A pitch was made last week to attract some serious political star power to next year’s Arctic Winter Games.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was invited to attend the games during his stop in Yellowknife on Feb. 10.
The invitation was personally extended by Hay River Mayor Brad Mapes, Fort Smith Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley and Greg Rowe, the president of the 2018 South Slave Arctic Winter Games Host Society.
Mapes feels good about the chances that Trudeau will come to the games.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” said the mayor of the five-minute meeting with the prime minister.
One of the key elements in the invitation to the prime minister was that his late father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, opened the first Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife in 1970.
The 2018 games – co-hosted by Hay River and Fort Smith – will be the 25th edition of the event.
“His dad always embraced the Northwest Territories and the North, and Justin is no different,” said Mapes. “And we wanted to open the invitation to him and also to his family.”
Mapes noted that, during the meeting, the prime minister acknowledged his love for the North and his father’s love for the North.
“I said, ‘Justin, you’re basically the same,'” recalled Mapes. “‘You fit the same shoes as your father’s love of the North, and the Arctic Winter Games is a great way to showcase what the North is all about, and it would be ideal for you to come.'”
The mayor noted that, while Trudeau didn’t outright say that he would come to the Arctic Winter Games, he felt the prime minister hinted that he would be returning to the North with his family while speaking at a public meeting at the Yellowknife Multiplex following the meeting with the South Slave delegation.
“So I think it sounds pretty good, and we should get a response in the next few months on whether he’s coming or not,” said Mapes. “But it looks pretty good. I’d feel confident to say that there’s a good chance that he’d be coming.”
The South Slave delegation gave Trudeau a letter asking him to attend, and providing some history about the Games and his father’s role in opening the first games in 1970.
In addition, the delegation talked of the cultural significance of the AWG.
“He’s never been to the Arctic Winter Games before, but he kind of had a little bit of history on the games,” said Mapes. “The cultural side of the games is key to him and I think that’s going to be a big draw for him to come.”
The mayor noted it is hoped that Trudeau will come for the opening ceremonies in Hay River, and he would be welcome to stay as long as he wants.
Mapes recognized the assistance of Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod in arranging the meeting with the prime minister.
Rowe said he is also “very optimistic” that Trudeau will attend the games.
“It’s been very positive,” said the host society president. “So we’re hopeful that he will be able to make it.”
Like Mapes, Rowe also noted the role of Pierre Trudeau in opening the first AWG.
“I think that having Prime Minister Justin Trudeau open the 25th games would be significant,” he said.
Rowe explained it would showcase the AWG’s importance to the circumpolar world, noting that the Crown Prince of Denmark was part of the opening ceremonies for the 2016 games in Nuuk, Greenland.
“I really think that’s the level that the Arctic Winter Games are getting to and deservedly so,” he added. “It would be an honour to have the leader of our country show that. So we’re pretty excited about it.”
Rowe noted Trudeau gave no indication whether or not he would be able to attend.
“But he was certainly thankful that we made the offer,” he said. “It was a fairly positive meeting.”
The host society president also hopes that, if Trudeau does attend, he would be able to visit Hay River for the opening ceremonies and Fort Smith for the opening of the Arctic sports competitions.
Rowe said the prime minister’s attendance would bring more national attention to the games, including from the media.
Mapes also mentioned the extra media attention a visit by the prime minister would bring, both for the AWG and the communities of Hay River and Fort Smith.
Even though a visit from Trudeau would mean more work for organizers, Mapes said it would help make the games a national event in Canada.
The Arctic Winter Games, which are scheduled for March 18 to 24, 2018, will bring together about 1,900 athletes, coaches and officials from five circumpolar countries.