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Trudeau's view of the North
Liberal party leader talks politics and his visit to Inuvik in 1983

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 15, 2015

One of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's clearest memories of his visit to Inuvik in 1983 was riding a barge up the Mackenzie River.

NNSL photo/graphic

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau joined in with community members and the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers for a traditional dance on Jan. 10 during his stay in Inuvik. - Elaine Anselmi/NNSL photo

Much has changed in the more than 30 years since that stopover with his father, then Liberal leader and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. One notable difference, Trudeau said with a smile - the river froze.

"For me, (Inuvik) has a special place in my heart because I remember well my father bringing me up when I was a little older than Xavier is now, in '83," Trudeau told the Inuvik Drum, while his seven-year-old son waited close by. "Being able to bring my son back and come up here like this was great. I also came in the summer (last time), as so many people do choose to come to the North in the summer. So, coming here in the winter is a way of highlighting that this is also a wonderful time to come visit the North."

Arriving on Jan. 9, Trudeau, along with his son and campaign team, attended A Taste of Inuvik, where he posed for numerous photos with community members and made his way through the room, stopping to chat with just about every person in attendance. After sampling some local fare, both Trudeau and Xavier were invited up to dance along with community members and the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers.

Although well-timed to take part in Inuvik Sunrise Festival activities, the visit was also a chance for the potential prime minister to speak to local people and organizations about some of the issues that are most relevant to the North. Trudeau hosted meetings with both the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Gwich'in Tribal Council.

"Mostly it was hearing how devolution is affecting them, and what the decreasing price of oil is going to have as an impact on some of their resource visions for the North," said Trudeau.

"We talked about some of the challenges, about Nutrition North, and we talked about the land and water boards and their concerns about moving to a superboard and making sure they're still adequately consulted in resource development."

In terms of a superboard, Trudeau said the key piece would be ensuring that local voices are not lost in forming one board that governs the whole territory, although the goal of creating a more streamlined board structure is understandable. The superboard overseeing territorial land and water regulation will be in place effective April 1.

"We will monitor it closely and of course the most important thing for me is that the essential element of consultation and partnership with indigenous people be at the centre of any plan on resources going forward," he said.

"I've heard across the country in sitting down with First Nations and Inuit peoples - they're pro-development, it just has to be done right, and that's exactly where

most Canadians are."

Economic development in the region has been a concern of the local government as well as various organizations. In terms of bolstering the local economy, Trudeau said in speaking with both the IRC and GTC, one of his big questions was their own visions for the next decade and even century.

"We talked a little bit about the importance of education, the importance of empowering our young people and also people of all ages to be able to find good jobs, to be able to support their family, to be able to build a life and a career and a future here in the community that they call home," said Trudeau.

Recognizing that the future will certainly involve resource development, Trudeau said engaging with the people of the North is essential.

Trudeau said resource development will always be a major basis of the Canadian economy, particularly in the North, but that it must be managed in a responsible way.

"You can't build projects any more without understanding it takes social licence and environmental responsibility, that is something that the people living here have always understood," said Trudeau.

"You can't detach an economic activity from the land in which it is part and the people who live on that land, and that's something we need to make sure we're doing a much better job of."

In many conversations with the people of Inuvik, Trudeau said one common complaint was the high cost of food in the North.

"When the price of basic goods is many multiples as high as what it is in the south, that's a barrier that the government is obliged to help with because sovereignty in the North doesn't just come through defence spending and coast guard ships," said Trudeau.

"It comes through supporting people who live here, people who have always lived here, the communities that thrive and grow. A part of that is making sure that they can feed and support their families."

During his stay, Trudeau served pancakes at the community pancake breakfast at the Legion on Jan. 11, before his team hit the trails on snowmobiles to take in some of the sights of the Beaufort Delta.

Although he joked about the now-frozen river being a change from his first visit, Trudeau said there was one particularly evident difference.

"I remember the population here seemed to be much less diverse. I'm meeting people from every corner of the country and every part of the world here, and that's really exciting," said Trudeau.

"To see the strength of the community that shines through and the people from every corner of the world who are suddenly passionate about the North is really a testament to the tremendous community spirit here in Inuvik, and it's wonderful to see how that has evolved over the past 30 years."

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