already in the eTA system.
British citizen Amy Monerawela was scheduled to travel to Toronto with her family from London, England, but they were unable to get through the eTA site.
“We’ve had four people working on it since this morning,” she told CBC News on Friday evening from her London home. “And I mean sat around this table working on it from different devices, with different operating systems and different browsers. None of us are technophobes, we know what we’re doing, and we’ve not been able to crack it.”
“We got through to the payment page once, and when we went to put the card details in, it refreshed the page and kicked us out.”
Users reported several different problems with the site, including crashes, freezes and various error messages.
Cancellations come with heavy costs
Monerawela says that between their non-refundable Air Transat flights and a prepaid Airbnb, her family will lose thousands of dollars. They will also miss the chance to see family in Canada for the first time since the pandemic began.
One of their daughters is wheelchair bound and has other medical issues that make travel very difficult, she explained. The family had already paid to forward some medical items their daughter needs to Toronto.
Gabriel Contreras already missed his flight from Spain to visit a sister who lives in Canada. He was refused boarding on the first leg of the trip from Madrid to Amsterdam because of the eTA issue.
He said that even if the problem were fixed tomorrow, he and his travel partner would have to buy two new tickets for 970 euros each. The new flights would end up costing him more than $2,700 Cdn.
“That’s way too much for us,” said Contreras, who noted that since he only has one week off for travel, he’s decided to cancel his visit rather than rebook.
“The whole process has been jarring,” he told CBC News, saying his impression of IRCC was “really bad” and that “We’re a bit mad about the whole thing.”
Contreras says he will try to recover the lost money from travel insurance.
Lack of communication from IRCC, travellers say
Some travellers complained about the lack of communication from IRCC, noting that it had failed to respond to phone calls or tweets.
According to passengers, the eTA site stopped working properly on Thursday. IRCC posted a tweet around noon on Friday acknowledging the problem:
“Online service for eTA applications is currently intermittently available. Please try again later. We appreciate your patience. Travellers are still required to have the appropriate travel documents to travel to or transit through Canada.”
When is this going to be fixed? It makes so sense- people can’t enter Canada without paying this $7 yet its an issue with your server?
“How can this still be required if it’s impossible to access?” responded one frustrated traveller.
Other responses included: “My 17 year old brother’s eTA hasn’t come back and we fly in 9 hours ?!?!?!?!?! What do we do, such bad customer service – no response from your webform!”
“Because of this my friend was not allowed on his $1,000 USD flight,” wrote another. “We had to cancel all our other flights and plans in Canada, costing us another $500 USD. The Canadian embassy said the online application is the only way. You should have a back-up in case this happened.”
“The hardship you caused to travellers is immense,” wrote another person. “All the pain just to collect $7.”
Some of the passengers who missed flights said they weren’t even planning to stay in the country, but were merely transiting through Canada on layovers to other destinations such as Australia.
“Embarrassing that you even need a visa to transit through Canada,” one person complained.
‘I think they don’t care’
Some travellers also expressed annoyance to CBC News at IRCC’s unwillingness to waive the $7 fee, allow people to complete the forms on arrival, or offer any kind of alternative that would have saved their travel plans.
“I tried to contact them over the phone,” said Monerawela. “I got sent to a webpage. They haven’t tweeted back to anybody. I think they don’t care, that’s how it feels. They don’t care how this is affecting people’s lives, people’s finances.”
On Friday evening, some passengers attempting to obtain eTAs reported receiving a message in response suggesting repairs might not be coming for days.
A note explains that IRCC will “perform updates to its online system” from 12 am to 5:30 am on June 13.
“The eTA application will not be available at that time. We apologize for the inconvenience. To apply for an eTA, please return after 5:30 am on June 13.”
CBC News was seeking clarification from IRCC on the precise meaning of that note at the time of publication.
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