Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaving the Trans Mountain pipeline’s Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee meeting on the Cheam reserve in Chilliwack on June 5, 2018. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

OPINION: Trudeau’s media snub in Chilliwack

Shouldn’t the PM be obliged to speak to members of a community he visits, at least via the media?

It’s a rare thing for a community of our size to get a visit from a Prime Minister.

So when we learned Justin Trudeau was coming to town, we cleared the decks, so to speak, to ensure we could cover his visit as closely as possible.

After a delayed arrival shrouded in heavy security, a short and secretive meeting excluding the public or the media, he whisked away without saying a word.

Nothing more than a toothy smile and a wave with his shirt-sleeve-rolled-up arm.

The question that immediately occurred to me as the door to the black Cadillac closed was: Does the democratically elected leader of our country not have some obligation to speak directly or at least indirectly to the people in a community he visits?

He can’t talk to everyone. He can’t be everywhere. He can’t even visit everywhere. It’s a big country. There’s a lot of us.

But that’s what the media is there for, to serve as a proxy for the public who have questions for him about, for example, using public funds to purchase a pipeline from a private company.

And other stuff, too.

I arrived at the Cheam reserve Tuesday to intense security. Police cars up on Highway 9. A pickup full of Mounties in full ERT gear atop the Cheam landfill.

Down at the Multiplex, literally dozens of cars parked out back for the dozens of police officers fulfilling various roles on scene.

Members of the media – TV, radio and print – were led into a boardroom, gear put on the floor so a German shepherd from the RCMP’s Police Dog Services could have a sniff.

Then, door shut, we waited, not allowed out until Trudeau arrived.

But before that, a group of protesters with signs walked down the road to the hall. There we were, like goldfish in a bowl, as the protesters gave speeches leaving us to film, photograph, and record from behind glass.

Then, finally, “his” arrival. But still we are trapped in that room, taking awkward photographs through angled glass with his back to us as he waves to protesters, corralled on the other side of the entrance.

Finally led to the main hall, cameras set up, Chief Ernie Crey makes some opening remarks, opening prayer from Pastor Andrew Victor, then Trudeau speaks.

Great, this is what we waited for…. exactly four minutes and 39 seconds of just what you’d expect Justin Trudeau to say on a reserve about a contentious issue: “collaboration,” “shared path,” “reconciliation,” “engagement,” “partnerships,” et cetera.

Then? Media kicked out so the committee can meet in private.

After, we milled about outside. About 10 members of the media, 40 protesters and as many police. We listening to aggrieved voices, scrummed with outspoken activists, and waited for Trudeau to come out and say a few words.

And then, that smile, that wave. Poof. He was gone.

For security purposes it’s a well oiled machine these Prime-Ministerial visits. It served a political purpose as he talks with Indigenous leaders, some opposed some in favour of the pipeline.

But with the public’s proxy ignored completely, I felt the visit missed something important.

Left to hear nothing directly from the Prime Minister, the media had little to share with the Canadian public.

Was that the point?

Maybe I’m naive – little ol’ community reporter that I am – but hungry for a good story with the leader of our country in town, I didn’t expect a one-on-one or even anything too meaty.

But he could have at least tossed us a bone.

• READ MORE: SLIDESHOW: Photos from Justin Trudeau’s brief visit to Chilliwack


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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