Fresh off surviving a confidence vote on a Conservative motion to look into the government’s ethics and pandemic spending, a relaxed-looking Justin Trudeau held a virtual town hall at Memorial University in St. John’s.
For a little over an hour, the prime minister answered 15 questions from staff and students — including one from the university’s newly hired sustainability and climate action officer that had very little to do with the environment.
Justin Dearing used his few minutes with Trudeau to ask about something that has had a campus-wide impact at Memorial: the fate of Jordan Naterer, a hiker who disappeared in British Columbia.
“I was preparing a question about climate change when a thought hit me that I couldn’t shake and I had to go with my gut,” Dearing said.
Earlier this week, Engineering Dean Greg Naterer and his wife left St. John’s for B.C. to continue the search for their missing son.
Jordan Naterer, 25, is believed to have left Vancouver to go hiking at Manning Provincial Park over the Thanksgiving weekend but never re-emerged.
Vancouver police called off the search on Saturday, but Jordan’s family has been pleading to keep looking.
Wednesday night, Dearing asked the prime minister for help.
“With deep compassion and humility, may I ask, is there any way you or your staff might be able to encourage additional support in the search for Jordan?” Dearing said.
WATCH: Justin Dearing, who works with Jordan Naterer’s father, makes an appeal to the PM:
Trudeau acknowledged that he knows what the Naterer family is going through. In 1998, his 23-year-old brother Michel was swept away and died in an avalanche in British Columbia.
“I can’t personally hear that story and not think about my little brother, who was lost almost 25 years ago in the beautiful mountains in B.C.,” said Trudeau, reflecting on “the efforts that went into trying to find him and how I felt when the search was called off.”
Despite being the prime minister, Trudeau admitted to Dearing that he doesn’t have the power or control over reinstating a search.
“I promise you, Justin, I will look into this,” he said. “I can certainly ask about it and try and see if there isn’t something that I can nudge a little bit, because I know the heartbreak that the Naterer family and the entire community is going through right now.”
Students, staff put questions to PM
During the town hall, Trudeau was also asked about support of international students, budget cuts to universities and what students could do without being able to complete co-op work terms.
Alyson Clouter, a first-year student from Bunyan’s Cove, wanted to know how she could complete an out-of-province dental hygienist course if COVID-19 kept students like her out of the classroom.
Trudeau admitted that it’s hard to complete hands-on learning without being physically present.
“I am confident that we’re going to be able to solve that,” said Trudeau. “I’m confident that through partnerships and co-ops with local professionals, people are going to figure out how to create practical ways that that can work.”
That will mean a greater reliance on the internet, which can be spotty and shoddy in rural parts of Newfoundland and Labrador — a fact that allowed Trudeau to segue into his government’s plan to improve broadband.
“It’s not just a luxury anymore, it’s a basic necessity,” he said.
Racism, cost of travel among questions
During 15 questions, Trudeau was asked about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, slashing the price of flying within Canada and what he thought the hardest part of doing his job was during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chinese graduate student Xingbang Chen spoke out about hurtful and vicious comments made online about people in the Chinese community, noting those comments have gotten worse over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“How would you address such racism against Chinese people in Canada?”
Trudeau acknowledged a rise in racism and that the internet plays a part in that. “We need to do better as a country,” he said.
Trudeau cited projects and initiatives his government has funded to tackle hatred and violence online, but admitted more needs to be done.
“The first thing to do is to recognize that we do have challenges, that we have structures and systems that have not done a good enough job of reducing barriers for everyone or treating everyone fairly,” he said. “That’s part of the systemic racism that we need to address.”
While the university had planned to have 20 questions brought to the floor, time wouldn’t allow it. Trudeau thanked the staff and students for their time, as well as for the opportunity to meet new people and hear their concerns.