Prime Minister Trudeau’s office said on Sunday he reached out to Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir a day earlier and offered his apology for not attending a Truth and Reconciliation Day event at the BC first nation. The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation, which was the site of the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school, posted on social media that it sent “two heartfelt invitations” for Trudeau to join them on Sept. 30. Instead, Trudeau flew directly over the Nation and landed at Tofino—240 miles west– for a family vacation.
The whole episode is puzzling, because if there is one thing that Trudeau understands it is optics. Who can forget the scene of Trudeau kneeling in another residential school gravesite in Saskatchewan clutching a teddy bear? That was just a couple of months ago. To generate that photo-op he would have had to have somebody pick up the plush toy in advance of his trip to Saskatchewan to have it available.
Trudeau seems to be snake-bit, or tone-deaf in his relations with first nations, or both perhaps. He doesn’t appear to have attached sufficient urgency to ending the boil-water crisis that he said he would end on reserves across Canada. Revenue Canada, despite direct appeals to Trudeau to intervene, is still garnishing the OAS and CPP cheques of elderly Aboriginals, mostly female, in a tax dispute that could be settled immediately by executive order. When he came into office, he created an additional Ministry of Indigenous Services which, coupled with the Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations, now gives Canada two ministries devoted to First Nations, but which thus far, have provided no appreciable breakthrough in long-standing grievances. Add to that the fact that his first choice as Minister of Indigenous Services was Jane Philpott, who he later removed from cabinet and purged from the Liberal party for her support of Jody Wilson Raybould, an Aboriginal woman who was likewise purged from both cabinet and party, and it all adds up to a bad look for the PM. Yakking on a cell phone at 30,000 feet with First Nations leaders somehow just doesn’t cut it. He could have landed at Kamloops airport, spent an hour or two at the nearby Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation and been on his way, to what, in fairness, was a well-deserved holiday after a tough election campaign.