Liberal MP Stéphane Dion said he was deeply inspired by what he saw and heard in Chilliwack last week.
Dion was invited to be the keynote speaker at First Voice — an evening at Squiala Community Centre to “involve, inform and inspire” First Nations youth, sponsored by the Chilliwack-Hope Federal Liberal Riding Association.
Dion was touring the eastern Fraser Valley last week, including stops in Hope, Chilliwack and Abbotsford. He’s been the Member of Parliament for St-Laurent-Cartierville in Quebec since 1996, and he is also the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Opposition from 2006 to 2008.
The Liberal Party is courting the youth demographic, particularly First Nations, by making it clear they’re welcome to bring their aboriginal culture and perspective to the national political scene.
“I would say that Canada needs its aboriginal people to succeed,” Dion told the Progress.
Asked what he found remarkable or inspiring about his mini tour, Dion said it was something he heard during a meeting with reps from Sto:lo Community Futures inside the Sto:lo Resource Centre.
The MP gleaned a key fact: Community development work at Sto:lo Nation has yielded incredible results in reducing the numbers of Sto:lo families on welfare by 68 per cent over the years.
He was floored to hear that education, training and mentorship led to 500 local families receiving social assistance being cut down to just 160 families.
“What I heard today was so inspiring,” he said. “I met some people who are so proud of what they are doing. They have been helping young people find inspiration within themselves. It shows that money alone will not do the job. It takes support and building relationships. That should give them the will to get involved politically in their country, Canada.”
He was sharing some thoughts in a one-on-one interview before the evening’s program started with live performance by Juno nominated Inez Jasper.
“Our First Nations represent a large sector and more than ever we need them to be part of the winning team. There is no ‘us’ and ‘you’ in this.”
He met with Sto:lo reps and with students from University of the Fraser Valley on his tour.
“At the university, the topic was the environment. The students asked about pipelines and why the environment has to be sacrificed for the economy.”
Students and First Nations everywhere he goes talk to him about the need for “sustainable development,” and how to encourage growth that is safe for communities.
“They said they are entitled to have both, jobs and growth, and as well as health and protection of the environment. Why would we sacrifice one for the other?”
The Conservatives’ weakening of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is a misstep, he said, as the emphasis on the National Energy Board, which is “too close to industry.” Dion is also critical of how scientists have been muzzled under the Harper regime.
But the Liberals are not ideologically opposed to pipelines, he underlined.
“We are not against pipelines. We have to move oil from one place to another. If not by pipeline, it will be shipped by truck or by rail or by barge. So no to pipelines if it can’t be done safely. But yes if they can operate in a way that is safe for our communities.”
Diversity is a key plank for the Liberals.
“I’m still a Quebecker with a strong accent, but I also know that Canada is strong because of its diversity.”
He was asked why Chilliwack, traditionally Conservative country, is being targeted by the Liberals. It started with Justin Trudeau a couple of years ago, and MP Ralph Goodale last summer.
“Why Chilliwack? Because we never take anything for granted,” Dion replied. “They may hear an idea that makes them want to connect with the Liberals. And if we show an interest in the development of a community and the well being of its people, it’s a better approach.”
The Chilliwack-Hope Riding Association has had successful run of fundraisers and is gearing up for a future election.
The last time a Liberal was elected was under the Pierre Elliott Trudeau leadership.
“So now with Justin Trudeau, we have the next generation of Trudeaus,” said Dion.
For some it may be time for another look.
“People need to know that Mr. Trudeau is incredibly sincere. He’s not playing games with people. He’s willing to listen and has a lot of empathy. I think Canadian need that since the Harper government has been so secretive and manipulative.”
He suggested the economy has been damaged by the secrecy, scientists have been muzzled, and attempts have been made to dismantle Statistics Canada.
“Stats Canada is celebrated around the world and is one of the most effective bodies of its kind. We need this agency,” he said.
The themes of equal opportunity, cooperation and development were mentioned, alongside fiscal responsibility, a clean environment.
“So I would say there is a long list of reasons why the people of Chilliwack and Hope should consider Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.”