Trudeau faces friendly crowd at Saskatoon town hall after a day of damage control over blackface photos

Trudeau faces friendly crowd at Saskatoon town hall after a day of damage control over blackface photos

A day after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's campaign was knocked off balance by several photos and a video that showed him in blackface, he faced questions from a relatively friendly Liberal crowd at a town hall event in Saskatoon, Sask. on Thursday evening.

The event, originally billed by the Liberal campaign as a rally, attracted around 500 people, and saw Trudeau questioned about his plans for combating climate change, advancing reconciliation and helping small businesses.

He also faced, for the first time directly from Canadians, questions on the blackface photos that have upended his campaign.

Minutes after Trudeau delivered his opening remarks, Trudeau was asked whether, if he couldn't recollect the precise number of times he's worn blackface makeup, he could "round to the nearest five."

"It's not something we should make light of," said Trudeau, who declined to offer a number.

"What I did was inexcusable and wrong and hurt a lot of people who considered me to be an ally and that was wrong. And I am deeply, deeply sorry."

In the next comment from the crowd, a man in a yellow vest — who was wearing it not as a statement but because it is part of his safety gear for his job as a fuel distributor — told Trudeau he didn't think he should apologize.

"Please do not apologize. When you were young, you were in school," he said.

"I appreciate that and I appreciate the sentiment — but there was no excusing what I did and I'm sorry that I did it," Trudeau said.

"And the same time yes, we do need to focus on how we move forward as a country on many big issues … one of those issues is making sure we have leaders that don't hurt people who face discrimination in their daily lives."

Trudeau was also asked about his plans to de-escalate the tensions between India and Pakistan, fight fires in the Amazon rainforest and invest in science and technology.

One woman, who said she was a single mother and award-winning photographer "drowning" in debt, asked whether Trudeau would hire her as his personal photographer or accept "a free photo session as payment for my accumulated government debt."

Trudeau answered by touting his government's Canada Child Benefit and promising that a newly elected Liberal government would increase that benefit by 10 per cent per child in the first year after they're born, and suggesting a Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer would mean cuts to services and to the middle class.

Asked about climate, Trudeau spoke about his party's carbon tax, an issue of contention in Saskatchewan, saying "Scheer's 'make pollution free again' is a real problem."

"During the (Stephen) Harper years, their desire to focus only on the economy and not on the environment actually didn't help the economy at all," he said.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

While the Liberal campaign was temporarily on hold Thursday morning as Trudeau spoke to MPs and others by phone and his team worked to control the damage caused by the blackface photos, the itinerary for Friday shows an announcement and media availability planned for 10:30 a.m. ET in Toronto.