Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland stopped in Grande Prairie last week to speak with local farmers, tradespeople and the city mayor.
“I really believe that to do my job properly, I have to go out and talk to the people who are actually working hard; talk to the people who actually are building Canada and the Canadian economy and talk to them myself,” said Freeland.
Freeland started the day off at the UFA Farm & Ranch Supply Store early Friday, then headed over to Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP), wrapping up with a meeting with Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton on Aug. 26.
“I like to talk to the people who wear overalls to do their jobs, and (they) have dirty hands. I've been doing that across the country this summer.”
She said it was important that she come back to northern Alberta, where she was born and raised, to hear from its people directly.
Freeland said she has “taken many notes” since being in Grande Prairie and will bring back to Ottawa that “Canada really needs skilled tradespeople.” Though she noted our region has many already, she said there is still a great need with many vacancies available.
“The federal government needs to continue working with municipalities, with community colleges, to be sure we have the training programs we need and that people who want to take those programs have economic support, they need to get that training.”
“I really am committed to working with places like (NWP) to be sure we're providing the support and the training that Canadians and the Canadian economy needs.”
Freeland said a better job needs to be done in recognizing qualifications interprovincially as well.
“We really need skilled workers like the ones I met today.”
She said the second message she will be bringing back to Ottawa will be that the Canadian economy needs affordable early learning and childcare.
“That's going to drive jobs and growth; we especially need it now when we have labour shortages, and it can be transformative in the life of the young family,” said Freeland.
She then went on to say that it was important to talk to local farmers in the Grande Prairie region.
“This is an incredibly important export industry, but right now, with the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has real geopolitical importance the world's people need, so they don't starve.
“It was good to talk to some farmers directly, hear from them, and really to tell them how much I value and appreciate their work.”
A concern Freeland heard from farmers was about the federal government's plan to cut fertilizer emissions down by 30 per cent by 2030.
“I have incredible confidence that Canadian farmers do not use more fertilizer than they need,” said Freeland, noting that the target will not be compulsory.
“What I said to the farmers I met with today is I want you to grow as much food as you possibly can for yourselves, for your families, for the Canadian economy, but also because the world needs it.”
Grande Prairie city hall was the subject of a video that went viral after a local resident verbally assaulted Freeland as she and her team entered an elevator there Friday afternoon.
In the video, a man yells insults and profanity at the deputy prime minister; Freeland responded to the incident on Saturday on social media, saying, “what happened yesterday was wrong.
Nobody, anywhere, should have to put up with threats and intimidation.”
She said the harassment would not keep her from returning to Alberta, which she considers her home and where friends and family are.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the harassment.
Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton released a statement saying, “The confrontation at city hall captured on video does not reflect the welcoming spirit our region is known for.
“We do not need to agree on every issue to treat each other with basic respect.
“As mayor, I have the opportunity to meet with politicians of all political stripes. I always appreciate the opportunities our democracy gives me to have constructive conversations with others, even those who hold opposing views.”
Politicians from across the country weighed in.
Premier Jason Kenney said in response on social media, “Grande Prairie is a wonderful, welcoming community. A couple of ignorant folks don’t change that one bit.”
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News