An elementary school student at a town hall event for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday appeared to rattle the usually insouciant leader by asking him, “Why did your dad give everyone in Western Canada the middle finger?”
The boy was referring to an incident when Trudeau’s father, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, literally flashed his finger at some protesters during a 1982 stop in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
Looking befuddled and red-faced, Trudeau responded as a politician, excusing father Pierre Trudeau’s always controversial tenure as Canada’s prime minister for 15 years from the late 1960s to the early 1980s:
“My father had an approach to politics that not everyone agreed with,” Trudeau said to the bemused audience.
“Some of the decisions my father made, there were a number of people who disagreed with [them] quite intensely, and they didn’t always get along the best way,” he said.
Then Trudeau used the question and answer session at Ecole Robert H Smith School in Winnipeg, Manitoba to defend another controversial legacy of his father’s administration: official bilingualism and his pledge to transform Canada into a nation that could speak English or French with equal ease.
“He made a mark on this country that shapes us to this day, and it’s because of him that this school has a big, successful immersion program.”
Widespread bilingualism in Canada, outside of the Canadian Armed Forces, the public service and small geographic pockets remains an unrealized policy goal.
At another Winnipeg town hall — this one for adults — Trudeau wandered into another altercation with protesters angry about the what they see as his betrayal of the environmental movement for his support of oil pipelines.
The situation threatened to become ugly until an elder from a local native band got between Trudeau and the jeering crowd who were shouting “climate leaders don’t build pipelines.”
Claiming he was conducting his cross-country town halls because he couldn’t get his message out “in seven-minute news clips on the 11 o’clock news,” Trudeau told his tormentors that, “We need to be able to have responsible conversations in this country. We need to listen to each other respectfully, and we are going to disagree from time to time. That happens,” he said.
But the protestors were having none of it and the native elder grabbed the microphone from Trudeau and said, “I’m an elder of Treaty 1 territory. Our treaty has allowed you people to come to our territories,” the elder said. “So I’m asking that you people that are making statements, please respect everybody, please respect our territory.”
Despite suggestions that Trudeau cut short his tour because of gaffes, shaming statements from unexpected guests in the audience and vitriolic protest from both the left and the right, Trudeau has continued.