Trudeau does retail politics in B.C. as Singh prepares to campaign

Jagmeet Singh shakes hands at 2017 OFL Convention. Photo: OFL Communications Department/Flickr

Last Sunday, with three cabinet ministers alongside and ample media coverage, Justin Trudeau walked down Robson St. and then along Denman St. in the Vancouver Pride Parade, waving, smiling, and reaching out to shake hands, or to high five a fan or a curious onlooker, looking like there was no place in the world he would rather be.

A beautiful day, a parade that ends along the ocean shore, a hearty welcome from a boisterous crowd that ringed the streets: you would never have known the Trudeau government faces strong opposition in Vancouver to its plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline -- and increase tanker traffic sevenfold next to the parade site.

According to media reports, protesters were a feature of the Trudeau family vacation in Tofino, B.C. earlier last week. A Liberal Party picnic on August 4 was interrupted by Indigenous drummers. Hecklers tried to shout down a Trudeau speech during his appearance later at the Richmond Night Market.

Protesters or no protesters, the desire to be in contact with the voting public is not something that comes naturally to political figures. Some, like Stephen Harper, never try to meet anyone that is not a member of their party. Others eschew direct voter contact, or what political scientists call retail politics, and stick to wholesale techniques: granting interviews on radio and television, and talking to reporters.

Trudeau likes to reach out and engage with people; he likes being a politician. Indeed, he uses personal appearances to define his image and maintain his presence in the public eye.

The prime minister never shows up at events innocently, especially with only 15 months before the next fixed election date, and when success in B.C. is key for the Liberals in their quest for a second majority government.

The Conservatives are gaining support in the polls by exaggerating and misrepresenting the threat to border security from those seeking asylum in Canada from the Trump expulsion -- and separation from their children -- of undocumented U.S. residents.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accuses Trudeau of promoting entry to Canada of people crossing the border irregularly, or as Scheer would have it, "illegally."

Trudeau repeated his own response to Scheer at the Monday B.C. Day picnic in Penticton. The Liberals want to bring Canadians together; others (Conservatives) prefer to divide.

Trudeau has an election theme ready to go. Canada is the first country to have adopted multiculturalism. Canada is a country where we need to do more than tolerate those we do not agree with; there is no religion that calls on people just to tolerate each other. Canada can be accepting, compassionate and respectful to other people because Canadians are accepting, compassionate and respectful of each other.

Over the weekend, news leaked that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh would contest a byelection in the Burnaby South seat left vacant when second-term MP Kennedy Stewart stepped down to run for mayor of Vancouver. It is not a safe NDP seat: Stewart won it by just 547 votes in 2015.

Stewart has been a highly visible and vocal opponent of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, getting himself arrested as part of a direct action on Burnaby Mountain.

The riding of Burnaby South is where protests to stop construction work have been going on for months over a planned tanker farm on Burnaby Mountain and the Westridge Marine Terminal on Burrard Inlet. 

In support of the Trans Mountain expansion, Team Trudeau have been touting an economy-plus-the-environment message.

The Liberal stance ignores real environmental dangers from pipeline expansion that have been highlighted by court cases and campaigns led and supported by seven Indigenous Nations, the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver, and activist organizations like the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the Living Oceans Society, Coast Protectors, Greenpeace, the Suzuki Foundation, and the Council of Canadians.

Running in a riding that borders on the petroleum tanker route, Singh can take the environmental case for protecting ocean life and the B.C. coast to Burnaby voters in a mini-referendum on the Trans Mountain expansion.

The byelection will allow the NDP to showcase its own policy positioning on the environment and the economy, and on border security. When the media shows up, and they should in a byelection featuring a party leader, outlets will have plenty of opportunities to show that Jagmeet Singh does retail politics very well himself.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: OFL Communications Department/Flickr

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