Behest of the West: Strength shown during Prime Minister’s meetings in Tofino

He knows how unpopular he is in the dens he walked into.

We’ve got this tremendously handsome Prime Minister who looks great with his shirt off and, at first glance, seems like the perfect fit for us. After a variety of sobering second thoughts though, we’re not superficial enough to ignore the canyon between our core-values.

Yet, here he is back in our yard. Cue Peter Gabriel.

In your eyes, judging by social media, Justin Trudeau’s meetings in Tofino on Aug. 5 were media-hounding opportunities to glad-hand and smile for the camera.

The trouble with that summation is that he knows how unpopular he is in the dens he walked into. We’re an outspoken Coast. Be wary of his charm, but don’t sleep on his chutzpah.

The big news was that he fell out of a kayak while touring the Gulf Islands. The real news was how graciously his arrival was welcomed by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

Eyes undoubtedly rolled when news broke that our Prime Minister planned to mix business with pleasure by meeting with local leaders, but consider who his business was with. The Tla-o-qui-aht were clear. Trudeau was not welcome.

A September meeting between the Nuu Chah Nulth Tribal Council and the Department of Fisheries of Oceans Canada went far south. The Council’s 14 Chiefs walked out and Trudeau was banned from the Tla-o-qui-aht’s traditional land, which includes Tofino.

The bravery he showed walking into Saturday’s scene was admirable, Elmer Frank’s bravery to let him was more so. The Tla-o-qui-aht’s Chief Councillor risked looking toothless for the sake of pursuing progress. He didn’t announce that ban lightly. Lifting it had to have weighed heavy on his mind.

It would have been as wholeheartedly easier for Frank to have shot for short-term strength points by denying Trudeau’s meeting as it would have for Trudeau to have simply sought viral-worthy front page media shots of him surfing. They each could have returned to their bases huffing about how hard the path of reconciliation will be. Instead, both showed the strength needed to take it. Kudos to them.

Some scolding is in order for that meeting being the second one.

I appreciate Trudeau’s schedule makers would have feared rushing the Tribal Council out the door to get started with the local mayors and business folks, but conducting business without first being welcomed by whose land that business is on is the sort of no-go that Trudeau touts himself as too aware to attempt.

It’s not quite as simple as saying he wanted to get the easy one out of the way. The business community has openly disliked him since the Kinder Morgan approval.

“The Prime Minister, before he was elected, said the National Energy Board process was inadequate and that, if elected, his government would introduce a more inclusive process,” Tofino-Long Beach chamber of commerce president Jennifer Steven told the Westerly in December. “That’s not what happened.”

Cynics will suggest our PM’s too narcissistic to care about our lack of love for him and that it’s our surroundings he wants, not our hearts. That might be true but, after taking the time to meet us, he’s made our relationship more personal and I don’t think he’s superficial enough to ignore us.

Or, at least, he now knows how awkward we can make these surroundings if he does.

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