New Brunswick

Justin Trudeau faces anger in N.B. over troubled payroll system

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought his campaign-style, cross-country tour to New Brunswick on Tuesday, answering questions at a town hall meeting in Fredericton and greeting supporters at a Saint John mall.

Town hall meeting in Fredericton leads off prime minister's day in New Brunswick

Not everyone was excited to hear what Trudeau had to say during Tuesday's town hall meeting in Fredericton. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked some tough questions during Tuesday's town hall meeting in Fredericton, particularly in relation to the Phoenix payroll "nightmare."

Roxanne Merrill Young asked Trudeau about the new payroll system, which she called a "nightmare," and which has left some federal employees sporadically paid or not paid at all for stretches of work.

Trudeau said he understands the anger and frustration provoked by the failure of the Phoenix system and called the problems unacceptable.

"It's a situation that cannot continue and one that we take extremely seriously," he said.

Trudeau said employees didn't know how to use the new payroll system when it was brought in.

Trudeau answers question on Phoenix payroll

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Trudeau answers question on Phoenix payroll at Fredericton town hall. 6:32

But people in Miramichi, where the system is administered, are working around the clock to fix it, he said.

"Everyone deserves to get paid what they're owed in a timely matter," he said.

At the town hall meeting, questions from New Brunswickers covered a range of topics, including marijuana policy, protection of the environment, job creation, and what Trudeau's daughter wants to be when she grows up.

"She is an eight-year-old princess or rock 'n' roll star," he said. "I impress on my daughter she can be whatever she wants. I also impress upon her brothers she can be whatever she wants."

Flowers given to PM in Fredericton

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watch two young girls present the Prime Minister with flowers as he takes questions in Fredericton. 0:26
Laura Shaw, a student at the University of New Brunswick asked the prime minister how government planned to decrease the number of sexual assaults on university campuses.

"We need to support survivors ... we need to address huge challenges within workplaces ... we need to talk about it more if we want to be a truly equal country," Trudeau said.

He also spoke about volunteers at McGill University's sexual assault centre.

"Violence against women and girls happens too often."

Trudeau discusses light sentences for those convicted of sexual assault

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked some tough questions during Tuesday's town hall meeting in Fredericton. 5:41
After the town hall meeting, Shaw said she appreciated Trudeau's thoughtfulness in answering the question.

"That really means a lot," she said. "Men are so crucial and the impact they can have on their peers is much more than women can have on men."

A Grade 12 student in Fredericton asked how Canada can ensure respect and inclusion within its own communities after flaring racial tensions in the United States.

"It's easier to get people to close in," he said. "Diversity is a sort of strength ... it creates opportunities."

Matt DeCourcey, the Fredericton MP, spoke at the morning event and thanked everyone for attending. Diane Lebouthillier and Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, along with mayors and local council members, also attended.

"This is a community town hall, you're here to share your stories … and ask your questions to your prime minister," DeCourcey said. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fields questions at a town hall meeting at the Cultural Centre in Fredericton on Tuesday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the community meeting, closed pre-registration for the event on Monday "due to huge response" and said pre-registration doesn't guarantee entry.

Trudeau's stops in Nova Scotia on Monday and New Brunswick on Tuesday coincide with the release of a public opinion poll suggesting the prime minister and his government continue to enjoy "historic highs" in popularity in this region.

In a quarterly survey of more than 1,500 people, 73 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the government's performance and 62 per cent support Trudeau.

Selfies in Saint John

Sarah Podpallock, an intensive care unit nurse and Trudeau fan, was very happy to get her selfie with the prime minister. (Rachel Cave/CBC)
Following the morning event in Fredericton, Trudeau travelled by motorcade down the highway to Saint John and visited the Market Square atrium at 1:30 p.m., where he was greeted by a large, enthusiastic crowd.

It resembled a celebrity event, with hundreds of people — mainly millennials — eager to see him and get a selfie to document the nation's leader's approximately 30-minute visit.

Intensive care unit nurse Sarah Padpallock screamed with giddy joy at her selfie.

Mike Biggar entertained the hundreds of people who packed into Saint John's Market Square atrium on Tuesday for a chance to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Rachel Cave/CBC)
"I'm a whole-hearted Trudeau fan," she said.

"I think it's really cool that he came to Saint John, New Brunswick, and that he came into the crowd and spoke to us and took selfies. It was cool."

Trudeau didn't take any questions during the Saint John leg of his "listening tour," and faced no resistance as he worked the crowd for about 30 minutes, under the watchful eye of his security detail and Saint John Police Force officers.

"OMG! He is beautiful!" a teenage girl squealed.

Then he proceeded to Hampton for a quick stop at Tim Hortons at 2:20 p.m. People squeezed in and the crowd spilled over, lined up outside the door. Some were standing on chairs to try to catch a glimpse of the prime minister.

The Tim Hortons in Hampton wasn't big enough to accommodate the crowd that gathered to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday. (Rachel Cave/CBC)
Trudeau is scheduled to fly to Sherbrooke, Que., next for a 7 p.m. ET town hall session at Colonel Gaétan Côté Armoury.

"We as a government are listening very carefully about the concerns people have," Trudeau said as the Fredericton meeting began. "This is very much about hearing your concerns, your questions ... things that are important to Canadians."

Since the tour began last week in Ontario, the prime minister has faced challenging questions on issues such as the welfare of indigenous Canadians, military exports, subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry, real-estate regulation and support for the manufacturing sector.

He is skipping the World Economic Forum, which started Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland, and president-elect Donald Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20 to be closer to Canadians.

With files from Jacques Poitras and Rachel Cave

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