Justin Trudeau touched down in Nelson late Sunday afternoon as part of a western road trip with his family with more than just politics on his mind.
“Thank you for the warm welcome,” Trudeau told the crowd of about 300 supporters who came out to Lakeside Park just before 6 p.m. to meet the new federal Liberal leader. “It’s a true pleasure and a privilege for me to be back in Nelson. As most of you probably know this is a place that is extraordinarily near and dear to me and my family.”
On November 13, 1998 Justin’s youngest brother Michel was swept in Kokanee Lake by an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park while on a ski tour with friends. Michel drowned in the lake and despite an extensive search, his body was never recovered. Michel was 23 and living in Rossland at the time.
Justin Trudeau has been back to the Kootenays on several occasions and was a big part of the campaign to build a new cabin in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. He told local media that he has been to the lake “many times” over the years, but has never brought his family — wife Sophie Gregorie, son Xavier (6) and daughter Ella-Grace (4) — which he plans to do on Monday.
“It’s where my little brother is, in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I want to share that with my family,” he told media.
Trudeau’s eyes began to water when he spoke about his brother’s final resting place.
“If our brave men and women from search and rescue had ever recovered him, we would have probably incinerated him and sprinkled him back into the lake,” Trudeau said. “This is not just where he was, this is what he was. The love of mountains, the willingness to challenge and measure himself against the wilderness… and mostly make every day the best day ever. That lesson of his is certainly one that I keep.”
Trudeau was elected the Liberal party leader this past April. Trudeau’s father Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the 15th prime minister of Canada and arguably one of the most famous.
Those who came out to Nelson’s park along the West Arm were party faithful, the politically curious and those just wanting to come face-to-face with Canadian political royalty.
“Over the past months I have been crossing the country and meeting with Canadians from every corner of this country,” Trudeau said during his brief speech after being introduced by Nelson Mayor John Dooley. “There is a sense of optimism about politics that we haven’t seen in an awfully long time. People think it might be because of me, it’s because people are fed up with the cynicism, the negativity and the division. There is a sense we can pull together, fix and face down some of the challenges we are facing as a country and as a planet.”
Wearing designer jeans with holes in the knees and looking every bit a guy on an RV holiday with his family, the 41-year-old told the enthusiastic crowd that he wants to change the way politics are carried out in Canada.
“We’re that one place in the world that has figured out how to be strong, not in spite of our differences, but because of those differences,” he said. “Differences from east to west, urban to rural, of all different backgrounds and creeds. We know we will be able to rise to the occasion and figure out what a prosperous, safe and fair 21st Century will look like, not just for us but for everyone around the world. The only way we do that is by pulling together.”
Trudeau started Sunday in Cranbrook with his family in their RV and his team of staff in tow. He stopped in Creston in the early afternoon and arrived to Lakeside Park on Streetcar #23.
It’s been a long time since either the East or West Kootenay has elected a Liberal MP. Nelson has not been represented by a federal Liberal since the early 1900s. That fact did not seem to dent Trudeau’s optimism for his western swing.
“At 35 seats right now, there are an awful lot of ridings that are not Liberal,” he said with a smile. “I don’t even think about it as what riding we have a chance in or don’t have a chance in, I just want to get out and meet as many Canadians as possible.”