PM visits Vancouver for Lunar New Year amid public debate over pipeline

(Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes questions in Saskatoon following a town hall meeting. The prime minister spent much of January holding town halls and fielding questions from Canadians – but did not take questions on a recent trip to Vancouver. Photo: APTN)

The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau smiled and waved during his latest visit to Vancouver, but didn’t stop to answer questions on a number of issues facing Canadians.

Aaron Sam, Chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band near Merritt, says Trudeau should hold public discussions in B.C.

The Trans Mountain pipeline crosses through the band’s territory and members will be voting next month whether they should approve an agreement with Kinder Morgan.

Like much of the country, Sam says attitudes toward the pipeline are varied in his community.

He says he raised concerns about how the pipeline and its related tanker traffic will affect the salmon population the community relies on but doesn’t feel that the federal government has taken those concerns seriously.

“(The Prime Minister) never sat down with us once,” he said in an interview Saturday.

The Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations, as well as the Coldwater Indian Band, launched legal challenges against the federal government earlier this month contending they were not properly consulted for the pipeline’s approval.

Although the Lower Nicola Indian Band has not taken similar action, Sam says the community is disappointed in the Trudeau government for the lack of consultation about the pipeline and failure to meet other promises to boost Indigenous rights in Canada.

Trudeau joined the city’s Lunar New Year celebrations Sunday, participating in a blessing ceremony before a traditional lion dance, then leading a parade through Vancouver’s historic Chinatown.

Steady rain pelted the marchers and kept crowds along the route thin, but Trudeau continued smiling, waving and wishing the hundreds of onlookers a happy new year. He did not answer questions that reporters shouted to him along the parade route.

He left questions about a controversial American travel ban on citizens from seven countries to his immigration minister who held a news conference in Ottawa Sunday.

The prime minister’s visit follows a string of town hall meetings in communities across the country. British Columbia was noticeably absent from the tour.

Trudeau last visited the province in December following the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that will triple the capacity of an existing pipeline that runs from near Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. It will increase tanker traffic seven-fold within the densely populated Burrard Inlet.

Trudeau downplayed questions about lengthy protests related the project when meeting with local media last month.

He said some people will disagree with the decision to approve the project and expressing that disagreement is part of the democratic process.

But he also defended the approval, saying, “We need to both protect the environment and build a stronger economy at the same time.”

Shachi Kurl, executive director for the Angus Reid Institute, says previous polls have suggested that about half of British Columbians are pleased with the pipeline approval while only a third are opposed.

Most of the opposition within B.C. appears centred to those who live in city of Vancouver and Burnaby, she says.

While environmental issues are a major concern for Canadians, Kurl said the economy is also a priority that can sway political perception.

Although Trudeau’s approval ratings have dipped since he was elected in 2015, an Angus Reid poll in early December shows that he still maintains more than 50 per cent approval nationally.

“The prime minister starts year two in a fairly enviable position politically,” Kurl says, adding that the town hall tour signals it’s not a position Trudeau is taking for granted.

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The Canadian Press

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