Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member Terry Dorward after a meeting in the summer of 2017. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Rumoured Justin Trudeau vacation sparks contention in Tofino

“I personally hope that people will just leave him alone, frankly.”

Rumours are swirling that Justin Trudeau and his family are headed to Tofino for the third consecutive summer, but the Canadian Prime Minister’s reception is not expected to be as warm as years’ past.

Trudeau’s recent $4.5 billion Trans Mountain Pipeline purchase, failure to resolve a longstanding legal fight over Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation fishing rights and a lack of federal funding for local shoreline cleanups and salmon restoration efforts has buffed some of the shine off the ‘Trudeaumania’ the town experienced during his visit in 2016.

Tofino-based environmental group Friends of Clayoquot Sound issued an open letter to the community on July 19 urging local businesses to deny service to Trudeau and for residents to document their interactions with the Prime Minister.

“Be bold and creative, it is not often we have the potential to reach a politician whose decisions impact our lives,” the letter states.

FOCS campaigner Jeh Custerra told the Westerly News that Trudeau must be held accountable, regardless of whether he’s on vacation.

“Coming to the place that you’re disrespecting and looking the people that you’re disrespecting in the eye, that’s just arrogant. If he likes the tar sands so much, maybe he should go vacation in Northern Alberta,” Custerra said. “This is part of us protecting what we love out here. When someone comes around who’s disrespecting it, we stand up to say, ‘No. That’s not right.’ That’s a West Coast tradition.”

Longtime activist Bonny Glambeck would neither confirm nor deny that Clayoquot Action, the environmental organization she co-founded in 2013, is planning any demonstrations during Trudeau’s suspected visit.

“We want to keep our cards close to our chest,” she said. “I think that, obviously, the element of surprise in a situation like this is helpful.”

She suggested Trudeau’s government has broken promises made around reconciliation with First Nations as well as the environment and climate change.

“We believe everybody deserves to have a holiday and this is a very beautiful, world-class, destination. He and his family deserve to have a holiday just like everybody else. However, on a political level, we’re not happy at all with Trudeau,” she said.

“It seems incredibly ironic to us that he would approve a pipeline that would increase tanker traffic off the West Coast here, putting us at risk of a major oil spill that would completely ruin B.C.’s ecotourism economy on the West Coast and the waters that he loves to surf in and the wildlife and beauty of this area that his family is enjoying, without really respecting it and looking out for future generations; even for his own children, even for his own future vacations.”

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said she is not surprised to hear strong reactions to the rumours of the Prime Minister coming to town.

“I think a person in his position understands well that, everywhere he goes, there will be people who do not like him,” she said. “If people want to organize protests or make statements, they should absolutely go ahead and do so. I personally hope that people will just leave him alone, frankly…I fully support people’s right to organize the way they wish to, to make statements or have protests or whatever they do, but I think that can be done in a way that doesn’t necessarily interfere with his family.”

She doubted that any displays of opposition to Trudeau would affect Tofino’s reputation as a welcoming tourism destination.

“If anything, it just shows that people who live in Tofino are passionate, they care, they have opinions and they don’t mind making them known,” she said. “I’m sympathetic to anybody who wants to come to Tofino and simply have a vacation. At the same time, I think, politicians especially, have chosen a career that puts themselves out there, so to speak, and that they can expect to be approached by people on the street. In this case, a lot of this is really under [Trudeau’s] control as to how public he wishes to be. It’s possible to visit Tofino and be very private and he may choose that route.”

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns also told the Westerly that he hopes the Trudeau family is able to enjoy their time in Tofino, but added he has not experienced such political upset on the West Coast since the mass logging blockades of 1993.

“I know people feel deeply about the importance of protecting our sensitive ecosystems and the environment that feeds us, provides employment for us and that we thrive in and live in and count on,” he said. “People are emotional right now. They really are. They’re really upset…I hope that when he comes he has a good holiday but, at the same time, is given another reminder why we’re so concerned about our sensitive ecosystems while he’s playing in them and enjoying them.”

Tofino is within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, which has had somewhat of a tumultuous relationship with Trudeau, declaring him unwelcome in their territory in 2016 over what they felt was a lack of good faith in their fishing rights negotiations, but welcoming him back in the spirit of reconciliation the following year.

Responding to the Westerly News via email on Friday, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation project coordinator and elected councillor Terry Dorward said the Prime Minister’s office has not been in touch with Tla-o-qui-aht about a potential visit, which would be “unfortunate” if Trudeau does arrive as the First Nation explained their protocols to Trudeau during his last visit in 2017.

“If the Trudeau government is serious about nation to nation talks with Indigenous sovereign nations, then the Prime Minister must ask permission to enter our Tla-o-qui-aht Tyee Hawilth, Hi-you-ah (Head chief Ray Seitcher) lands,” he wrote. “This refusal of how we, as Nuu-chah-nulth peoples show respect when entering into another people’s lands is a sign of ignorance and disrespect.”

Dorwood reiterated that the Tla-o-qui-aht have explained their protocols to Trudeau and added that it would be frustrating to see the Prime Minister come and go without any meetings taking place.

“Our Tla-o-qui-aht leadership has many pressing issues that need to be discussed with the head of the Canadian state such as the protection of wild salmon, Nuu-chah-nulth fisheries case, so-called crown lands, tenure reform and many other issues relating to underfunded social programs,” he wrote. “If the Trudeau government is only interested in surfing and long walks on our Tla-o-qui-aht Chiefs’ beaches and not respecting our ancient protocols, discussing serious issues pertaining to our peoples and the environment, then No he is not welcomed in Tla-o-qui-aht territory until his liberal government shows more respect to our Chiefs and our Tla-o-qui-aht peoples.”

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