Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent Wednesday in Niagara-on-the-Lake, capping off his day with the announcement of an additional $819 million of gas tax funds to support municipal infrastructure projects.
His day began with breakfast at Silks Country Kitchen in Virgil, where Trudeau circulated from table to table with the Liberal candidate for the Niagara Falls riding, Andrea Kaiser. Kaiser, of NOTL, had just defeated former Niagara Falls city councillor Joyce Morocco for the nomination two days prior.
Later that afternoon, Trudeau walked up to a podium set up in the Community Garden behind the NOTL Public Library, after a short introduction from Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
Taking an only-slightly-veiled stab at Doug Ford’s Provincial government, Trudeau began his speech talking about how cuts to services hurt families, students and seniors, and pointed to what he called the withholding of funds from the provincial government that has put the region’s Canada 2021 Summer Games in jeopardy.
In contrast, said Trudeau, investing in Canadians and their future is the best way to make life better for the middle class.
To that end, he announced that Niagara’s share of the “municipal top-up,” as he called it, would amount to close to $14 million, pointing to transit as one of the examples of where that money may be spent.
Also taking to the podium was Jamie McGarvey, Mayor of Parry Sound and president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. McGarvey pointed out that the money announced this week is in addition to the $800 million that was already in the federal government’s 2019 budget, and he called the $1.6 Billion going to municipalities substantial.
Last to speak was Bill Karsten, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, who praised the gas tax funding for transforming communities, and claimed that local governments do the best job of finding local needs and building solutions that work.
When Karsten was finished speaking, the floor was opened to questions, and the funding announcement immediately took a back seat to Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Earlier that morning, Canada’s Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, announced that the prime minister had contravened section 9 of Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence then-justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to overrule a decision to not grant a deferred prosecution agreement to the Quebec-based engineering firm.
Questions from the media focused almost solely on the ethics report. Trudeau said he accepted responsibility for everything that happened. He did, however, disagree with the commissioner on some of his conclusions.
Specifically, Trudeau took issue with Dion’s ruling that the prime minister should not have had any contact with the attorney general over the SNC-Lavalin issue. “My job as a prime minister is to stand up for Canadians and defends their interests,” he said. “Yes, it is essential that we do that in a way that defends our institutions, and upholds prosecutorial independence, but we need to be able to talk about the impacts on Canadians right across the country, of decisions being made.”
Following the invite-only 30-minute announcement session, Trudeau shook hands and posed for photographs with local mayors, politicians and other invited guests.
On his way back to his motorcade, Trudeau and his entourage were greeted by a crowd of about 120 120 people waiting to get their chance to interact with the prime minister.
Many were there just hoping to snap a selfie with the PM. Some were there for other purposes.
One gentleman asked Trudeau if he could say a few words about Pakistan Independence Day, which happened to be that same day. With his cellphone camera recording video, Trudeau happily obliged.
Tess and Lucas Roberts Ramos just wanted a photo with the Trudeau. Five years ago, their older brother Max, who works at the library, had a chance to pose with Trudeau at Parliament Hill. He was there on a St. Michael Catholic School trip to Ottawa, and Trudeau, of course, was not yet prime minister, but was the sitting MP for Papineau in Quebec, and Liberal Party leader at the time.
Three others had a more pointed reason for being there. Sonya Wierenga of Welland brought two young Nigerian refugees with her to the Community Centre. Hephzibah and Rejoice Ogunkoya are in Canada with their mother and brother, after having fled in fear for their safety.
According to Wierenga, their father has threatened violence toward the girls as part of his commitment to a religious group to which he belongs. With the girls facing possible deportation back to Nigeria, Wierenga brought them to see the prime minister to pass them a letter begging for his intervention.