Robson Fletcher/Metro Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in Calgary on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2013.

Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau was in Calgary Wednesday for a private fundraising event and later travelled to Okotoks for a meet-and-greet, ahead of a looming byelection call in the federal riding of Macleod, just south of the city.

While he was in town, Metro caught up with him to ask a few questions.

Below is a transcript of the conversation:

• Since you came out in favour of legalizing marijuana (at a public appearance in Kelowna in July 2013) it’s seemed to have snowballed, not just here but in the United States. What do you make of how quickly attitudes, perceptions, and laws have changed on this front?

“I don’t know that attitudes and perceptions have changed all that much. It just seems people whose opposition to legalization of marijuana was merely based around ideology and electoral pandering, perhaps, and a natural resistance to new ideas that might shake things up a bit, have sort of fallen to the side. We’re seeing a lot of jurisdictions that have shown that there is a real option to consider here.

“For me, the status quo is unacceptable. Right now, young people have easy access to pot – easier access than to alcohol – and in Canada we have higher levels of marijuana usage than any of 29 countries different developed countries around the world. Canada is failing to protect our kids from the negative effects of marijuana, and therefore we need to regulate and control it. And, on top of that, with the current model, not only are we not protecting our kids, we are funding criminal organizations and gangs that then use this revenue stream – millions of dollars a year – to go and commit more serious crimes and push much more harmful substances on Canadians.”

• So is it your view that, in legalizing marijuana, one of the goals would be to reduce usage among children, teens, youth?

“Yes. Restrict access to teens. I don’t think it’s going to suddenly turn things around on a dime, but it will certainly allow us to control it better and allow us to monitor the toxicity of what it is that young people find easily available. It removes it from the black market. It also removes it from the one element that does demonstrate that marijuana is a gateway drug at this particular moment, because the guy selling you marijuana is also trying to sell you crystal meth or heroin or move you up the value chain. Whereas, if you remove marijuana from the black market, there is no gateway associated with it because the pharmacist or liquor control board or whatever the structure that ends up selling it doesn’t have any interest in moving you up to cocaine.”

• You’re in probably not the most friendly territory for a Liberal leader in the country. In the next general election, realistically, in which Calgary riding do you think you have the best shot of maybe making a breakthrough?

“You know what? I’ve been really, really excited about the conversations I’ve had both with potential candidates who are stepping forward and Calgarians in general, who are tired of sending people to Ottawa to be their voices for their community but getting back the prime minister’s voice in their communities. Well, with the exception of Calgary Southwest (the prime minister’s own riding), I guess. But the fact is, people are feeling very much taken for granted, and we saw that in the byelection here in Calgary Centre where we had an extremely, extremely good campaign that came very, very close and I know we can build on that in the next election.

“We’ve certainly demonstrated in rural Manitoba that there is an opportunity for the Liberal Party to go out and get a lot of votes together. And I know that in Calgary, the new configuration of ridings means that there’s a good handful in which we’re going to be highly competitive, and because of that we’ve got some great candidates stepping forward.”

• Can you clarify where you stand on pipelines: Northern Gateway, Keystone, and pipeline policy in general?

“Pipeline policy in general is one of the most important responsibilities of a Canadian prime minister and of a Canadian government – to make sure we can get our resources to market. We are a natural resource economy and we need to be able to do that. However, we need to do that in the right way. A right way that is sustainable, that has community support and buy-in, and that fits into a long-term strategy of not just a sustainable environment but a sustainable economy.

“Because of that I have been a strong promoter of the Keystone XL pipeline and also a harsh critic on the way the prime minister has approached pushing the Keystone XL pipeline. To my mind, the only thing that has prevented Keystone XL from getting approved already in the United States – and what has allowed it become such a polarizing issue, with celebrities weighing in and all sorts of people having very strong opinions even though there is not necessarily all that many facts going around in many of the conversations – is that the prime minister hasn’t done a good enough job of demonstrating a level of commitment to doing it right and upholding environmental protections and regulations. That’s what President Obama has said many times – that he needs to see concrete action from Canada – and what we get is all words. So I’m very much a proponent of Keystone XL.

“For similar reasons, I’m not a proponent of the Northern Gateway Pipeline … which runs through the Great Bear Rainforest, which has spectacularly failed at getting community buy-in from First Nations communities and from local communities that could be potentially affected by it. And it’s not just an environmental argument, it’s also an economic argument. There are 20,000 British Columbians who make their living on the sea around Haida Gwaii and on the Pacific Coast. They would all be in peril – those jobs, those livelihoods – with a catastrophic accident, which, unfortunately, is all too capable.

“So, my intent is to make sure we send Enbridge back to the drawing board for that. I am, however, very interested in the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline that is making its way through. I certainly hope that we’re going to be able to get that pipeline approved. And I hope that Kinder Morgan learns from Enbridge’s experience of short-cutting or going too light on community buy-in. Ultimately governments grant permits, but only communities grant permission.”

What’s your view on how much the federal government should help out when it comes to municipal transit infrastructure?

“I do believe the federal government should be helping out. And one of the things we’ve seen is that we now have a government that doesn’t do a very good job of working with other levels of government. You don’t see a lot of meetings with provincial premiers, you don’t see a lot of engagement on the municipal level. And, for me, it remains: The Liberal Party is the one that created the New Deal for Cities (in the 2005 federal budget) and created the Gas Tax Transfer.

“And when you look at issues like the economic cost across the country of time spent – wasted – in commutes, the lack of productivity, this is an issue that doesn’t just concern cities. It concerns our entire country and our economy and we need federal leadership on that. And that’s what I’m excited about. We have a policy convention coming up in Montreal in a few weeks and we have a number of resolutions come forward from across the country on transit strategy and on investments in infrastructure.”

• But what would a government under Justin Trudeau do differently when it comes to transit infrastructure spending?

“Remove a lot of the politics from it. … There’s a lot of politicking around perception and short-term advantage but not necessarily a larger plan of what’s actually going to serve, not just in the short-term in terms of construction jobs, but in the long-term in terms of what a growing city is going to need. So, very much an approach that looks at facts, data, best practices, and a real vision for the next decades rather than just the next electoral cycle.”

• For a lot of younger Canadians, the idea of buying a house is off the table. Here in Calgary, the rental market is tight. A lot of people feel squeezed. What would you do to improve affordable housing?

“Affordable housing and housing in general is something that, the kinds of costs involved are too much municipalities or provinces to bear alone. And so, you need to have a level of federal leadership and involvement in making sure that this base building block of our economy – that people have secure housing – is met, so that people can then grow and thrive and find better jobs and create that stability that leads to a strong economy.

“Again, we have resolutions coming forward on housing at our convention, but in general I look to the fact that all of the various co-op agreements that have been signed are reaching their end and we have a government that has indicated that once those co-op agreements’ timelines are up, co-ops will be on their own, which is not in the interest in the co-ops or the communities that they serve. A disengagement from affordable housing is frustrating to see from the federal government. Mr Harper early on actually said there are three areas that the federal government shouldn’t’ be involved in: one is homelessness, one is child care, and the third was housing. And for me, he’s wrong on all three of those. We need to have a federal government that is helping the provinces and municipalities meet the very real concerns that people have.”

• But is it just through funding? How else can the federal government help?

“Funding is obviously going to be a big piece of it, but help in planning, help in building, help in creating incentives – tax incentives – for developers to make sure there is enough low-income housing and enough rental spaces. There are a lot mechanisms the federal government does have and it’s not just throwing money at the problem, it’s understanding that leadership is building robust partnerships with different levels of government, because all three levels of government serve the same citizens.”

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