By Liny Lamberink
Around 2,100 people packed into Alumni Hall at Western University in London for the most well-attended stop so far on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tour across the country.
Trudeau was welcomed into the auditorium with a standing ovation, and spent the hour-long event fielding questions from the crowd on a wide range of topics, including fiscal spending habits, cash-for-access events, and climate change.
— AM980 London News (@AM980News) January 13, 2017
In an emotional address, a Canadian Forces veteran who retired in July after being injured in Afghanistan told Trudeau the support system for veterans needs fixing immediately, explaining how pensions weren’t coming in on time, and he was relying on friends and family to merely get by.
“The person who had to retire to help me was my father. And there is obviously the family caretakers allowance, I’m sure you’re aware of — I was denied that. My father is there every day for me when I wake up in the morning to give me my medications, to help take care of me in every way, and in personal ways a father doesn’t need to, for a 30-year-old,” explained the veteran.
In response, Trudeau admitted the government hasn’t done enough to take care of veterans, but reaffirmed his commitment to supporting them and their families, explaining a “sacred obligation” to care for men and women sent into combat.
Third year Media Information and Technoculture student Emma Coates posed a question about improved mental health services, describing her own struggle with a system that puts people on a three-month waitlist, provides a “one time service”, and isn’t funded by the government.
“I always feel shut out by the health care system,” said Coates. “It feels like you’re begging them to help you when you don’t want to be in that position in the first place.”
Trudeau tried to relate personally in response, citing his own experience living with someone “suffering significant mental distress,” before praising Minister of Health Jane Philpott on her commitment to changing the face of mental health.
He went on to point out mental health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, but said the federal government is committing $5-billion to the issue in the coming years.
A Syrian refugee chose not to ask a question, but said “thank you very much” to Trudeau.
— Liny Lamberink (@LinyLamberink) January 14, 2017
While not everyone’s question was answered during the town hall style Q & A, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation Chief Leslee White-Eye spoke with Trudeau afterwards.
She had tried to speak out during the event on a question about indigenous youth, mental health, and suicide rates.
— Leslee White-Eye (@l_whiteye) January 14, 2017
“The Prime Minister was doing his best to answer a problem that he doesn’t have the background or experience to answer. For him to struggle in his response in terms of the different things that they’re funding — I felt compelled as Chief of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation to stand up and say ‘excuse me, we do have the answers here,'” White-Eye explained to AM980.
She had hoped Trudeau would give her the opportunity to explain why she had interrupted, but instead chose to speak with her afterwards.
“What I need for him to know is that he can help restate the conversation and balance it, in terms of how we’re contributing to those solutions, but also could be contributing in other ways.”