Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau, centre, is surrounded by people Wednesday after he spoke to students at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. Brandon-Souris Liberal byelection candidate Rolf Dinsdale is at bottom right.
It was a tweet heard around ... well Canada, at least.
Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau was greeted like a rock star at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation on Wednesday, where he spoke to a gym full of mostly high school students, teachers and community members. The students at the elementary school were all still in class when he arrived.
It was part of a day of activities that saw Trudeau campaigning with Liberal candidate Rolf Dinsdale for the Brandon-Souris byelection, which is Nov. 25.
The school in the community is an elementary one and Trudeau visited classrooms before entering the gym, which was supposed to be filled with Sioux Valley high school kids bused in from their school in Brandon.
The Sioux Valley secondary school facility was closed years ago due to mould contamination. The students are bused to the Sioux Valley High School in the former Fleming School site in the west end of Brandon.
However, as you might imagine, it was all a bit confusing as to who was going where in the school and I have no idea if any non-high school students did slip into the gym as it was at the end of the school day.
If you look at the photo above, taken shortly after Trudeau finished his shortish speech on the reserve, you’ll see a wide range of ages present. So judge for yourselves who might have listened to him speak.
As to the content of the address, toward the end of it Trudeau took a few questions from Sioux Valley high school students, and one of the last ones came from a teenaged girl who asked, "Are you going to legalize marijuana?"
I was running back and forth from the gym to an exterior window in a hallway to get better cell service to send out tweets, but Sun chief political reporter Jillian Austin was in the room the entire time and helped me reconstruct the exact chain of events:
• Trudeau repeated the marijuana question, which sparked a few laughs from the students.
• He began his response by stressing the fact that marijuana is a dangerous substance, specifically for youth whose brains are still developing.
• Youth seem to have relatively easy access to the illegal drug in Canada and Trudeau went on to say that taxing and regulating marijuana is the "way to protect our kids."
• The room erupted in applause and giggles after that.
There. That’s it. Nothing new in what he said about his long-held belief that taxing and regulating pot is a good way to get it away from organized crime.
And of course, authorities would still be cracking down on the pushers — as they do now with illegal booze and smokes — and kids under the legal age would also be subject to the laws.
Now should Trudeau have anticipated that pot would be a topic on high school kids’ minds?
Of course, on a reserve or at an affluent suburban high school in a "white" neighbourhood.
Face it, folks, a lot of teens smoke pot. And they get it from dealers who get it from folks involved in organized crime.
Back to the Sioux Valley gym.
I then summed up Trudeau’s exchange with the students as thus, in 140 characters:
James O’Connor @Monstereditor Big applause from Sioux Valley FN students for @JustinTrudeau when he explained why he’s in favour of legalizing & controlling pot. #cdnpoli 3:40pm • 13 Nov 13 • Twitter for iPhone
I then watched the rest of the event, hopped in my Jeep and returned to Brandon to finish my day at work.
Later that evening, my cellphone started to buzz non-stop with tweets from across Canada taking my original tweet — which had already been an abbreviated version of events — completely out of context.
Using my tweet as ammunition, various folks in the Twitterverse condemned Trudeau: "Those are children! Who promotes pot to children?" and "Pro-weed campaigning in a school. What did the parents say? School administration?" and "He was pushing drugs!"
I responded to a few Twitter twits, including one who asked me the makeup of the audience.
I was trying to describe how the event was intended for high school students, but I did see some kids in the vicinity who, to my middle-aged mind, looked kinda young.
So I responded: "The audience was combined younger kids and high school."
The following day, national media were calling myself and reporter Austin, mostly to further what they considered another PR bungle by Trudeau.
You know, for a guy who grew up in a political family, Trudeau really needs to think at bit before he blurts out his answers. Frankness and honesty are fantastic qualities, but politicians need to realize that every word and action they say and do will be recorded, analyzed and, often, twisted and taken out of context. But I digress.
I was even asked to appear via Skype on Sun News Network Thursday morning to "chat about Trudeau’s pro-weed campaign to schoolkids."
My word. The Toronto producer for that show is breaking a standard rule of journalism with such a leading question.
You just know it was going to be several minutes of trash-talking Trudeau, which would be stuck in an endless loop of replays and promos. I declined the interview.
And I’ll now decline to watch the ruthlessly right-wing Sun TV — despite my original hopes that it would be a breath of fresh air in the centre-left dominated media world.
Darn, I digressed. Again.
Later Thursday, the Conservatives — federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay and a reworded version by Brandon-Souris CPC candidate Larry Maguire — sent out a release entitled: "Trudeau Promotes Marijuana Legalization to Elementary School Children"
It began: "Yesterday, Justin Trudeau took his reckless plan to legalize marijuana to a new audience: elementary schoolchildren."
I’ll tell you what’s reckless, bad spin doctors who either don’t care about the truth or don’t try to find out the facts. You simply can’t base a very bold allegation from a federal cabinet minister — and a local Tory candidate fighting for his political life — on one tweet.
Even from me :-)
Trudeau has subsequently issued a demand that MacKay retract his statement.
But I did yesterday delete one of the series of tweets from the event, after it was cut and pasted into reports from Yahoo News and Huffington Post.
I decided that it was obviously being misunderstood by folks and I perhaps should have worded it better. But the mini-blog Twitter just gives you 140 characters, so brevity and condensation often hinder full context and background.
Which you are all getting here today.
I also have to wonder why this event actually became a story only after my series of tweets. While I thought it a bit weird — even wrong — that Trudeau was talking dope with the kids, there was a lot of local and national media in the Sioux Valley gym that day. Including CTV National News and Sun News Network — but no "Trudeau-pushing-marijuana" stories were filed that I saw. Until they twisted my tweets.
Sporting an orange fall coat and a leaf-print kerchief, Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst looked very comfortable as she stood on a dike between NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and NDP Brandon-Souris byelection candidate Cory Szczepanski on Wednesday.
But apart from the implied endorsement the pre-arranged photo op could impart with voters, is Her Worship throwing her support behind the party?
I asked her just that.
"It’s important that we have good solid partnerships with Ottawa and it’s very important for Brandon and the Westman area that we have that kind of partnership with whoever goes to Ottawa to represent us," Decter Hirst said.
Yeah, not so much of an answer to my question.
So I asked her to give me a yes or no answer.
"That’s the best answer I can give you, James."
However, at that point Decter Hirst didn’t know that Brandon Sun reporter Charles Tweed was in earshot when she walked up and hugged Mulcair as he arrived at the entrance of Eleanor Kidd Park to, for some reason, "tour a flood mitigation area."
As the longtime NDP member and provincial patronage appointee embraced the NDP leader, she said: "It’s the best I can do without wearing a button."
I’ll take that as a "yes" to my answer above.
But I note she was seen later at a Justin Trudeau rally at Rolf Dinsdale’s campaign HQ.
Here are the remaining debates:
• On Monday, Nov. 18, at 5 p.m., the Brandon University Students’ Union and Brandon University Politics Society host an all-candidates debate at the Rowe Theatre on the second floor of the Education Building. Open to the public.
• The Brandon Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Byelection Forum Luncheon takes place Wednesday, Nov. 20, starting at 11 a.m. at the Victoria Inn. The public is welcome, but must buy a ticket. Tickets $25. Deadline to register is Monday.
• The Brandon Sun, along with Westman Communications Group and CKLQ/Star FM, will hold a Brandon-Souris Byelection Candidates Debate on Thursday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Keystone Centre’s amphitheatre. The venue holds 700 people and the public is welcome to attend and participate. The latter 90-minute debate will be aired live on CKLQ 880, carried live on WCGtv to several communities across the Brandon-Souris riding and available for later view on Westman Cable’s On Demand service. It will also be extensively covered in the Brandon Sun’s print and online editions.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 16, 2013