Handshakes, selfies and tea: Trudeau wraps up Nunavut visit at high school
But Iqalungmiut had questions about housing, employment and new Inuit-Crown body
The celebrity hype around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau descended on Nunavut’s capital Feb. 9, coming to a head in a jam-packed one-hour event at Inuksuk High School.
While some of that hype emerged last time Trudeau visited Iqaluit, during the 2015 federal election campaign, the recent visit was markedly different.
He still wore the custom-made fur-trimmed parka with his name hand-stitched over his heart, crafted by local Iqaluit seamstress Marlene Watson.
And an Iqaluit crowd—made up of residents of all ages and colours who filled the bleachers and stood in rows, waiting—still thronged around the prime minister for endless selfies.
But the atmosphere differed on the recent visit: Trudeau’s star-power appears to have increased here.
Dozens of Iqalungmiut, for example, took pictures of others’ selfies, or even selfies of selfies.
And absent from Trudeau’s entourage Feb. 9 was independent Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo, who quit Trudeau’s Liberal party and cabinet over an “inappropriate” relationship with a young staffer.
Last time in Iqaluit, Trudeau gave speeches flanked by his wife, Sophie, young son, Hadrian, and Tootoo. The whole entourage then joined a community feast.
This time the prime minister, joined by three federal cabinet members, waded through a crowd for a shorter tea and bannock event, with a pool of parliamentary press reporters in tow.
“This isn’t a night for speeches. This is a night for friends coming together, so I’m going to stop talking and come around and see as many people as I can in the next hour,” Trudeau said to the crowd.
Trudeau traveled to Iqaluit Feb. 9 for the official creation of a Crown-Inuit policy structure, comprised of leaders from across Inuit Nunangat and federal ministers.
That new, permanent structure will see leaders meet at least three times a year, including once with the Prime Minister, to discuss and set goals for shared priorities, Trudeau announced earlier in the day at four separate photo opportunities.
But while the launch of this new policy committee was accompanied by much hoopla, no concrete details were offered by the prime minister, who used the word “concrete” numerous times throughout the day.
For example, when asked at a 15-minute media scrum what action was next for the new group, Trudeau did not provide details.
“It’s all about the next steps, the concrete deliverable and measurable improvements we’re going to make in the lives of people in the North,” Trudeau replied.
And when asked when the committee will meet again, Trudeau did not provide a date.
“The commitment to meet again is to meet three times a year, at least once with the Prime Minister, but [to] have a broad range of [federal] ministers engaged,” said Trudeau.
On this trip, Trudeau had to answer for his actions as a prime minister, including his unilateral decision to ban offshore drilling—to the disappointment of territorial premiers.
“I think Canadians in the North and elsewhere know how important it is to make sure our Arctic is protected, but we also need to make sure we’re moving forward in a way that respects science and evidence. That’s why we’re working with territorial partners and leaders to establish scientific guidelines and frameworks which we will review… on an ongoing basis every five years,” Trudeau said when asked by Nunatsiaq News if, in hindsight, he should have consulted with the territorial premiers.
Back at Inuksuk High School, mixed reactions emerged on Trudeau’s visit.
Darcy Kuppaq, originally from Hall Beach, said the Prime Minister has not served enough of his term for her to judge his performance.
“I’m hoping he’s going to keep his promises and start up a whole new housing for a lot of us,” she said.
A group of young Inuit told Nunatsiaq News they attended the Trudeau’s event as part of the Inuit Learning Development Project.
The project, a partnership between the federal government, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, helps Nunavut Inuit learn the ropes and get a foot in the door on governance-type jobs.
“I’m hoping to see the Prime Minister and meet the presidents of all the regional Inuit organizations,” Kurt Deschamps said.
Joanne Idlout said she doesn’t follow politics but, if given the chance, would raise an issue with Trudeau: “I’d want to raise the issue of more Inuit employment within the government.”
Others, like Keisha Allurut, were simply happy to get a glimpse of Trudeau.
“I think he’s been doing pretty good so far. I like how he’s getting to see everyone, and how he dresses, and how happy he is to be here,” Allurut said.
Some Iqaluit residents protested quietly, holding up signs about broken election promises and Nunavut’s needs in hopes Trudeau would notice.
For Elisapee Sheutiapik, president of the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women, the event was a missed opportunity for Trudeau to expand on the Inuit-Crown body announced earlier in the day.
“I thought there’d be a bit of a discussion what the meat of it is… what’s the timeline, what are they going to achieve?” Sheutiapik said on her way to the tea and bannock station.
“All these organizations already existed, so why not just agree to have quarterly meetings, set goals and priorities? I have to try to be positive. This is a first step, I guess, and time will tell. But I’m anxious to see outcomes.”