Standing in the packed High Country Inn conference room with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Joseph O’Brian felt like “an alien.”
“Where are the other First Nations?” said the Little Salmon/Carmacks councillor.
“We got no invitations.”
Jessica Pisarek heard about the Conservative event on local list-serve Artsnet, after someone in the community learned about it and posted the details.
Pisarek, who works for Canada World Youth, met the prime minister before in Poland, and wanted to hear him speak.
“But all he talked about was fiscal responsibility and the deficit,” she said.
“There are more issues in the world than just that.”
There are two reasons the Yukon has been on Harper’s mind recently, he said at the start of his 20-minute speech Thursday night.
First, he mentioned the tremendous community support surrounding the death of RCMP Const. Michael Potvin, who drowned in the Stewart River near Mayo in July.
Then, he mentioned Ted Harrison. His wife likes the famous Yukon painter and hung one of his works in the foyer at 24 Sussex Drive.
The rest of the speech circled around economic investments, like the Canada Winter Games and Vancouver Olympics, the economic downturn, Canada’s quick recovery “due to the economic action plan,” and the impossibility of raising taxes.
“The Liberal coalition wants to see a carbon tax to pay for the Kyoto Accord,” said Harper.
“We won’t raise taxes.
“And they want to see people working for 40 days, then being able to claim employment insurance,” he said with laugh.
“Not in our Canada.”
The room broke into applause.
There was also applause when Harper talked about cracking down on criminals and making sure serial killers didn’t get pensions.
And there was more when he slammed the gun registry and took a shot at Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.
But some people weren’t clapping.
“It’s kind of ironic that Harper’s standing in front of these carved native statues,” said one government worker, who was afraid to use her name. “Especially after the funding cuts that have gone on in the last year, to groups like the aboriginal healing foundation.”
Naresh Prasad was there to see the prime minister in person. But he’s not a Conservative, he said, and didn’t like the amount of money Harper spent relocating the G20 - $1.2 billion.
“Otherwise, he’s OK,” said Prasad. “Although he lacks a little charm.”
Saad Abbasi had come to ask the prime minister about immigration.
When the young Pakistani man, his wife and their two little boys were handpicked to sit behind Harper during his speech, Abbasi was hopeful.
But Stephen Harper wouldn’t take any questions.
“They probably picked us to show multiculturalism,” said Abbasi’s wife Ambreen Saad, who was wearing a black headscarf.
Harper wished their little boy a happy birthday, but he didn’t address immigration issues in the North.
Every attempt Abbasi has made to bring his brothers to the territory has failed.
“They’re both engineers,” he said. “And every day, I see jobs advertised for engineers here.
“But they keep getting rejected.”
Abbasi’s family moved here for work; he has a job with Northwestel.
“And they are always looking for workers,” said Saad.
Abbasi’s brothers are now stuck in Pakistan’s floods. They’re safe and making sandbags, as far as he knows.
Ambreen isn’t sure what she thinks of Harper.
“He made a good speech,” she said. “But speeches are for show.”
Then she pointed at her two little boys, who sat behind Harper. “Babies are for show.”
Patrick Matheson was also handpicked to sit behind Harper.
The Yukon Arts Centre’s technical director had hoped to ask the prime minister about arts and culture.
“I thought, I could sit outside with a sign or I could sit inside and be part of the dialogue - so I sat inside,” he said.
Harper mentioned culture at the end of his speech - these are the things Canada should be proud of: national pride (he gave a thumbs up), market-oriented economics and cultural diversity.
“He mentioned how high our national pride is,” said Green Party representative John Streicker.
“But I would have been happy if he was speaking to us as a country, not as a party leader against other political parties.”
Harper stressed the government is not seeking an election.
Then, he encouraged the crowd to vote for a Conservative majority in the next election.
“Alchemists used to try to turn lead into gold,” he said.
“The opposition is trying to turn gold into lead.
“So, elect a gold-medal Conservative in the next election.
“We’re not focused on an election,” he added.
“God bless Canada.”