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Justin Trudeau has deep connection with Kootenays

Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, got to know the folks of Cranbrook a little better at a meet-and-greet event, Sunday, July 21, in Rotary Park. - Barry Coulter photo
Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, got to know the folks of Cranbrook a little better at a meet-and-greet event, Sunday, July 21, in Rotary Park.
— image credit: Barry Coulter photo

The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada made a stop in Cranbrook Sunday, July 21, turning Rotary Park into the local political event of the season.

It was less about politics, however, than it was about a summer vacation for Justin Trudeau and his family, in a part of the world that in his own words is very dear to him and his family.

Trudeau got off a large RV Sunday afternoon to be greeted by Cranbrook Mayor Wayne Stetski, Cranbrook's youth ambassadors Makenzie Yates and Alicia Leasak and an enthusiastic crowd of more than 150 people. The event was billed as a meet and greet, and Trudeau graciously waded into the crowd, signing autographs, getting his photo taken — meeting and greeting — before heading over to the bandstand for a quick speech. Trudeau was accompanied by his son Xavier, 6, and daughter Ella Grace, 4. His wife Sophie was feeling under the weather, Trudeau said, and wouldn't be joining this particular event. His kids were happy to have a stopover in a park.

After the event, before heading off to Nelson, Trudeau told the Daily Townsman of the emotional connection he and his family have with the Kootenays.

"This place is extraordinarily special to me," he said.  "It's the place my brother chose to live his life. We didn't know he'd leave us at 23, but everytime I come back here I feel close to him. I'll be in Nelson (Sunday night), and hopefully up to visit him at the lake tomorrow."

Justin's youngest brother Michel died in November, 1998, when he was swept by an avalanche into Kokanee Lake in Kokanee Glacier Park. Michel was never recovered from the lake.

"I'm just overwhelmed by the strength of spirit of the people who live here," Trudeau said. "The friendliness, the welcoming, just the strength of community around here, and how they came together to support my family after we lost our brother.

"But also, in the following years, as I was more and more active with avalanche safety, I got to meet a whole bunch of people who were driven by the same love for mountains and strength of community leaning on each other."

Trudeau was introduced at the bandstand by Mayor Stetski, who told how he had  met Justin Trudeau and the Trudeau family 13 years ago, working together on the Kokanee Glacier Alpine campaign in honour of Michel Trudeau, in order to build a new public cabin in Kokanee Glacier Park. With the help of the Trudeau family and others, more than $1 million was raised in this campaign.

That cabin was built 10 years ago.

Trudeau told the crowd that it’s always good to return to the Kootenays.

“I’ve spent many years out here, travelling, skiing, making friends, meeting friends … My first experience in the Kootenays was paddling down the Kootenay River with my Dad (Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), my brothers and John Gow, who taught us how to paddle in the Rockies. That was 25-30 years ago. To me this part of the world remains an extremely important part of my life.”

There was, of course, some talk of politics.

“This is an opportunity for me to connect with people — not necessarily to talk about Politics with a Big P, but to talk about the challenges we’re facing altogether, and how we’re best going to solve them.”

Trudeau said he couldn’t be in Cranbrook without giving a shout-out to Scott Niedermayer, “who’s been extraordinary over the past while with his activism. Scott is one of those people who’s always focussed on doing the right thing and winning the right way as part of a team, and I’m touched to be in his hometown today.

“That kind of activism that he’s engaged in now, that all of us are engaged in now, comes easy to us. We surround ourselves with beautiful places that we want to protect, we see our kids growing up and we want to make a better world for them.

“So why has politics itself become such a dirty word. Why are we always ready to work together to build a better community and a better world, but as soon as it comes to thinking about politicians and public service that way, we turn away?

“It’s because over the past years politics has become and incredible source of cynicism. Because it’s always easier in politics to divide, to attack, to go negative, to calculate where the most votes are and play to them and ignore anyone who’s not likely to vote for you.

“You can actually get elected with a majority through the politics of division. It becomes very difficult to govern responsibly for the whole of the country and for the longterm interest that we hold, once you’ve got in the habit of division and attacks and negativity. That’s very much what I’m trying to turn around.”

Before getting back on the RV to head west, Trudeau told the Townsman the trip is about connecting about people and doing a little bit of politicking, “but it’s also about showing my kids an extraordinary part of the world. Its about convincing the folks in Ottawa that, yes, it’s a good idea to let me drive a big honking RV through the Kootenays. And I’m absolutely loving it — this is what summers are supposed to be all about. Parks and barbecues and smiles — if I can use that to get politics a little more purchase with people in their everyday lives, then that’s what it needs to be.”

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