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Trudeau hugs babies and gives kisses in La Malbaie, Que., ahead of G7 Summit

LA MALBAIE, Que. — Hundreds of locals from the small mountainous town that will soon host the annual G7 summit gathered Wednesday night to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who helped choose their region for the global event.

Trudeau held babies, kissed women and took many photos with residents for the better part of an hour on the grassy field of a sports centre in La Malbaie, Que., 140 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

"I kissed him on both cheeks," said Michele Dufour, 66.

"I know him very well," she said of the prime minister. "Well, you know, I know him through the evening news and other stuff. We are all very interested in him."

The G7 summit, a yearly gathering of the seven countries that represent the majority of global wealth, takes place June 8-9 at La Malbaie's Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu hotel.

In addition to Trudeau, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and Germany, as well as other dignitaries, are scheduled to participate.

La Malbaie Mayor Michel Couturier briefly introduced Trudeau, who spoke for less than five minutes before diving into the crowd of admirers who had chowed down on hot dogs and salad beforehand, paid for by the city and the federal government.

"This wasn't really to talk about the G7," said Couturier. "We are two weeks away and everyone is ready. (Trudeau) wanted to come here and thank everyone who is taking part in the process."

The process is extensive. The hotel itself has turned into a fenced-in fortress and people are expecting traffic jams and checkpoints in and around the town of 8,000 people.

"I think everyone is going to be very protected," said Fleurette Tremblay, 81. "We're already seeing security agents everywhere."

Her husband, Camille Tremblay, said he's not worried about protesters or any other disturbances that could accompany the event.

The prime minister is scheduled to meet stakeholders in the region Thursday morning, followed by an interview session with local journalists. He'll meet the G7 sherpas — the people tasked with representing their respective G7 countries for the summit — in the early afternoon before heading to Toronto.

Trudeau spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday ahead of his visit to La Malbaie, in which they both emphasized the importance of G7 collaboration on global security issues, including North Korea.

Trudeau's office says the two leaders also discussed priorities for the summit, including the economy, job creation and growing the middle class, and the protection of oceans and the environment.

Canada holds the G7 presidency this year, making it responsible for hosting the annual summit as well as four sets of ministerial meetings across the country.

Russia used to be a member of the exclusive group — when it was called the G8 — but the country was kicked out in 2014 after President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea.

Not all locals wanted to get Trudeau's attention for photos Wednesday night.

Giannina-Mercier Gouin, 57, said she was bothered by the fact the federal government budgeted $600 million for G7-related events in 2018, while the seasonal workers of the region can't get enough unemployment benefits.

She said she asked Trudeau whether he was embarrassed how much the government was spending while people were left in a "black hole" when their unemployment checks run out before their seasonal job returns.

Gouin's said his answer wasn't satisfactory.

"Well I certainly didn't come here for a selfie," Gouin said. "I have nothing against him, but that wasn't the point of me coming."

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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