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Trudeau departs Iqaluit doing after something he rarely does — reflecting on his dad

Trudeau travelled to Iqaluit for the 2-day trip this week to sign a historic land transfer agreement
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with a member of the public at an event follwing the signing of the Nunavut devolution agreement in Iqaluit on Thursday, January 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dustin Patar

As he falls back in the polls, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has found himself no longer the front-runner.

But far away from Ottawa, he spent his last day in Nunavut trailing behind a different kind of pack.

One made up of sled dogs.

Trudeau travelled to Iqaluit for the two-day trip this week to sign a historic land transfer agreement that gives Nunavut decision-making power over its lands, waters and resources.

He ended the trip by hopping aboard a sled led by a pack of huskies, joined by Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Aluki Kotierkm, the leader of a territorial organization that advocates for Inuit rights.

Joining Trudeau was his youngest child, nine-year-old Hadrien.

The prime minister said he invited his son along to experience the uniqueness of the North, adding that his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had done the same for him.

“It’s amazing to be back here,” Trudeau said before sitting down for a meeting with Akeeagok at the territory’s legislature on Friday morning.

“I was reflecting on (how) my dad brought me up here 50 years ago, and over the past 50 years I’ve seen … tremendous transformation.”

Trudeau rarely reflects publicly about his late father, but he did so no fewer than three times during his trip to Iqaluit.

Those early memories helped shape his love for Canada, the prime minister told a crowd of community members gathered for a feast late Thursday.

Trudeau travelled to Nunavut earlier that day to sign a final agreement that will see Ottawa transfer over power when it comes to all public lands and water in the territory to its government, in a long, winding process known formally as devolution.

Handing over land management responsibilities has been in the works since 2008, when the territorial government agreed to a negotiation protocol with former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Following years of negotiating, the territory struck an agreement in principle with the federal government in 2019, which evolved into Thursday’s final agreement.

Akeeagok says the agreement moves the territory closer to its dream of self-determination and puts future decision-making over its natural resources, including any future development of minerals, squarely in the territory’s hands — and those of the Inuit who live there.

The premier and others are also expressing hope that the agreement creates new jobs in the youngest of Canada’s three territories, which was only created in 1999, and brings in additional revenue to its economy.

The parties have agreed to formally complete the transfer process over the next three years, concluding by April 2027, and for Ottawa to send millions to help shepherd the move.

Trudeau and Akeeagok were set to discuss the next steps of the agreement when they met Friday in a territory that is facing a list of other challenges and crises.

They include a severe lack of housing that has led to years of overcrowding and a rising cost of living made worse by inflation, the challenges of alcoholism and addictions and the fact that there is currently not enough water supply to sustain a growing population in the capital.

Although Trudeau said on Thursday that his visit wasn’t about political speeches, he didn’t miss the chance to hit back at his main political rival, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, at a press conference. He accused Poilievre of wanting to take the country backwards.

But the overall tone of the official visit, both the premier and prime minister said, was one of celebration and focus on the opportunities in the territory’s future.

That was evident Friday as the pair shared laughs on the back of a sled.

They each took turns jogging alongside it as a pack of dogs pulled the group across the frigid landscape. While the wind was sharp, a sundog beamed in the sky.

To cap off Trudeau’s visit on Friday, Akeeagok showed him to an igloo that a group of Inuit men were building at the entrance of a territorial park.

He told the prime minister that the way the structure is built — block by block by block — highlights how every piece matters, and the importance of having a solid foundation.

That’s a lesson that applies to the new final agreement.

Trudeau was invited inside the igloo to participate in packing on a final block, which he helped trim down.

“All good,” the prime minister said as he ducked inside.

“So we get to do a little work.”

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Trudeau tours Nunavut legislative assembly before bidding farewell to Iqaluit