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One on One: Here's what we asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

During his Friday visit to the Sault, Trudeau sat down for an exclusive interview with Village Media

During his visit to Sault Ste. Marie on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down for a one-on-one interview with Village Media’s editor-in-chief Michael Friscolanti.

The Prime Minister answered questions on a wide range of local topics, including the PUC’s newly launched Smart Grid, Algoma Steel’s ongoing transition to electric arc steelmaking, and the opioid crisis that continues to devastate our community. Trudeau also talked about the tragic mass shooting last month that claimed the lives of a woman and three young children, and what more can be done to combat the epidemic of intimate partner violence.

Trudeau was also asked about Bill C-18, the Online News Act that prompted Meta to block all Canadian news content from Facebook and Instagram — including SooToday and every other local news website operated by Village Media. Google is threatening to do the same, as early as next month. 

You can listen to the full audio of the interview above. Below is an edited transcript.

Village Media: You're here for the PUC Smart Grid announcement. It’s a major announcement for this community. It’s going to improve the reliability, the efficiency and resiliency of our power grid. What impresses you about this project that you wanted to come to be part of this? 

Justin Trudeau: Well, first of all, it's exactly the kind of thing that showcases what can happen when you work together and you have a vision for the future. In years past, the Sault decided they were going to be a green electricity, green energy center model — and then they actually got working on it. What you've managed to do here in this community is a model for every other community in the country. And it takes a certain amount of courage because now communities can pull the data from the Sault and say: Oh, wow, it totally works, we can totally justify it. But it took a leader to step up and actually do it. It took courage, it took a vision, that people were saying: Well look, we know the way the world is going, we know it's going to require our hard work and a certain outlay of capital. But if we get it right, it's going to save people money, and it's going to position us to be successful into the future. And that's where, having a federal government — quite frankly — that was able to step in with about a quarter of the costs, because we understand how important this transition is. It’s not just really important here, but it's also a validation of what we've been saying for eight years: that you can't build the economy for the future if you're not also thinking about the environment. 

Having that come together and come celebrate this effectiveness and draw attention to it. Because what it also does is gives individuals reassurance that, okay, yes, the world is changing in all sorts of unpredictable ways — but our community is going to be okay. There are going to be good jobs, good careers for our kids. There is a future here. Whether it's in a car plant that's switching towards electric vehicles, whether it's a plant like Algoma switching towards electric arc, the biggest impact isn't so much on emissions reductions, which is, of course, big, but sort of abstract. The biggest impact is workers saying: I now know my kids are going to be able to work here and their kids can. And so as much as the world is changing, this is an industry that is going to remain strong into the future because we're leading on those changes. So the fear of change everywhere is real. But the plan to be part of it, well that's what I'm celebrating here today.

VM: There is some accuracy to that. In this community, the steel plants always felt like it's been on nine lives where there were times where they thought it was going to close. And this is probably the strongest position it's ever been, that it’s going to be here for generations to come. You must find yourself talking about the Sault to other people.

JT: I do. I use this example. I say this is $400-million worth of investment from the federal government we announced a while ago. The perfect example is as we're doing electric car, not only is it less emitting, which is great, or which is the main goal of it. Also it turns out it's higher quality steel. It’s more sophisticated in being able to fine tune it to be able to meet the needs of whatever customer, be they on the other side of the border or on the other side of the world. And that's the kind benefit that comes with facing change and tackling and saying: Okay, we're gonna have to decarbonize. Well, that's hard. But look what we will solve as well as we do it. That example — you talk about the generations of steelworkers here who are now confident there's going to be generations into the future. And it's not, you know, some fancy island off of Denmark. No, it's in the Sault. You're building a stronger future for the planet while you're supporting the community.

VM: A lot of people in our community are also hoping that there's some trickle down from that, because one of the big issues we're dealing with in this community — and a lot of northern communities — is the opioid crisis. We're seeing it on our streets every year. When you walk around the Sault, Prime Minister, this is what everyone is talking about.

JT: Well, first of all, it has to do a lot with the times we're in, like economic uncertainty, the challenges of inflation, the challenges of having suffered through a pandemic — all of us — that took a real hit to all of our mental health and stability. People are struggling right now. And that's where economic investments and building hope in the community and making sure there's good schools and trade schools and pathways where people can be optimistic about being able to support their families and do well and not feel like they're being completely left behind by how the world is changing. That is a big chunk of it in terms of community feel and mood. But then you also need very, very specific measures as well. We have been leaning in on science and data and evidence, whether it's around safe consumption, whether it's around treatment, whether it's around supports for communities, as frontline workers, it's all the things that are creating not just solutions for the addiction, but solutions for the life that comes with it. Affordable housing is part of our fight against addictions. Education is part of our fight against addictions. Lifting social economic levers. Fighting poverty is part of our fight against addiction. These are all things that we have to put together. And we always talk about how the Sault is leading on economic sides, but it's also leading on social sides. This building, which I know we're gonna get to, is part of an example of how when people come together to solve larger problems, and not just one pinpoint of a problem. So the investments we're making in fighting the opioid epidemic in support for addictions and mental health, whether it's the billions we announced when we first got elected in our health deals on mental health that sort of got out there, or the real investments of $200-billion over the next 10 years so the provinces with clear deliverables and metrics to measure around mental health and addictions, that's going to be helping in terms of more resources. But also just a general focus on better partnerships and better wraparound services and understanding that all the different social determinants that go into addiction strategies need to be addressed.

VM: Because that would be the perfect Sault Ste. Marie, right? One where Algoma Steel and other industries here are thriving, but also where the people are getting the help that they need to deal with this.

JT: Of course. But when you have a strong, vibrant company or driver of the local economy, like Algoma Steel, it's not just the direct jobs. It’s not even just the indirect jobs of suppliers. It's the local corner store. It's the restaurant. It’s the sponsorship of the Timbits hockey leagues. The entire community flourishes and it grows from that center outwards. As opposed to trickling down, it builds it out from the sides and from the center. And that means that you can solve these challenges and can create the kinds of solutions that are going to continue to make this an amazing place to live.

VM: Speaking of community, we're sitting in this building right now, this new Legion facility. For people who live here, the old Legion was torn down and they're building this for veterans and for others. What impresses you about where you are?

JT: What impresses me is just the level of partnership involved. Intellectually, it makes sense: The old Legion Hall was down, so let's take the land, we'll build a new Legion Hall and we'll put apartments on top of it. The focus is: How do you solve the problem? The Legion Hall was serving veterans who are, in general, an underserved population, elderly, needing extra supports — also needing to be recognized not just during Remembrance Week, but all the time. People came together and said we'll rebuild the Legion Hall. But there will be room for offices and consultation, a museum to celebrate all the memorabilia and the story that people can come and visit. But there is also going to be affordable and supportive housing overtop. So you're not just building a Legion Hall, you're building a community around it as well. What you're doing is you're creating a community hub that is there to meet people where they are. Three orders of government can't do it alone. You need the private sector partners, you need philanthropists, and you need the nonprofit organizations to step up and say: Yeah, you know, we're going to be part of it. And any community that can pull together that kind of partnership and deliver something like this, that shows just how strong the community is. 

VM: We endured a terrible tragedy here a few weeks ago in Sault Ste. Marie. We had a shooting rampage: three three young children were killed and another woman. It was just horrific news for the people in this community, Prime Minister, because people don't expect that kind of stuff to happen here. The police immediately told us that it was a case of intimate partner violence. How did you hear about this? What went through your mind?

JT: Like so many Canadians, I saw it on the news. Just heartbroken. I've got three kids. You can’t imagine not just what they went through in those terrible final hours, but when you talk about intimate partner violence, we only talk about it usually because something tragic and terrible happened at the end. But those kids were probably living in a very challenging situation for a long time. And we know, I mean, we can all imagine a sister or cousin or a friend who is quietly suffering through a situation that she can't get out of, she can't get her kids out of, because there is no economic opportunities, because the justice system continues to fail, because there's still social stigma around that, because there's shame involved. There's so many layers of it. It’s something again, like so many of the challenges, you can't just fix with a bumper sticker, or a simple hammer on the nail. You have to actually build a strategy that's anchored in dignity and education and support. And you have to make sure that police is changing the way it engages, that the way we socialize people to what's acceptable, what's not. How we raise our boys in particular is going to shift also how we raise our girls to not accept this. But also tangibly, how we make sure we're funding shelters properly so people have support. How we move forward on gun control, to make sure that someone who is convicted of intimate partner violence never gets access to a gun. These are the kinds of things that we have to come at from so many different perspectives, which is why we launched a national action plan on gender-based violence that we're working with the provinces on. There's a lot to do, but stories like this make it so much more real.

VM: A lot of people are talking as well about whether the provincial government should be declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic. Should the federal government be doing that?

JT: It reminds me of when people said: Are you going to declare a state of emergency around the pandemic or around this or that? If these are things that if you do them, you will get better tools and solutions, I'm always open to doing those sorts of things. But I don't care as much about the headlines — declares an emergency — as opening up a new shelter. As moving forward on gun control. Give me those headlines. Give me more headlines on supporting people facing intimate partner violence, better mental health supports for people struggling with addictions or mental health issues that could lead them down these horrific paths of taking the wrong kinds of actions. Those are the things that I'm interested in. The means to get there, I'm sort of agnostic about it. Let's just get people doing it, and if it takes a declaration of emergency to get people to act, well okay. But I'd rather just act and not have to wait for that. 

VM: I want to switch gears again to Bill C-18, the Online News Act. You’re in Sault Ste. Marie, which is the headquarters of the largest online publisher in the country: Village Media. I'm very privileged to be the editor-in-chief of Village Media, and we're very concerned about C-18, obviously, as a lot of online publishers are. As everybody knows, Facebook has now blocked news content. Was this the right move, Prime Minister, Bill C-18?

JT: It's a really difficult situation. And you know what better than I do. I think you have 19 communities you serve? Every single one of those communities deserves to have local journalists know their stories, who can put together and tell them what's going on in their community and interpret what's going on around the world in ways that is right for them. It’s not just nice to have. It’s core to the good functioning of our communities and of our democracy. Well-informed populations with access to local news, reliable, trusted local news is essential. So the fact that for years now, international companies, foreign companies like Facebook or Google, have been making money — massive amounts of money — off of the work that your journalists do talking about local issues, because anytime someone shares a relevant local story, Google or Facebook, depending on where they share it, makes the ad profit off of that, which doesn't go into your pocket. It doesn't doesn't fund the work that the local journalist is doing. That is wrong. It shouldn't be that way. So how do you do it? Well, what we're trying to do is force Google and Facebook and other large companies that are so profitable on this, to pay their fair share, to share some of that ad revenue with companies that are creating that local news. We are having to push right now, and it's worrisome because right now people don't understand. ‘Look, we’ve got forest fires going and because of what the government's doing, we're not getting local news on our Facebook.’ That's the perception but the reality is we're doing this to force the online giants to support local media. Because if we don't, as the world continues to change, will there be a Village in 10 years?

VM: That’s what we're concerned about right now. And I think we've learned the opposite is true: that we depended on Facebook and Google to help share our stories. There was value in that for us. Whereas some news organizations might have said what you're saying is accurate, we believe the opposite. We were in partnership with Google and Facebook, they helped us, and now without them we're hanging by a thread, Prime Minister. We're worried about the future of our news organizations, and a lot of people are.

JT: But that's why we're working so hard with Google, in particular now, to find an agreement that is going to have Google actually not just help you in a one-off, but help you and other community journalists like your organization right across the country, with a model that's going to be sustainable. Because we all know Google and Meta don't want to have to be on the hook for this. They're happy to try and help out in one-offs, but you can't build a career on that. You're not going to convince young people to go into journalism and be a local reporter if they're not confident that they're going to be able to support a family on that five years from now, 10 years from now. Look what's happened to journalism over the past 10 years. We know it's going to get stronger. So right now, countries around the world are looking very, very closely at what Canada's doing, and telling us: keep doing it. Because if we don't bring in a model, Australia showed that it can be done, bring in a model that actually makes sure that you get revenue sources you can rely on through the hard work you and your journalists are doing, then I worry, not just for local journalism, I worry for democracy. But I hear you how much it's hard right now. We are there to support them in various ways but we're also there to build a strong journalism that doesn't rely on government handouts, because you've got to be calling us to account and you can't have to know that a changing government might dry up your supply of funds. So we will always support local journalism, but I want to create an ecosystem that supports local journalism financially through the way people get their news now, which is sharing it, not buying a newspaper.

VM: Are you hopeful that Google is going to come to the table and figure out a way? Because if Google pulls out, that would be catastrophic for the entire news industry.

JT: Meta has chosen to be really bad and irresponsible actors. They have said: ‘It doesn't matter that billions of people rely on them for their information, we're not going to take any responsibility for defending democracy.’ That is Meta’s choice and I absolutely condemn them for it. But hopefully they will eventually change their minds. Google is being more thoughtful about it, they're still very careful because they know what we do in Canada will end up getting adopted around the world. But once again, it falls on Canada to show people what is right and the way to go.

VM:  I know you have to go so I'm gonna ask you one more question. Pierre Poilievre was here in Sault Ste. Marie a few weeks ago, and there's a lot of people who support him and what he's saying. What do you say to people in the Sault who might be thinking of steering away from you and toward your Pierre Poilievre?

JT: First of all, I understand how much people are frustrated right now at everything, whether it's grocery prices, or the housing crisis, or what's going on in the world, or even the wildfires we got hit with this summer. It's easy to point your finger and blame the government in general for everything's going on. That's fine. That's part of the role. I wake up every morning trying to solve those challenges and everything I do — whether it's announcing a Smart Grid here in the Sault, or being here for the Legion announcement — we are trying to put forward solutions. I suggest people take a look at Pierre Poilievre carefully and honestly ask yourself whether he's trying to solve the challenges he's laying out or whether he's just trying to amplify the challenges that are being laid out. Because it's easy in this time to get people more fearful, more riled up, because there's lots of real reasons to get riled up and fearful. But I know people in the Sault, I know Canadians. People are ready to roll up their sleeves and get through the tough times. We've done it before, we're going to do it again. And this is a very big, very scary, tough time. But it's going to require leadership on the fight against climate change and building the new economy. It's going to require being there for everyone, including the 2SLGBTQI+ community, including immigrants and marginalized people. Moving forward concretely on reconciliation, as hard as that is. Being thoughtful with answers in full sentences to really big problems. Everyone wants the bumper sticker to be right, but it takes more than a seven second TikTok to solve really big challenges, and I strongly suspect — because I've watched Pierre Poilievre in his role as a professional politician for decades now — he's very good at the quick, easy soundbites. He's not so good at the real answers that are going to make a difference. And I know people in the Sault, across Northern Ontario and across this country are going to think very carefully about what kind of country we want. Who's got the better vision for getting us there?

VM: I'll leave it at that, Prime Minister Trudeau. Thank you so much. We do appreciate all the time you’ve taken for us.