An estimated 1,700 people came to the University of Calgary to take part in a town hall Q&A session with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tuesday evening.

When Trudeau entered the gymnasium, more than an hour later than planned, he did so to overwhelming cheers and some boos from the audience. Both supporters and detractors of Trudeau were in attendance where he fielded questions from the audience, randomly chosen by the Prime Minister himself.

Trudeau Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens intently as he takes the first audience member’s question at a town hall gathering at the University of Calgary, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Photo by Anna Junker

The queries ranged from Canada’s plan to resolve the conflict between Palestine and Israel to how the Liberals will continue to engage with young voters. One woman asked what the government was doing to help end violence against Indigenous women. The prime minister replied, “Violence against women continues to a rate that is disappointing for our country and we need to make sure we’re stepping up on that.” He continued, “A lot of the work we’re doing around reconciliation, investing in the Indigenous communities and Indigenous success, whether it’s mental health support, addiction support…. These are all building blocks towards success.”

Michaud Hahn ProtestDenise Michaud (left) and Leah Hahn (right) protest the arrival of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Jan. 24, 2017, voicing their concerns which include the impending carbon tax, among other grievances. Michaud and Hahn were among dozens of protesters at the University of Calgary’s Olympic Oval and many of the protesters were on campus long before the prime minister took the stage at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium. Photo by Tyler Ryan

The majority of the crowd seemed to support the prime minister, but there were some vocal opponents. Outside near the Olympic Oval, dozens of protesters held anti-Trudeau and anti-carbon tax signs. Among them was Bob Lefurgey, a self-identified separatist who ran in the 2004 provincial election as a member of the Separation Party of Alberta.

Saying Albertans “are under attack,” Lefurgey told reporters he had many issues with Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley such as the carbon tax, various UN policies and outside influence from wealthy individuals on Canadian elections.

Journal reporter interviews LefurgeyBob Lefurgey protested the Trudeau town hall at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Lefurgey has been a separatist since the 1980s. He takes issue with policies such as the carbon tax implemented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley. Photo by Tyler Ryan

Many attendees were especially interested in hearing Trudeau’s response to his Jan. 13 remarks where he suggested at an Ontario town hall that Canada needed to “phase out” the oilsands.

At a cabinet retreat earlier Tuesday, Trudeau said he “misspoke” about his oilsands comment. He pushed the subject to the end of Calgary town hall agenda, despite prompts from two individuals sitting higher up in the stands. One man sported an “I love the oilsands” t-shirt with a “Make America Great Again” hat and the other, an elderly man, was vocal about issues he had with Trudeau.

Despite the interruptions to which Trudeau responded calmly, “I only reward good behaviour,” the prime minister eventually relented and took the final question from the man in the oilsands t-shirt.

Here is the exchange:

Audience Member: You’ve been saying two different messages. Down east you’ve been telling people that you want to kill the single biggest employer in our province. You’re in Alberta right now sir, you’re not in Ottawa. Yet you come to Calgary, you tell people you’re sorry. Well I’m sorry, I’m a little confused. There is one of two things Mr. Prime Minister. You are either a liar or you’re confused. And I’m thinking it’s both. Because you cannot come down to this province and attack the single biggest employer, that employs hundreds of thousands of people… Over half this crowd, I’m thinking 80 per cent in this room are university students. They are going to depend on a job that relies on what this shirt says — I love the oil sands. And yet you are attacking their future. Would you take back your remark, will you retract it utterly and completely and tell Albertans that you are not here to attack Alberta oilsands, that you will support it and you will do nothing to stop the Keystone pipeline?

Trudeau: I have been extremely consistent in what I have said to Canadians over the past year. I have said repeatedly, in every situation. I have repeatedly said that yes, the responsibility of any Canadian prime minister is to get our resources to market, and yes that includes our oilsands’ fossil fuels. We need to get those to market. I have also said that in a responsible, sustainable way, that you cannot separate what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. You know who tried? You know who tried to force a choice between the environment and the economy? The last government. They said we are not going to do anything on the environment and we’ll get all these pipelines approved. Do you know what they did? They didn’t get any of the pipelines approved. Do you know why? Because people didn’t have confidence that they were building for the long term, that they were creating the jobs and the opportunity of the future because they refused to accept that the way to build a strong economy for the future is to protect the environment and the economy at the same time. So I have talked repeatedly that we need to get off of fossil fuels as the dependency we have. We need to move past fossil fuels. Even Stephen Harper recognized we have to get off fossil fuels eventually. We cannot do that right now. We have to manage the transition. And that’s why I have approved pipelines that the previous government wasn’t able to do. Unlike the previous government, not only am I approving them but I’m standing up here in Alberta and in downtown Vancouver and I’m saying I am approving these pipelines because it matters. And I’m making a case for the oilsands and the fact is that demonstrating to the world that we understand the responsibilities that come with resource development, for reducing our emissions. If you know the oilsands sir, you know the kinds of innovations, the kinds of advances, the kinds of high technology, the kinds of research that is being done right here at the University of Calgary and up at the oilsands. To be more innovative, to lower emissions, to be more efficient, to be able to demonstrate what Albertans know, what Canadians know, that we can build a strong economy with good jobs and protect the environment at the same time. That’s what Canadians want. The world is changing and our job as Canadians is to recognize the [unintelligible], the challenges and opportunities. And my job is to help you prepare to overcome your challenges and take advantage of your opportunities and that’s exactly what Albertans, Calgarians and Canadians are going to be able to do.

The town hall ended after this exchange, and as Trudeau was leaving a crowd gathered to shake hands and take selfies. The next stop for Trudeau is Saskatoon Sask., followed by a stop in Winnipeg Man., with more destinations to be announced. 

The editor responsible for this article is Paul Rodgers and can be reached at 

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