Justin Trudeau pressed on Indigenous support at Saskatoon town hall

A First Nations leader wondered why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose to dredge up old stereotypes during a meeting in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

Saskatoon was 9th town hall for prime minister on his Canadian tour

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to media prior to heading to lecture hall to take questions from the public at the Health Sciences Building on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

A First Nations leader wondered why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose to dredge up old stereotypes during a town hall in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

Trudeau spoke of "a number of chiefs" he has met who asked for money without considering how it can best be used. He said it's clear those chiefs "haven't actually talked to their young people."

That didn't sit well with Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas.

"It was a little bit odd," Thomas said in an interview after the 90-minute gathering at the University of Saskatchewan's Health Science building that was the latest stop on Trudeau's town hall tour of Canada.

In his question from the floor, Thomas was critical of the "disconnect" between Trudeau's words and his government's actions. Thomas said little of the promised billions has arrived on First Nations territory, and the fiscal year is nearly over.

"There was a lot of fanfare with the last budget," Thomas said. "But none of that money has gone to the communities yet."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall event in Saskatoon Wednesday. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Trudeau responded that much more must be done, but funding alone will not help.

He then used an example of chiefs who ask for federal money.

"I've spoken with a number of chiefs who said, 'You know, we need a youth centre ... You know, we need TVs and lounges and sofas so they can hang around.' And when a chief says that to me, I pretty much know they haven't actually talked to their young people," Trudeau told the audience in his response to Thomas.

"Because most of the young people I've talked to want a place to store their canoes and paddles so they can connect back out on the land and a place with internet access so they can do their homework."

Thomas said Trudeau should refrain from stereotyping Indigenous people. He said Saskatoon Tribal Council leaders work hard to connect with their people and they ensure there's a sound business case for any new infrastructure.

"Is it fair to use that and paint all the other communities with the same brush? Some of those rec centres are needed," Thomas said.

Thomas noted Trudeau visited with Saskatoon's mayor and city councillors, but didn't talk to him or any other elected Saskatoon Tribal Council chiefs.

"If that's a relationship you value, we just assumed — wrongly, I guess — that our chiefs would have an opportunity to sit down," Thomas said.

Thomas and STC vice-chief Mark Arcand were seated in the second row, behind Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and other civic officials. Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron sat more than a dozen rows back.

Trudeau said several times during the event that the federal government has failed Indigenous and Métis people, and that reconciliation is central to his government's mandate.

After the meeting, Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations, said Trudeau's visit and his meeting with voters was admirable, calling the prime minister a "genuine" man.

"It takes a lot of heart and a lot of courage to come and meet with our constituents in our homelands," Cameron said.    "Things are slow, we understand that, and we are frustrated, don't get me wrong. They have a lot of catch-up to do and it's not by his fault. It's the previous government's fault."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with Saskatoon's city council on Jan. 25, 2017. (Anna-May Zeviar/CBC)

The town hall event followed a meeting with members of Saskatoon city council and a brief media conference.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said the city is hoping to work with the federal government on a variety of infrastructure needs.

"We know we can work together as partners to really succeed," Clark said. "Thank you for meeting with us."

Trudeau said he was interested in building a positive relationship with the city.

"I'm delighted to be here," he said. "Our municipal leadership is taking on a significant role in making sure that our citizens' lives better."

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark (left) presents Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a pair of mittens upon his visit to the city on Jan. 25, 2017. (Anna-May Zeviar/CBC)

In a media conference shortly before the town hall, Trudeau was asked about his plans for a carbon pricing mechanism, a move that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has criticized.

"The fact is, every penny collected in Saskatchewan stays in Saskatchewan," Trudeau said about the levy, repeating the options available to the province.

He acknowledged he and Wall do not see eye to eye on a carbon levy, but highlighted areas of agreement, such as health care funding.

"There will be things upon which we disagree. And that's just fine," he said.

Trudeau was also quizzed about President Donald Trump's moves concerning trade. Trudeau said he was looking forward to working with the new administration on that.

"[It's] too early to predict exactly what is going to happen with the new administration," he said, noting Canada's relationship with the U.S. is unique.

"They are not overly preoccupied with Canada," Trudeau also said, referencing conversations with officials from the Trump administration and two conversations he said he's had with Trump himself.

'Honeymoon is over,' prof says

According to U of S professor Daniel Beland, Trudeau is less popular in this province than most other places in the country.

"Justin Trudeau faces the most opposition and also a more skeptical public, certainly because the honeymoon is over and the issues facing Trudeau and criticisms facing Trudeau are piling up," said Beland, with the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy.

Among the topics Trudeau may encounter include questions concerning Indigenous matters.

"Certainly if you look among Indigenous peoples across this country there is a lot of impatience that's building up because Trudeau promised a lot and he has delivered some things," Beland said.

He added that the creation of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is one accomplishment Trudeau can claim.

But Beland noted much more was promised, such as increased funding for education and child welfare.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre right, speaks with Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, centre left, and city councillors at City Hall in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau visits Regina Thursday

On Thursday, Trudeau has two events planned for Regina before heading to Winnipeg.

Trudeau will visit the Depot Division of the RCMP, the training academy for Mounties. A photo opportunity is set for 7:30 a.m.

Then, around 9:40 a.m., Trudeau stops by the University of Regina to visit with students.

With files from CBC's Jason Warick and The Canadian Press


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