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EVs, housing, opioid crisis on table as Trudeau meets with Victoria mayor

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked housing affordability, climate change and the opioid crisis with Mayor Lisa Helps at Victoria City Hall on Monday, as about 30 protesters outside hollered about vaccine mandates and freedom.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked housing affordability, climate change and the opioid crisis with Mayor Lisa Helps at Victoria City Hall on Monday, as about 30 protesters outside — buffered by as many uniformed police officers — hollered about vaccine mandates and freedom.

Trudeau spoke about making zero-emission vehicles easier to access during a post-budget stop at Royal Roads University in Colwood in the morning, and met with Helps and the city’s youth advisory council in the afternoon.

“He spent 40 minutes with the youth and just 15 minutes one-on-one with me and I said that shows where his priorities are — I mean that in a good way,” said Helps. “He really took the time to listen and learn from members of Victoria’s Youth Council to hear their questions, their concerns, their ideas for the future of the city and the country.”

It’s the second time Trudeau has visited Victoria’s mayor — a previous visit was in 2017. Helps said the two agreed it was better left to experts to decide whether 2.5 grams or 4.5 grams is the ideal limit in B.C.’s application to the federal government for decriminalization of personal possession of drugs for consumption, but Helps said she was reassured the two governments are aligned on the issue.

“He thanks B.C. for leading on this issue and I think we’ll see some action in terms of tackling the opioid crisis, particularly that aspect of decriminalization,” said Helps.

Trudeau’s visit was focused on the federal budget tabled last week, which promised several measures intended to improve access to affordable housing, including a tax-free savings account of up to $40,000 for first-time home buyers, a $4-billion housing accelerator fund to create 100,000 new housing units in the next five years, extension of the rapid housing initiative to build 6,000 housing units to address homelessness, and $62 million more for a veterans homelessness program.

Helps said it’s important that the federal government open its housing accelerator fund for applications as soon as possible. She said Trudeau was enthusiastic to hear about the city’s own affordable-housing initiatives, such as a proposal coming up this week to rezone the entire city to allow affordable housing owned by non-profits or government, as long as it follows Official Community Plan and neighbourhood guidelines.

As Trudeau left city hall and was whisked away in a black SUV, a small crowd chanted “arrest Trudeau.” One woman held a sign reading “Stop treating unvaccinated friends as second class citizens.” Others yelled about democracy and “freedom” related to provincial health orders, vehicles drove by honking and waving Canadian flags, and some called police all sorts of names for setting up a security zone around the city hall entrance.

Victoria police deployed temporary surveillance cameras in the area.

Helps said she wasn’t surprised to see protesters, but the crowd was smaller than during Trudeau’s previous visit to Victoria, in 2017

Asked earlier in the day about the prospect of protesters, the prime minister told the Times Colonist he can’t remember a trip to Victoria City Hall where there weren’t people legally expressing their concerns about about one issue or another.

Trudeau said people have been through a couple of really difficult years, which “has led to anxiety, it’s led to a sense of helplessness, a sense of frustration around government-imposed mandates to keep us all safe.

“These are things that people are obviously going to be expressing.”

During his stop at Royal Roads, Trudeau talked about improving access to electric vehicles. “We know we need to cut emissions, we know we need to reduce pollution, but one of the best ways of doing that is to get more clean cars on the road,” he said.

The federal budget focused on transitioning to a green economy, with up to $5,000 in assistance for individuals buying electric vehicles, a new national emissions-reduction goal that one in five new cars sold be zero-emission by 2026 — and 60 per cent by 2030 — as well as a plan to build a national network of EV charging stations.

The prime minister spoke to Oak Bay couple David Hadley and Lori Petryk and their eight-year-old daughter, Alexandria. About five years ago, the family bought a used 2013 Nissan Leaf electric car, which, as an older model, gets less range from a charge than some newer models.

Petryk talked to the prime minister about the need for more electric charging stations in convenient places such as coffee shops, grocery stores, shopping malls and on B.C. Ferries. “You need to be able to charge these older cars,” she said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com