Justin Trudeau-a conversation

  • Aug. 27, 2013 8:00 p.m.

Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau visited Haida Gwaii last week, his first time here since he came with his parents in 1976, when he was five years old. He had the full islands experience, fishing, hiking and exploring. And of course, he was at the pole raising in Gwaii Haanas last Thursday. The Observer caught up with him in our office Thursday evening (Aug. 15), just hours after his return from Windy Bay.Mr. Trudeau: This was my very first pole raising and it was something I’ve always wanted to see, to be part of. I grew up with a tremendous amount of awareness of Haida Gwaii because of the impact it had on my parents when they visited. Because…we knew from the time when we were young that we were children of the Raven, that my father had been adopted and named and my mom as well. It was just something that was for us, it came to symbolize the entirety of the relationship between our family and First Nations in Canada.Sense of a deep grounding (Haida Gwaii) was the one place that we had a sense of deep grounding. I think the cultural imagery, the mystic, the strength of the wilderness and the mystique of this extraordinary island always carried a huge weight in my imagination when I thought about what Canada was before colonization, before the white man came. For me to be able to come back here and bring my kids and share as important a moment as the first pole raising in Gwaii Haanas in over 130 years was absolutely the right thing to do.This is something we are going to doWe’ve been talking, (my wife) Sophie and I for years, about coming up here on vacation…When we’d heard about the pole raising, I said ‘OK, this is something that we are going to do this summer’. We planned the summer around it basically and got here on Sunday. We caught the tail end of the music festival (on Sunday) and then Monday was exploring. Tuesday we went out with Peter and Victor of the Haida Nation doing a little fishing. I caught a couple of Spring and a couple of Coho.”I was really pleased…”Then on Wednesday I tried my hand for the first time ever at fly-fishing, on the Tlell. And I have to say, it’s something I always knew I was going to do, something I was going to learn at one point, I just never had the opportunity. We did a little catch and release, no barbed fly, and I managed on my third cast, I caught a cutthroat and with a little help from Noel (who) cast out into the centre and then I reeled in, because I am not very good yet, I couldn’t quite get the distance and reeled in a pink. I was really pleased with that. Then today the pole raising. The idea of having your hands on a rope as we hauled it up and throwing rocks down at the base. Being able to share that with my kids (was) just extraordinary.Memories are vagueI think I have vague memories (of being here in 1976), of beaches and trees. But I don’t remember enough of the details and I wouldn’t want to pretend that I do. I was just incredibly glad to be back.On restoring faith between Canada and First NationsFor me there is a need to reboot, rebuild, (and) restore faith and confidence and trust in the relationship between Canada and the First Nations people on this land I had a long conversation with Peter and Victor of the Haida Nation about the model here and the challenge and opportunity here. One of the things I have seen right across the country, whether you talk about treaty, whether you talk about moving beyond the Indian Act, whether you talk about a completely different approach like we have here on Haida Gwaii. The needs are the same and the ultimate outcome is the same. What is needed is a willing, open partner to engage and to work with and to set common goals and themes.We want…What do we want? We want sustainable forestry, sustainable fishing, sustainable economic development that is going to create both prosperity and jobs for all people here and not just ship the money south or wherever. A sense of ownership by a community, by the people who have lived on this land for millennia who get to continue to benefit from it. There is room for that. There just hasn’t been in an awfully long time a clear will to move towards that. A lot of what I am doing as the leader of the third party in the House of Commons is about getting out and meeting with and starting to build a relationship that hopefully, when the government changes in 2015, will allow me to move forward in a way that. Indian Act a “colonial relic”It’s not just time it’s past time. There is no question we need to move beyond the colonial relic that is the Indian Act. In some places we are already beyond it, in other places there is still a need to carefully move it along. I think through responsible partnership and the kind of negotiations that actually characterized the Kelowna Accord (2005, since dropped). Eighteen months of detailed deep, extensive discussions that wasn’t just about negotiating back and forth but also about building trust and looking at capacity building…and outcomes and results-based focus that we can get to. That’s the approach we have to get once again and that unfortunately we simply have not seen from this government.”The right thing to do”I suspect (this approach) might not be a vote getter. But I don’t care because it is the right thing to do. At one point, leadership has to be about doing the right thing and not just about trying to get elected.I think that is one of the big criticisms people have of this current government, is its focus, single-mindedly on short-term electoral returns. It can work, yeah they got themselves a majority out of it. But it is no way to build a country for the long term.Better relationship neededOne of the great things I have seen (from) this past Liberal leadership (race) where I was out across the country, was it happened at the same time as the Idle No More movement. Anywhere I went, whether it was rural or remote communities or urban centres, I talked about the opportunity represented by (that) movement, which is individuals standing up and saying, ‘look, we need a better working relationship with those who are deciding for us and we demand better from our leadership’.Leadership’s challengeThe challenge of leadership is taking the energy that’s out there in the grassroots and channeling it into something positive. Not seeing it as a problem to be fixed or an issue to be solved. There is a demand by citizens (for) a new social contract with their governors whatever the structures are.Canadians get itI think the successful political movements in the 21st century in democracies will be ones that engage and empower themselves through citizen mobilization, as opposed to fighting against it. That is certainly the side I want to be on. I know that Canadians, urban, rural, across the country, get it. Get it that we cannot simply continue business as usual ignoring marginalizing and refusing to respect basically, First Nations people. First Nations, Inuit and Metis.Liberals are onsideI got elected with an 80 percent mandate from Liberals across the country. People are confident we are on the right track. They know I was successful the way I was, not because of me, but because of the fact that people…are suddenly hopeful that politics can be not just interesting and exciting and real, but that there can be a place for them in politics again.Straight line to oblivionThe small caucus we have right now, 35 members, are people who have survived through the decline of the Liberal party. The year 2000, we had over 170 seats in a majority government. We went in every subsequent election from 170 seats to 135 to 100 to 77 to 35. I mean that’s straight line. People know that if we just continue the way the Liberal party has always been, or the way it became more recently, we are headed towards oblivion, and that’s not good for Canada because there is a polarization setting in. Both of the other parties, either on the left or the right, would love to do nothing more than to exchange power every couple of cycles back and forth.Not a polarized peopleBut we are not a polarized people. We are not a people of left versus and right, I mean you get little pockets. But no, we are Canadians, we have figured out how to get along, how to compromise, how to get along not in spite of our differences but because of our differences. This is what defines us. …We need political parties that are not emphasizing differences but emphasizing commonalities. I think that’s where the Liberal party needs to fit.Haida leadership impressiveThe young and ambitious leadership in the figure of Peter (Lantin). I am really excited about it. I think there’s an opportunity to showcase solutions here, not just First Nations versus non-aboriginal, but economic development versus sustainability. I understand it’s not a versus, it’s a together. It is not one or the other, whether you talk about First Nation or non First Nation or whether you talk about economic development or environmental sustainability. There is no either/or anymore.The path forwardWhat we have in our younger generation now, in the ones stepping forward into positions of responsibility, is an understanding that the path forward is one that combines both sustainable economic growth with responsible management of our extraordinary ecosystemsThe Senate scandalThe so-called senate scandal is not so much a senate scandal as an issue around the Prime Minister’s judgment and how he has allowed the people he has appointed to conduct themselves…This is an ethical lapse of the Prime Minister’s own making. I believe in the Canadian senate, I believe in the principal of having a second house in our parliament that is…removed somewhat from the partisanship of the day. But that would require a better quality of senator than the Prime Minister has chosen to appoint. This entire scandal is very much about his lack of judgment.Will report all expensesI believe we absolutely need to restore faith in our public institutions. Which is why, as of Parliament’s return, I will be reporting all of my senators and my MPs’ expense accounts on a regular basis to the same level as cabinet ministers have to disclose. And I will continue to encourage both other political parties to do the same. I think transparency and accountability is the only way to begin to restore people’s trust in their government and in their public figures, because it demonstrates, to a real level, that public figures are once again willing to trust Canadians.