Prime minister talks Catholic school decision, carbon tax at event in Gray, Sask.

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Prime minister talks Catholic school decision, carbon tax at event in Gray, Sask.

Speaking during a visit to rural Saskatchewan Thursday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's aware of a recent court decision on Catholic schools in Saskatchewan, but plans to leave any action on the file to the province for now.

A Court of Queen's Bench decision earlier this month ruled that public funding for non-Catholic students who attend separate schools will end in 2018. 

Since the announcement, everyone from Premier Brad Wall to affected parents have spoken out on the decision, which could significantly change schooling for hundreds of students across the country.

"It comes down to fundamental rights," said Trudeau. "Everyone knows that on the 35th anniversary this month of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I'm certainly going to stand up for everyone's rights."

However, Trudeau said he planned to leave the matter with the province for now. Wall had said that government officials are looking for a way to work around the court's ruling.

"It may eventually make its way to the federal level, at which point we will engage and look into it," he said. "For now, the province seems to have it well in hand."

PM defends carbon tax

Meanwhile, Trudeau vigorously defended his carbon tax initiative. In December, Wall refused to sign onto a deal at a first ministers' meeting, saying that setting a carbon price would hurt Western Canada, especially farmers.

However, Trudeau disagreed.

"How we work towards a country and businesses that are less polluting and more efficient is something that every farmer gets," he said.

"How you can improve our capacity to modernize, to innovate and to be more efficient is something we know from generation to generation ... have led to tremendously positive outcomes."

While the provincial government estimates a $40 per tonne carbon tax would strip Saskatchewan of $1.3 billion, Trudeau said farmers who modernize could stand to benefit.

He also argued climate change has already cost Saskatchewan farmers, and needs to be addressed.

"Climate change means more extreme weather events," he said. "It means more periods of moisture that is interfering with our ability to harvest ... That's why [Saskatchewan farmers] were harvesting into mid-November last year."

Canada to stick with NAFTA

Trudeau also spoke about his conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday night and his decision, for now, to stay in the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

"He expressed that he was very much thinking about cancelling," said Trudeau. "I highlighted, quite frankly, there were an awful lot of jobs, an awful lot of industries right now that have been developed under the NAFTA context."

Trudeau said any disruption to NAFTA would have serious consequences for both countries' economies.

"It would cause a lot of short- and medium-term pain for an awful lot of families," he said. "And he, like me, got elected on a platform of helping people, helping the middle class."

The prime minister is also scheduled to talk to students at Miller Comprehensive Catholic High School in Regina in the afternoon.