SAINT-HYACINTHE, Que. — Ottawa’s decision to sign the UN compact for migration in no way limit’s Canada’s sovereignty or ability to choose its own immigrants, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday at an animated town hall meeting in Quebec.
The prime minister was cheered and occasionally heckled as he answered questions on a variety of topics, ranging from the environment to immigration to NAFTA, during the two-hour meeting in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.
The most heated exchange came on immigration, after a woman asked Trudeau why his government had signed the UN Global Compact on Safe Migration without consulting Canadians.
Trudeau responded that the entire world is being thrown into a migration crisis, and that signing the agreement would allow Canada to share its approach and co-operate with other countries on matters of immigration.
“This is a pact that in no way limits Canada in its sovereignty to determine how and who we will accept as immigrants,” Trudeau said.
“There is a great deal of false information spreading on the subject.”
The prime minister had to raise his voice to be heard above boos and shouted accusations as he blamed the criticism of the pact on the ”politics of division.” He also pointed to Canada’s generosity towards the 25,000 Syrian refugees who arrived in recent years as proof of the country’s acceptance of newcomers.
“I believe we were justified in continuing to show our leadership on immigration towards the entire world,” Trudeau said, as boos gave way to applause.
The 200-person crowd included several people wearing the insignia of right-wing group La Meute, as well as about a dozen people in fluorescent yellow safety vests, who jeered and heckled Trudeau throughout the evening.
One of the yellow vest protesters left halfway through, angrily yelling at Trudeau before he was ushered from the room by security.
Dairy pricing is a hot-button issue in Quebec, and the issue unsurprisingly rose to the forefront in the 52,000-person southwestern Quebec city known for its agricultural production.
Trudeau defended his government’s concessions on dairy in the recent NAFTA renegotiations, telling the crowd that U.S. President Donald Trump “absolutely” wanted to eliminate supply management altogether.
Reaching a deal was necessary, he said, in order to preserve the millions of Canadian jobs that depend on access to U.S. markets.
“To protect this access at a moment of unpredictableness, of protectionism of Mr. Trump, was a huge challenge and we succeeded,” he said, adding that dairy would not be on the table for any current or future deals under negotiation.
Several early questions focused on the environment, with one man asking Trudeau how he can claim to be pro-environment after his government chose to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Trudeau responded that economic development and environmental protection have to go hand in hand.
But he said Canadians will still be dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, and while that’s the case the country needs pipelines to get its oil to market.
Trudeau was also questioned about Indigenous opposition to pipelines in British Columbia, which culminated in the arrest of 14 people at a pipeline blockade in northwestern B.C.
He admitted that the way the situation had been handled had been “a mistake,” and said the process of reconciliation remains a bumpy one.
“We’re doing our best but we still make mistakes, and it wasn’t an ideal or positive situation at Wet’suwet’en,” he told the Indigenous woman who asked the question, as a man unfurled an anti-pipeline poster behind her.
The evening event was the fourth in a series of question and answer-style public meetings being held across the country.
Trudeau has faced tough questions on subjects ranging from pipelines to relations with Indigenous people during earlier town hall meetings in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press