(Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes questions at a town hall in Kingston, Ont. Trudeau’s office hasn’t indicated whether he will hold a town hall in an Indigenous community. Photo: PMO)
APTN National News
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his cross country tour of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, his office is silent on whether he will travel to any First Nation, Metis or Inuit communities during what some are calling his “handshake-selfie tour.
Emails to the prime minister’s office asking about potential stops in Indigenous communities were not returned.
Trudeau got back to doing what he does best Thursday, polishing his people skills during a number of campaign-style road shows aimed at countering Conservative and NDP efforts to portray the prime minister as a silver-spoon elitist.
The prime minister has looked at ease in rolled up shirtsleeves as he fielded an endless array of questions, some tough and pointed, others less so, during town hall meetings with locals and faced a couple of questions about safe drinking water in First Nation communities, pipelines, and clean air.
Isadore Day, the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Ontario said if Trudeau has plans to visit First Nation communities, he hasn’t been told.
“There hasn’t been any outreach yet, we haven’t heard anything, ” Day told APTN. “I think it’s important that he does (visit a community), we’re part of the national dialogue, we’ve had enough tragedy. This is a good time … and why wouldn’t it be a priority?”
During the news conference following the Kingston town hall, the prime minister insisted the government is working to make life better for Aboriginal people, including issues of mental health, which were punctuated this week by the suicides of two 12-year-old girls in the Wapekeka First Nation in Northwestern Ontario.
In the London town hall, Chief Randall Phillips of the Oneida on the Thames reiterated a message that he delivered to Trudeau’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett at the AFN’s winter assembly. There he told Bennett that the new message of a nation to nation relationship being delivered by the Liberal government is not filtering down to the bureaucrats who are supposed to deliver the programs.
Phillips told Trudeau that the money promised in the budget is not making it to First Nation communities.
That is a complaint being heard across the country – and Bobby Cameron, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Saskatchewan is anxiously waiting for an answer as to why.
“We’ve had some communications with the PMO staff about the prime minister coming out here,” said Cameron. “But nothing is confirmed.”
Like Day, Cameron said if Trudeau planned a town hall in a First Nation community, there would be many questions.
Cameron holds the jobs portfolio for the AFN. He said along with jobs, the list of things needed in communities across Saskatchewan is long.
“Education funding, health services – there are massive shortages that have to be addressed,” said Cameron. “Our youth tragedies, how can these issues be addressed?”
In B.C. the mood is raw over the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline extension.
So much so, the Grand Chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said he was “surprised” to learn that Trudeau was going anywhere near the province to hold a town hall.
“The last time Trudeau was here was with (Alberta Premier Rachel) Notley and they came in the back door,” said Stewart Phillip. “They didn’t tell us where they were going to be.”
So far, Trudeau has been asked a number of times about how his government’s approval of pipeline projects could affect the environment.
“I know that you have your job to do, I understand that, but have you gone to our territories and seen how our people live?” an Indigenous woman asked him. “A lot of our territories, we have to buy water because it’s not clean. Please, from the bottom of my heart and my grandchildren, please keep our water clean.”
“We are incredibly lucky to have the fresh water resources that we have and we need to protect them,” Trudeau replied.
But Phillip said despite Trudeau’s promise to protect the water, the “vast majority” remain opposed to the pipeline project in B.C and would show up to any town hall to say so.
“People would make it their business to be there – to have their say about the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” said Phillip.
Media at each of the news conferences following the town halls have focused on where Trudeau and his family spent Christmas.
The prime minister confirmed that he and his family availed themselves of the Aga Khan’s private helicopter during a vacation on a private Bahamian island belonging to the famous -and fabulously rich – spiritual leader and philanthropist.
But the glamorous holiday that has critics crying conflict of interest seemed far from the minds of the town hall attendees and their myriad priorities, including public service payroll problems, electoral reform, military veterans and pharmacare.
And that issue isn’t likely to come up in any potential visit for a First Nation, Métis or Inuit communities.
“We want more implementation from his MPs,” said Cameron. “He needs to tell his bureaucrats to stop stalling things. There is a lot of red tape.”
“Where is the government at on infrastructure spending? Water? Where is the inquiry at? What about the two percent cap?” said Isadore Day. “This government said it was serious about removing the two percent cap but why nothing about post-secondary education spending? There are questions and concerns.”
— with files from The Canadian Press