More than 1,500 people braved the elements outside Western University’s Alumni Hall Jan. 11, to witness and participate in a different kind of maelstrom: Justin Trudeau’s second town hall in London, Ontario.
As if the weather was any kind of a barometer of the situation inside, the Prime Minister was tested with poignant questions from the Western audience. Issues ranged from water cleanliness on First Nations reserves, equal opportunities for women in the workplace, Canada’s future in artificial intelligence (AI), to the re-certification of immigrated doctors and medical professionals.
All this, in addition to interruptions from hecklers in the crowd.
Multiple questions posed by members of the audience vocalized concerns over the human rights of Canada’s First Nations communities, and called on Trudeau to offer insight into how the Canadian government will work with Indigenous communities in the future.
One student questioned the government’s approach to ensuring clean water exists on reserves. Trudeau replied that they plan on having water advisories on every reservation lifted within the next five years.
One woman voiced her disenfranchisement with the current state of Canadian democracy, to which Trudeau apologized for his decision to break his promise that 2015 would be the last Canadian election under the first-past-the-post system.
“When I saw we were going down a road that I truly and deeply believed wasn’t good for the country, I put that promise aside,” The Prime Minister said.
Trudeau was also questioned on Canada’s position as a leader in global artificial intelligence,
“Canada has been a leader in the research and development of the latest area of AI,” he explained. “Deep learning… is about mimicking the neural networks the human brain has.”
Trudeau also mentioned the $100 million already invested in AI research, as well as large corporations, like Google and Facebook, currently investing in Canadian AI development as well.
The event concluded with Chief Myeengun Henry of the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation gifting Trudeau with an eagle feather, a gift that Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie received from the Assembly of First Nations gathering last December.