Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, is currently on a northern tour that started in Inuvik and is finishing today in Iqaluit. He and his team arrived last night on a regular old First Air flight from Yellowknife via Rankin Inlet - no charter, no special security detail - and, as noted by Jack Anawak, former Liberal MP for Nunavut, had to collect his own bags in our little yellow airport. From the get-go, it seemed like Trudeau in Iqaluit was going to be a little bit different than what we are used to with political visits.
Trudeau's first public appearance was at a community feast at Nakasuk School, attended by about 150 Iqalummiut who, upon his entrance, shifted their attention from the frozen food to warmly welcome the Liberal Party Leader. With son Xavier in tow, Trudeau graciously made his way around the room as people began to help themselves to the char, maktaaq, and tuktu (a special delivery; it came on the same flight as Trudeau and his team). Trudeau specifically stated that he wasn't going to campaign on this northern sojourn, and thus didn't mention policies or programs he would support or implement in any of his addresses. Instead, he delivered crowd-pleasing statements like, "Nunavut needs an MP that offers a Nunavut voice in Ottawa, not an Ottawa voice in Nunavut."
So if Trudeau isn't in the North to campaign, then why is he here? "This trip is for highlighting the importance of meeting people," he said at the Francophone later in the evening. A refreshing objective, especially when taking into account the Prime Minister's annual Northern Tour has been denounced as a costly photo op, with the Prime Minister "just passing by" Northern communities. Even on the subject of photo opportunities, Trudeau maintains his people-centred purpose, as Nunavut social media is currently flooded with selfies, snaps, and statuses featuring the PM-hopeful.
And hey, if we're really talking about reaching the voter level, it doesn't get more grassroots than scheduling your first interview with a couple of Nunavummiut with a blog - but that's just what Trudeau did. Yes, that's right: penciled in his schedule, between the community feast and his public meeting, was Finding True North. Knowing he didn't want to make party promises or debate platform issues, we wanted to find out not what Trudeau wants to do for Nunavut, but what Trudeau understands, thinks, and feels about Nunavut. Here's what he said.
What do you consider to be the most pressing issues facing northern residents, and Nunavummiut in particular?
Right now, it’s food security. The failure of Nutrition North as a program has left a lot of people really, really worried about how they are going to be able to make it through the winter and support their families. And if, as the Government of Canada keeps saying, the north is important – which I absolutely agree – that means the people in the north should be important. The fact that a significant government program like that is failing so abjectly is a real problem.
Do you see a disconnect between northern and southern Canada? And if so, how would you like to change that perception?
I think southerners both idealize the north, but at the same time they stereotype it as a tremendous community problem. I think they see the land as strong but communities as problematic, and therefore try not to think too much about the north. And one of the things I’m trying to highlight is just how extraordinarily important and vibrant the communities are up here that, yes, have challenges, but also have extraordinary strength and resilience. That’s what we have to continue to build, and empower people in the north to be able to continue to create.
What have your visits to the territory taught you about Nunavut and the people who live here?
The first time you come up to this place you’re impressed with the weather and the land and the scale of things. But once you get used to that a little bit, you continue to be impressed by the people who live here. The warmth. The strength. Just the extraordinary people who live here is why I keep coming back.
This might be your first visit to Nunavut as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, but it’s not your first visit to the territory ever. Looking back at all the times you’ve been here, can you describe a particularly awesome memory or moment?
A few years ago, while I was still a teacher, I went on a Students on Ice trip. We went up to Pang, and then I actually hiked up to the Arctic Circle with a group of students. It was a chance to get out on the land, it was of course was a beautiful summer day. But covering the territory that way, and sharing my passion for the north with a bunch of teenagers who were seeing it for the first time, was incredibly exciting. So that’s why I’m so excited to be bringing my son here for his first trip to Nunavut and get him to begin to appreciate the north the way I do.
Anything you want to add?
One of the things, and we were joking about this earlier, coming up here in January is very much, for me, pointing out to all the southerners that you don’t just come up in the summer and fight off the bugs. Coming here in the winter is an extraordinary experience. It’s an amazing part of the world. [The current federal government] is leaving out the entire human side. You can’t come to Iqaluit and, you know, not meet anyone, right? And that’s all this trip is for me. Just trying to meet as many people as possible to talk about how important the north is.
What are your thoughts on Trudeau visiting Iqaluit? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter. In the mean time, here are some more photos from last night's community feast.