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  • Annette Dawm

An Evening with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

My blog is going to be a little different today (and long). As you may have noticed, so far for most of them, I have had the wonderful opportunity to interview some of my favourite musicians and other creative people. My very first blog for this website was an article I wrote about Chris Labelle from The River Town Saints. It reached over 5100 people in three days! I am not sure if I will top that number, but the rest of my posts have been doing extremely well in their own right, so I just wanted to say thank you! I am so excited that my next blog will be featuring Brett Kissel!

Today I don’t have a music related story. It’s a political one. I have hesitated to write this because just mentioning to people that I went to see The Prime Minister made them cross. I thought it was exciting and it really brought me down when people voiced their opinions on him instead of saying something like, “Wow! How many people get to see a Prime Minister?” After this event, I heard a lot of things like, “Well, I didn’t vote for Justin Trudeau!” Guess what? Neither did I, but I’m still glad I got to see him and listen to what he had to say.

I have always had a hard time following politics of any kind, and what has happened recently in The United States seems more like a circus to me. It makes me want to crawl in a hole for the next 4-8 years. However, I think it is better to pay attention than to turn a blind eye because why not? Why not be informed about how things are being run? Even if you don’t like it, at least you’ll know what to expect. That being said, not every campaign promise can be kept so by being critical, you can probably determine which promises won’t come true, in order not to be disappointed. I think every political leader has their bad moments and at times make poor decisions, (some more than others) and there will always be people who don’t like them no matter what they do. But until the next election, they’re all you have.

On Friday January 13, 2017, I saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Alumni Hall inside Western University in London, ON. There were a lot of obstacles to even get there in the first place—at least for me. The venue was changed several times from two community centres to Western. I had never been to any of these places so I spent a lot of time on the phone confirming if they were wheelchair accessible. Obviously these were commonly used spaces, but you never know. There was also only one person available to help me that day, at 10:15 AM. So that meant I had to wear winter boots for nearly 12 hours until I could get home afterwards.

Booking a ride was also troublesome (and expensive). I found out that the Prime Minister was coming two days before his appearance and Paratransit requires three days’ notice, so that was out. Not to mention the venue kept changing, so Paratransit wouldn’t have been able to accommodate me at the last minute. When it was still scheduled for the second community centre, I called a wheelchair accessible cab company and booked the ride for 4:30. I had an RSVP confirmation that said to be there at 5:00 and the community centre was about 10 minutes from where I live, so this should have been fine. Then at 2:00 I found out he was coming to Western instead which is much farther away, so I called them back. I explained what happened and the operator asked, “Are we still picking you up at the community centre?”

“No,” I said. “You’re picking me up at my apartment and then we’re going to Alumni Hall at Western.”

“There’s no record that we have to pick you up from home. Only the community centre.” The first person didn’t even book my initial ride! So we started over and she told me I better go at 4 because of the distance and the number of people expected to attend. Then the cab was late and overcharged me because he went down unnecessary one-way streets.

Even though it was only 4:30 when I got there, there were probably 80-100 people in front of me. I was soon joined by two Western students who apparently hated some girl named Tanya. As I listened to their conversation for 90 minutes in what another person referred to as “Antarctica”, I began to hate Tanya also. The line stretched from the entrance of Alumni Hall to where we were. Then it crossed the street and went towards the university’s entrance and down Sarnia Road.

The RSVP forms were no longer valid and it was now on a first-come first-serve basis. People were livid. I was just cold. A lady and her son butted in front of us and the person who hated being in Antarctica gave her what-for. It didn’t matter though because about 80 other people did the same thing and they were ramming the doors to get in. It was rowdier than most concerts I have been to. They were eventually kicked out and the Tanya haters and I got inside where it was warm. Countless people were turned away because it just wasn’t a big enough space, but I was like, “Woo! I made it!”

I had a seat as close as possible. Then a security person said, “We cannot have the wheelchair here. The wheelchair cannot stay here.” I realized where I was could be a hazard but I said, “I am not ‘The Wheelchair’”. A girl beside me laughed and made a point of asking what my name was and then once the security guard realized I was actually a person, he treated me much better and said, “You can tuck in here if you want.” So I was still fairly close. I watched as a young boy named Mohammed and his family excitedly took pictures of everything and everybody. Nothing had even happened yet! I thought this was going to be really fun and an awesome learning opportunity.

The Prime Minister came out and spoke about how earlier in the day he met with students from La Loche, Saskatchewan where a shooting spree had occurred roughly one year ago. He wanted to know how they were doing, and one student named Jeremiah stood out to him in particular. He asked Jeremiah what he wanted Canadians to know and the Prime Minister had taken notes. Jeremiah expressed concerns about how his Indigenous culture might not be preserved for future generations. He wanted Canadians to know that he still had a voice. When the Prime Minister asked if there was anything else, Jeremiah said, “There’s this girl…” and Trudeau went onto give her a shout out. It was a nice, light-hearted moment after talking about something so sad.

Then he started to pick people from the audience to ask questions. Unfortunately, the first person he picked was probably the most bitter. Sadly, I did not take a voice recorder because I didn’t know if it would be allowed or not (I was lucky I got to bring food). So I don’t remember word for word what he had to say, but he began his statement with, “Hello, Justin,” in a tone that sounded very disrespectful. This person basically described Trudeau as a detriment to the country who needed to be stopped now. The crowd booed, but the Prime Minister actually stood up for him and said he had a right to participate in the open discussion. I thought that was very well done. It was obvious that a lot of people in the room had contempt for the Prime Minister, but he respectfully listened to all of the questions and concerns and let as many people as possible have their moment. The entire time, a member of the young boy’s family seated in front of me, quietly held up his hand.

Near the end, The Prime Minister picked someone at the back and said, “You there, with the Harvard sweater. Is it a Harvard sweater? I can’t see. I’m getting old.”

The student replied, “Um, hi. It’s a Western Sweater.”

The PM was so quick and came back with, “Well, everyone knows Western is the Harvard of Canada!” Well played. It seemed like he had prepared an answer for almost everything except for this student’s question which was, “What advice do you have for young people who are thinking about going into politics?”

He thought about it for a minute and recalled a conversation he’d had with his father, former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. At the time, Justin said he was 27 years old and his father had about a year left to live. Although he didn’t want anything to do with politics at that time, he knew that if he did run for anything many years down the road, his dad wouldn’t be there to give him advice. So he asked him then and said it was the most awkward conversation they’d ever had. It ended in 15 minutes with the hope that Justin would never become a politician.

Instead of trying to take advice from that moment, he remembered other things his dad had taught him, like, “Be a good person". That’s what he told this student to do and I’m going to paraphrase: “Be a good person. Be a good lawyer or a good doctor, or be a good social worker-- whatever it is that you’re passionate about. Be an advocate for something in your community…” And whether or not other people think Justin Trudeau is a good person, I’d like to think he tried.

Finally, he turned his attention to the man in front of me: “You sir, you have been very patient.” After everything that had been said or asked, this man was very humble and introduced himself as a Syrian refugee. All he wanted to say was, “Thank you so much!” and he started to cry. The Prime Minister teared up too and said, “You’re welcome.” I will never forget that. So many people had negative things to say about how this country is run (and I’m not saying they didn’t have a right to) but this person and his family were just thankful they had a safe place to live.

We are so lucky to live in a place like Canada regardless of who our leader is and the small obstacles we face every day that often seem like big ones at the time. Being able to hear everyone’s concerns and how the Prime Minister responded was worth all the trouble and the money to get there. I was dying to ask about The Tragically Hip concert he went to, but I could tell that a lot of necessary issues were being raised and this was an important moment for all of the people who had a chance to speak. I was just happy to be let in on the conversation.

Photos by Annette Dawm

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