Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's town hall in Calgary turned rowdy when he took a question from a man wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat regarding the government's commitment to Alberta oil sands.
A smattering of hecklers shouted throughout the hour-long town hall Tuesday evening, with Mr. Trudeau alternating between ignoring and scolding his challengers. At the end, one yelled above the crowd, asking the Prime Minister when he was going to take a question about the oil sands.
Then, Mr. Trudeau called upon a well-known local protester – the man with the red hat sported by U.S. President Donald Trump during his election campaign. The fellow, accusing Mr. Trudeau of being either a "liar" or "confused" about the oil sands, demanded to know whether he supported the Keystone XL pipeline as well as the oil sands industry.
The crowd, composed mostly of university students, cheered the question. The crowd had been largely friendly toward Mr. Trudeau prior to the final question. One man yelled out a profanity during part of the Prime Minister's answer.
"I have repeatedly said that yes, the responsibility of any Canadian prime minister is to get our resources to market and yes, that includes our oil-sands fossil fuels," Mr. Trudeau told the crowd of about 2,000 at the University of Calgary. "We need to get those to market. I've also said we need to do that in a responsible, sustainable way. You cannot separate what's good for the environment and what's good for the economy."
The boos gave way to supportive cheers, with the crowd drowning out parts of Mr. Trudeau's escalating answer. The tone of the gathering then shifted from town hall to campaign rally.
"You know who tried to force a choice between the environment and the economy? The last government," Mr. Trudeau, wearing jeans and a button-up shirt, said.
The Liberal government late last year approved Kinder Morgan Inc.'s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline network. The existing system already reaches tidewater in British Columbia and the proposed project would ferry even more Alberta oil to the West Coast. The expansion faces a slew of opponents, ranging from Burnaby, B.C., Mayor Derek Corrigan, to indigenous groups.
"I have talked repeatedly about the fact we need to get off of fossil fuels," Mr. Trudeau continued at the town hall. "Even Stephen Harper recognized we have to get off fossil fuels eventually. We have to do that. You can't do that right now. You have to manage a transition. And that's why I have approved pipelines."
"Not only am I approving them, but I'm standing up, here in Alberta, and in downtown Vancouver, and saying: 'I'm approving these pipelines because it matters.' And I'm making the case for the oil sands."
Mr. Trudeau directly addressed Merle Terlesky, the man who asked the question. "If you know the oil sands, sir, you know the kinds of innovation, the kinds of advances, the kind of high technology, and research that's being done, right here at the University of Calgary … to lower emissions, to be more efficient … to demonstrate what Albertans know, what Canadians know – that we can build a strong economy with good jobs and protect the environment."
Mr. Trudeau, at a similar town hall in Ontario this month, said the oil sands should be phased out. On Tuesday, prior to the town hall, he told reporters he "misspoke."
Mr. Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum inviting TransCanada Corp. to reapply to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The Obama administration canned the project in 2015 in part because of environmental concerns. Mr. Trudeau's answer at the town hall did not address whether he supports Keystone, although earlier in the day he endorsed the project.
Mr. Trudeau and senior Liberals were in Calgary Monday and Tuesday for a cabinet retreat. The Prime Minister is in the midst of a cross-country town hall tour, stopping in Saskatoon Wednesday. He wrapped up his Calgary event after the oil sands confrontation, with the backing of the vocal crowd.
Ryan Pearce is a 21-year-old kinesiology student at the University of Calgary. He waffles between supporting the Liberals and the Conservatives, although he voted for Mr. Trudeau's party in the last election. The town hall, the student said, further warmed him to Mr. Trudeau.
"I think it is good he addressed [the oil sands] because it is a big issue out here," Mr. Pearce said. "It went as well as it could have gone here."
Kurtis Shugg, another 21-year-old student, said he leans to the right and is surprised by Mr. Trudeau's approach to Alberta's struggling energy industry.
"He has done a lot better in terms of his approval on pipelines [than I expected]," Mr. Shugg said. "He's dealt with the oil situation more appropriately than I thought."