Friday, 10 February 2017

PM comes to town

Yesterday, I trudged up the hill to the high school where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to have a Town Hall Q &A type public event. I was eager to hear about issues identified by the community, to validate their concerns publicly and to listen to the PM's response. I waited on the bleachers as the space filled with people talking and waiting in anticipation. The day-care kids were even towed in on a rope and told to "Sit quietly because the Prime Minister was coming," although I am not sure what that means exactly to a three-year-old.

Mayor Redford and Inuit organization leaders from
all territories speak of new partnerships. PM is late.
Inuit organization leaders welcomed the crowd and introduced themselves speaking of the announcement of new policy agreements between the federal government and Inuit. But, the official arrival of the PM was delayed. The event was cut short. No translation provided in Inuktitut. Instead of a public forum where issues and responses were shared, the event was changed into a tea and bannock meet-and-greet. Essentially, a selfie fest playing on the celebrity side versus political engagement.

PM Justin Trudeau arrives at High School. Speaks for 2 min
before tea and bannock meet-and-greet selfie fest.
I felt deeply disappointed. Chatting over tea and bannock is an excellent way to have open and honest conversations with a small group of people, even better than a formal setting in my opinion. But it is not a good forum for engagement on issues in a crowd of several hundred people. It is again a PR stunt.

I stood back and chatted with those around me and watched the swarms of selfies. I observed. The woman next to me said, "Oh, isn't he just cute as a button." I watched the excitement of many taking selfies and the pride of parents who handed over their babies to be bounced around by the PM. I even got a handshake and a "plaisir de vous voir". I was admittedly thrilled but chose to take photos of people taking selfies instead of asking for one myself. I wanted to ask instead for opinions, for plans, for some level of accountability. I wanted to know about plans for implementing the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous People, about electoral reform, about the delicate balance of economic development and environmental protection in an area of the world so directly affected by climate change. Instead, I watched hand-shakes and selfies.

I saw or heard a few people ask questions. I could not hear the responses through the crowd. Today, I was surprised to hear one recorded conversation about electoral reform covered by the CBC. There may have been more people who pushed through and gave space to questions or issues but it was not a shared, public space. The issues were not heard or validated by the community. The responses were not shared for everyone to hear and debate.

In the fall the federal government hosted a public consultation on electoral reform here in Iqaluit that was widely criticized. The event was poorly planned to provide space for engagement. It was not widely advertised and there were no Inuktitut interpreters. I feel like this event fell into a similar category. Many in the crowd were appeased with selfies but there was little space for critical discussion and dialogue.