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Grandmother living in 'energy poverty' makes tearful plea to PM Trudeau
Published Friday, January 13, 2017 10:11AM EST Last Updated Friday, January 13, 2017 10:21PM EST
If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hoped his whirlwind cross-country outreach tour would yield authentic exchanges with everyday Canadians, he got a heavy dose of the grassroots reality he was looking for in Peterborough, Ont., on Friday.
A grandmother tearfully confronted Trudeau about Ottawa’s planned carbon tax, saying her already steep energy bills have left her struggling to put food on the table for her family, even though she works 15 hours per day.
“How is it justified for you to ask me to pay a carbon tax when I only have $65 left in my paycheque every two weeks to feed my family?” Kathy Katula said to hearty applause at the public question-and-answer session.
“I make almost $50,000 a year, Mr. Trudeau, and I’m living in energy poverty. Please tell me how are you going to fix that for me and all of us in rural Ontario?”
Last year, Trudeau announced a new nation-wide $10 per tonne carbon tax that will start in 2018 -- a price that will rise by $10 per year, topping out at $50 by 2022.
The planned policy has received harsh criticism from provincial leaders in Canada’s energy patch who warn taxing carbon will reduce household incomes. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has estimated the tax will siphon more than $2.5 billion from his province's economy once fully implemented, and cost the average family $1,250 a year.
The prime minister responded that he sympathized with Katula’s plight and that she should be “focused on how you are going to spoil your grandchildren with all of your energy, as opposed to how you are going to get through the week or the day.”
Trudeau also noted the importance of ensuring financially vulnerable individuals are not “stretched beyond the limit.”
He stressed that while hydro rates are a provincial concern, it’s essential that Canada “demonstrate leadership” on renewable energy and fighting climate change.
Trudeau and Katula hugged after the meeting. The mother of four and grandmother of three who lives alone with disabilities said she hopes her story sticks with Trudeau “when he is lying in bed at night.”
The exchange wasn’t the only unflattering moment two days into the tour. The prime minister is also under fire for travelling on the private helicopter belonging to the Aga Khan, the billionaire spiritual leader whose foundation does business with the Canadian government. The Aga Khan Foundation of Canada receives tens of millions of dollars a year from Canada for humanitarian work.
The ride to a remote island owned by Khan took place while Trudeau and his family were on a recent vacation in the Bahamas. Opposition parties say he broke conflict of interest regulations. Canada’s ethics commissioner has launched a “preliminary review.”
Trudeau said he’s “happy to engage with any questions the ethics commissioner or Canadians may have” about his vacation. He said Canadians expect to have confidence in their government, which is part of the conversation he’ll be having with the ethics commissioner Mary Dawson about what he calls a "personal family vacation."
Both the Conflict of Interest Act and Trudeau’s own ethics guidelines bar the use of sponsored travel in private aircraft, allowing only for exceptional circumstances related to the job of prime minister and only with the prior approval of the ethics commissioner.
With files from the Canadian Press