Head to head with Prime Minister Trudeau
Gord Johns in the News
December 20th, 2016 - 11:00am
Source: Alberni Valley News
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns had a rare, face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month to remind him of his commitments to Vancouver Island residents, especially those in Port Alberni.
As the NDP member of parliament for the Courtenay-Alberni riding, Johns sat down for a private meeting with the prime minister on Nov. 30: a kind of meeting that is rare for any MP. Johns was able to procure the meeting through sheer persistence to advocate for his constituents.
"I've been fairly relentless since I've been elected," said Johns. "It's a very rare opportunity. The prime minister's time is very valuable, and it's almost unheard of to get this opportunity."
Johns and Trudeau have different political roles as members of different political parties, but as a member of the Opposition, Johns says it is his job to challenge the government and bring up new opportunities and ideas to work together to build a better Vancouver Island.
Johns first emphasized to the prime minister the importance of resolving the five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations' right to catch and sell fish, a court battle that has been going on for almost 10 years.
"It needs to be brought to a solution," said Johns. "There's no better way to move forward with reconciliation than investing in our fish. It's something that they rely on."
He also discussed investments in salmon restoration, protection and enhancement. Johns said he has been working with Minister Dominic Leblanc of the Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard behind the scenes, including a visit from directors Sheena Falconer and Tawney Lem of West Coast Aquatic to Ottawa.
"I think we really helped [Trudeau] understand the importance of fish to the west coast," he said. "It's not just a form of reconciliation, but important to our economy."
Johns advocated for the government to provide funding to the Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences, asking the prime minister to reconsider the importance of this research for workplace health.
The discussion also touched upon Port Alberni's marine economy, and Port Alberni as a part of the Pacific gateway. The region's proximity to ports in Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver makes it a good place for investment, especially when it comes to opportunities for ship investments and procurements.
Johns took the opportunity during the meeting to personally extend an invitation to the prime minister to visit Port Alberni.
Many know that Trudeau spends his summer holidays in Tofino, as the prime minister made headlines this summer by "photo bombing" a set of wedding photos in the area.
"I think it's important that he not just visit the most visible areas for tourism, but also understand the challenges we face in our riding," said Johns.
"He can't just go to all these beautiful places like Tofino and Haida Gwaii and not invest."
He personally invited the prime minister to Port Alberni to witness first hand some of the opportunities available to the federal government to invest in the Alberni Valley, an area facing recent challenges like high unemployment rates and poverty.
"I really emphasized that Port Alberni has contributed for decades to federal coffers," said Johns. "Now we're looking for the federal government to return, and ensuring we get our share while we're going through our transition.
"We haven't seen the benefits," said Johns. "We're largely ignored here on the west coast."
Johns said he invited the prime minister as a message to the community, to provide some injection of hope that Ottawa is looking out for and listening to its citizens.
"I reminded him of his promise that he would serve all Canadians, regardless of how they voted," said Johns. "They haven't seen him deliver on that promise."
The meeting was only supposed to be 15 minutes, but ran longer. Johns says he thinks Trudeau heard his message "loud and clear."
"It was very positive," Johns said of the meeting. "It was immediately followed up with his staff contacting our staff."
Trudeau didn't commit to a visit to Port Alberni, but he did express interest. Johns has also had follow-up meetings with the prime minister's assistants to further advocate for some of the projects discussed in the meeting.
"There are a lot of great champions in Port Alberni right now," said Johns. He cited the city's economic development department, the chamber of commerce and a number of non-profit organizations as examples.
"There are a lot of people pulling together to build a better community. To bring this energy and excitement to the prime minister's office was a meaningful opportunity for me."
Johns said he will continue to lobby for members of the federal government to visit Port Alberni and other areas on the island.
"I'm always going to work hardest for the people back home."