Canadians ask Trudeau the tough questions — and some answers don't come easy

No one could say the 10 Canadians chosen to get 10 minutes with the prime minister took their job lightly. And they didn't all walk away satisfied after their interaction with Justin Trudeau.

PM hears about retirement fears, job loss, the safety of indigenous women and girls - and skepticism

Danny Strilchuk, right, an oil field worker from Edmonton, was one of 10 Canadians selected by CBC News to sit down with Justin Trudeau for 10 minutes to ask him frank questions about his plans as prime minister. (CBC)

No one could say the 10 Canadians chosen to get 10 minutes with the prime minister took their jobs lightly.

They were fearless and revealing and they challenged Justin Trudeau on issues that mattered to them and to many others.

The 10 people — from across the country, from different walks of life — were chosen by CBC News for face-to-face interviews with the prime minister last week. Going in, he knew only their first names, where they were from and the topic of their questions. Excerpts were played back to Trudeau Sunday night in front of an audience during a live taping on Parliament Hill with CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge.

Each of the 10 had clear questions and wanted answers, although they didn't always get them.

For instance, what does the prime minister tell the struggling manufacturing worker, Neil, who is nearing the end of his career and fearful he will end up homeless, given he has no pension left?

Turns out, not much.

Trudeau reiterated that policy changes will come for old age security and guaranteed income supplements and social housing, but that might not help Neil. And the prime minister had to admit the conversation was a difficult one.

Face to Face with the Prime Minister - The interview: Manufacturing jobs in Canada

7 years ago
Duration 14:58
Neil Piercey, 58, formerly worked in manufacturing but now delivers fruit in London, Ont. He asks Justin Trudeau how he plans to help people who have lost their jobs in manufacturing and are struggling to survive

It was a lesson in how governments are limited in what they can do to help people and how that can then translate into disappointment, as it did for Neil. He left after his 10 minutes still unsure about what will happen to him.

But if this government is about openness and transparency it must continue to demonstrate that by taking risks like this one. And that sometimes means being confronted by the harsh reality that answers aren't always possible and that solutions to problems will be difficult and sometimes take an awfully long time.

The prime minister sat face to face with a woman named Nikki, who wanted assurances her indigenous daughter would be safe growing up and that her life was valued. She was emotional. Trudeau spoke bluntly: "Indigenous lives matter. That you even have to say that is, you know, frustrating to me. And then you demonstrate it." 

It's the demonstrating part that Trudeau acknowledged will be the most challenging. Some of what his government has promised for indigenous peoples, he said, will take "years and even decades."

That is not surprising, but it is risky to admit this truth so publicly — that "real change" on many issues likely won't happen as quickly as most people would like or even need.

Face to Face with the Prime Minister - The interview: Keeping indigenous women safe

7 years ago
Duration 11:30
Nikki Fraser, a 25-year-old youth worker from Kamloops, asks Justin Trudeau how he plans to keep indigenous women safe

Some change must happen more immediately for strict economic reasons. 

At least, that's what Danny, the oilsands worker from Alberta, demonstrated. He wanted to know the government's plan to save the oil fields and keep everyone working.

There again, the prime minister admitted not everyone would still have a job at the end of the day — or, at least, not a particularly high-paying one.

Danny asked Trudeau what he should do and the prime minister told him to keep working hard. And he hinted later that measures will be in the budget to help people like Danny and other regions struggling with the low price of oil.

Face to Face with the Prime Minister - The interview: The future of Alberta

7 years ago
Duration 11:55
Danny Strilchuk, a 30-year-old oil field worker from Edmonton, asks Justin Trudeau if there is anything to give him hope or the future in Alberta and how he will generate jobs

By the end of the exercise, a town hall with a twist, Trudeau seemed to have won over many of the chosen Canadians, who he admitted had been "tough" and "challenging" with him.

He shook their hands, and you could hear them off mic thanking him and wishing him luck.

It is a large part of this government's gamble: not just the openness, but the listening. The bet that by hearing people out, you can also convince them to come along with you, or stick with you, or have faith in you.

But as Jenna, the first to get 10 minutes with Trudeau, told him so honestly, "Forgive me if we're a little bit skeptical …"

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, poses with his Face to Face interviewers, from left to right: Nikki Fraser, Neil Piercey, Gary Mauris, Danny Strilchuk, Charlotte Kiddell, Yvonne Jacob, Jenna Fray, Jihane El Atifi, Larry Audlaluk and Maulik Doshi. (CBC)

Watch CBC News' full one-hour special with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all of the full 10-minute interviews here


Rosemary Barton is CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, based in Ottawa.


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