There’s a myth floating around cyberspace that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s townhall sessions include pre-screened questions and questioners, all Liberal-friendly.
That, my friends, is a lie. Full stop.
There wasn’t a lot of notice for the Regina townhall, held in the gym at the University of Regina on Jan. 10 – just a few days. If you wanted to attend, you had to go to the website of Saskatchewan’s sole Liberal in the House of Commons, Regina-Wascana Member of Parliament Ralph Goodale. On the site you had to enter your name, email and phone number. That’s it. As soon as you clicked submit, you got an RSVP in your inbox.
I was going as media, and I took my daughter along to assist. This was not just for the learning experience (of which it was, in spades), but also because I needed someone to run my video camera while I was moving around shooting stills and video from other angles. But we both filled out RSVPs, just in case. Both came back immediately.
Someone I’ve gotten to know is Jason LeBlanc, a farmer from Estevan. I did some video and photography work for him a few years ago. He is probably one of the most ardent non-Liberals out there. A few years ago, he used his tractor and a cultivator to write some, how shall we say, impolite words regarding Trudeau in his field, large enough to be visible from airliners. (isn’t it a wonder how useful GPS is for tractors these days?)
Jason and his group were second or third in line, waiting to get in. They weren’t going to miss this.
After a brief introduction, the prime minister, in his shirt and tie and with the sleeves rolled up, said he would start to take questions in a circular pattern going around the room.
It wasn’t quite full. They still could have put maybe 200-300 more people in the back rows of seating. People were still being admitted close to showtime. But it was a good showing, nonetheless.
Having been the early bird, Jason got the worm. He was in the front row, facing the cameras, within literal spitting distance of where the prime minister would be walking around. In all the online videos, you’ll find him in a grey shirt, behind Trudeau, on the left side of the screen.
Another not-so-Trudeau fan I know is Courtland Klein. He’s a steelworker at Evraz Regina, and has spent many years involved with the United Steelworkers union. As I was setting up my camcorder, he texted me, waving from a seat about 20 feet behind Jason.
As a union guy, Courtland might be expected to be very much on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Or maybe not, as we were to soon find out.
The first half of the townhall session was punctuated by some low-key questions. There were a few about international students complaining about the cost of education here in Canada, and quite frankly, Trudeau put them in their place in a nice sort of way. There were a few questions about immigration, Islam and Christianity that were simply bad – and indeed, a few days later the prime minister’s Twitter feed showed his response to these.
But then he turned to Courtland, identifying him as the “Man in the I Love Pipelines shirt.”
And Courtland let him have it, with both barrels. He wanted to know why Canada signed the new NAFTA deal without resolution on steel tariffs. And when it came to the Trans Mountain pipeline, which Evraz is supposed to supply with its pipe, Courtland said, “You can legalize marijuana, but you can’t twin a pipeline?”
Over the next few days, the online views of the exchange numbered in the millions.
A few minutes later, Jason got his chance. When he’s not farming, Jason is an auctioneer, and a very good one at that. He knows how to talk, and how to hold a crowd. And you could see the steel in his eyes as he took on Justin Trudeau, his nemesis.
Jason questioned Trudeau on the impending carbon tax, which Trudeau in turn referred to as a “price on pollution.”
Jason pointed to continuous cropping, huge efficiency gains in agriculture by using bigger, but fewer tractors, and the diesel engines that no longer belch black smoke. He also talked about the protests that CBC hasn’t been reporting on. Then he asked why the carbon tax is being brought in on Canada, and questioned if the same was happening in China.
Trudeau’s response might have given him the sound clips he wants to use for the upcoming campaign, but Jason, at least, had his title shot, so to speak.
The reality is, at the end of the night, Jason LeBlanc and Courtland Klein both got a chance, granted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself, to give him a piece of their minds.
If that’s Liberal screening of questions and those who attend these townhalls, I’ll eat my fedora.
Some dreams did come true.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.