Leadership candidate Trudeau makes stop in Neepawa


By: Kate Jackman-Atkinson


Last Wednesday, between 75 and 100 people packed the Chicken Corral Restaurant in Neepawa to meet federal Liberal Party leadership candidate Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau’s Neepawa stop was part of a trip across the prairies leading up to the party’s second leadership debate in Winnipeg on Feb. 2.  

Trudeau was introduced by Rolling River First Nation Chief Morris Shannacappo as well as local resident Pat Traill. Traill commented on the strong turn out for the event saying, “We [the Liberal Party] have lots of supporters, we just don’t know they’re there.” In the last federal election, the Liberal Party took just 6.6 per cent of the votes in the Dauphin-Swan River Marquette riding.

Trudeau took the microphone and thanked all of those in attendance and explained that over the last week, he has been travelling across western Canada including many visits to small communities. He noted that the visits have been met with large crowds, even cracking a joke about strong turn out in Alberta saying, “I suspect it’s because of the love for the Trudeau name in Alberta.”

The Liberal party has chosen a different way to select their leader this time around, which is resulting in leadership candidates visiting smaller communities such as Neepawa. Instead of the standard one member, one vote system, they are giving every riding the same weight of 100 points.

This means that ridings such as Dauphin-Swan River- Marquette, which doesn’t have a lot of party members, is given the same weight as ridings with many party members. They are also opening up leader selection to Canadians as a whole, regardless of whether or not they are Liberal Party members. Trudeau explained, “The Liberals have not done a great job in picking leaders. The federal leader will be decided not by elected delegates or party members, [they] will be elected by anyone who choses to vote… We need the input of everyone across Canada.”

Trudeau spoke for about half an hour outlining his vision for Canada and the Liberal Party before opening the meeting up to questions from the floor.

Trudeau spoke of a vision for a united Canada saying, “There’s a hunger in this country for politics to be done differently, to stop being about division.” He criticized the current government for pitting regions against one another, playing up wedge issues and creating an atmosphere where Canadians are encouraged to vote against something instead of for something. He added, “Canadians aren’t easily divided, we’re strong because of our differences.”

He noted that over the last 30 years, the Canadian economy has doubled in size but average incomes have only increased 13 per cent, while costs have continued to rise. He pointed to problems of income stagnation and rising personal debt. He said that the current situation in Canada has created a “breakdown of the premise upon which the country was created… Wherever people came from, they came to a land too big, too empty and too damn cold. [People] pulled together and worked hard and every generation could create greater opportunities for the next.”

Trudeau acknowledged the present state of the Liberal Party saying that it has become “increasingly troubled and irrelevant”. In the five elections since 2000, the party has fallen from 170 seats to 34 seats and he explained, “That’s a straight line that ends up at one seat.  That pattern is there for a reason -- the party turned in and [took] people for granted.”

Trudeau criticized the current government for a lack of transparency and created disenfranchised citizens, saying that he has talked to citizens who feel their Member of Parliament represents Ottawa in their riding, rather than the riding in Ottawa.  He added that Canadians need to be expecting and demanding more from their leaders, their representatives, their politicians, their neighbours, their communities and themselves.

Trudeau talked of wanting to build a sense of engagement in politics where “citizens no longer accept simple solutions” stating a need for “complex answers to complex problems”.  He wants to see policy based on values, pragmatism and science adding that the party will “work hard to be relevant and representative right across Canada”.

Trudeau spoke about his platform, which includes the economy, trade, fiscal management and science.

When it comes to the economy, Trudeau said that the central part of his campaign is to strengthen the Canadian economy through helping the middle class thrive. One of the keys to achieving this is to invest heavily in education and set out targets for what percentage of the population they want to have obtained some form of post secondary education.

When it comes to Canada’s natural resources, Trudeau says we, as Canadians, have to make sure we get the most out of them. To this end, he’d like to see more investment in research and development and the smart harvesting of resources. He pointed to Sweden, which has similar forestry resources to Canada and said, “They sell Ikea, not planks. We can do that.”

When it comes to trade, Trudeau said, “We are a trading nation, we’re too small with too many resources.” He noted that Canada is too heavily reliant on the United States as our major trading partner and would like to see the opening of Asian markets to Canadian products.

Trudeau said that the money to fund programs, such as increased investment in post secondary education, would come from creating more prosperity.

Trudeau talked about the Liberals’ history of being good fiscal managers; previous Liberal prime ministers eliminated the deficit and left office with a $13 billion surplus, which was turned into a deficit by the Conservatives in two years. He explained his party’s view of government saying, “Liberals believe that there is a role for governments to play… [they] spend tax money wisely.”

Trudeau spoke about the importance of science, research and innovations, saying, “It’s how we get smarter.” He added that the results of Canadian research and development are “solutions we can share with the world”.

Following Trudeau’s speech, he answered questions from the floor about a range of topics including drinking water, Canada’s military role in the world, the re-opening of the Kelowna Accord, post secondary education and electoral reform.

Trudeau’s father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau visited Neepawa in 1968 and the evening featured some nostalgia about that visit. Justin was presented with both photos from his father’s visit as well as a letter written by Pierre 45 years ago. During the meet and greet, a number of residents talked about having met Pierre during his visit.

While Trudeau is considered the front-runner, there are currently nine candidates in the running to become party leader. While candidates will continue to crisscross the country speaking to voters in different ridings, they will also face off at the four more debates planning across the country leading up to April 14, the day the party will announce its new leader.

In photo: Justin Trudeau speaking to people in Neepawa.

Photo by Kate Jackman-Atkinson