© Heather Taweel - The Guardian
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau walks past Province House during a tour of Charlottetown on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says Prince Edward Island is not being well served by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and the concerns of Islanders are falling on deaf ears.
Trudeau is in P.E.I. for national Liberal caucus meetings, which get underway today at the Rodd Brudenell River Resort.
Speaking briefly with TC Media Tuesday, Trudeau said the changes made earlier this year to employment insurance are “unacceptable.”
“Yes, EI needs retooling, but everything this government has done has indicated a total tone-deafness to the concerns of Islanders, of people who work in seasonal industries and of Canadians across the country who don’t see this as a step in the right direction,” Trudeau said.
He said the way in which he would improve the EI system “isn’t entirely clear” but said he would only go forward with changes in consultation with Canadians.
“We have to figure out how to make sure the people who pay into EI gain benefits from it when they fall into the situations where they need its help.”
Trudeau mentioned several times how he believes the Harper Tories in Ottawa are not responding to the concerns of those in the regions, such as Atlantic Canada, even using this point to get a dig in at Fisheries Minister and Egmont MP Gail Shea.
He pointed to the prominent role P.E.I.’s three Liberal MPs have in his own shadow cabinet.
“It means that I value Islanders. Contrast that with the lack of response and results that having a minister from the Island has given to Islanders in this Conservative government,” Trudeau said in reference to Shea.
On Monday, Shea released a statement calling Trudeau’s controversial proposal to legalize marijuana “reckless.”
Trudeau fielded more questions from reporters on the issue Tuesday, dismissing the notion it was a risky political move to admit he smoked pot since becoming and MP and to call for the drug to be legalized in Canada.
“I don’t think there’s any risk in being open and transparent,” he told reporters.
Although Trudeau leads a third party in the House of Commons, he received rock star treatment as he walked down Queen Street in Charlottetown Tuesday. He was thronged by national reporters and photographers, all jostling for a chance to question him on national and international issues, such as the crisis unfolding in Syria.
This, in turn, attracted crowds of curious locals and tourists. The spectacle of it literally stopped traffic and created quite a clamour on the normally quiet sidewalks of Charlottetown.
Most of those he came upon gave the young leader positive feedback, telling him they believe he is doing a good job, many also saying they had once met his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
Many asked to pose for photographs with him and some asked for his autograph.
But a few local residents raised their concerns over government policies and social programs.
“I find it terribly unfair that as a disabled person living just above the poverty line, I still owe income tax,” Liz Murnaghan told Trudeau.
“How unfair is that?”
Another man raised his concerns over the closure of the district office of Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown.
“There’s hundreds of veterans on P.E.I. without a district office. It needs to be opened up again.”
Trudeau would offer a few earnest words of encouragement before being swept away by his handlers.
Today, Trudeau and his MPs and senators will gather in Brudenell for national caucus meetings.
A key item on the agenda for discussion will be the template for how Liberal MPs and senators will publicly disclose their expenses online — a policy Trudeau announced in the wake of the Senate spending scandal that has dogged P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy and three other senators for months.