Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau blamed "petty politics" on the part of a school board for the abrupt derailing of one of his media events Thursday.
Reporters and camera operators who had been invited to watch Trudeau speak to students at Sisler High School in Winnipeg were told 20 minutes ahead of time they would have to leave. The teacher who organized Trudeau's appearance said word had come down from the Winnipeg School Division that allowing media to be present would make the event seem partisan.
Trudeau was taken aback.
"I have had the pleasure of dropping in to Sisler on just about every single one of my visits to Winnipeg over the past eight years or so," he said afterward. "It's unfortunate that someone at the board level decided that they needed to play politics and not highlight my visit there, but the conversation with the students was phenomenal."
There was no response from school division headquarters.
There was a comment about the Trudeau event on a Twitter account in the name of Suzanne Hrynyk, one of the division's trustees. "Schools should not be used as political conduits for any elected official," one message read.
Hrynyk's Twitter profile describes her as a part-time trustee and "proud New Democrat." She could not be reached for comment.
Other politicians have been allowed to stage events on school grounds. The school division's website includes photographs of Manitoba NDP Premier Greg Selinger making a funding announcement last month at Queenston School, which is also in the Winnipeg School Division.
Trudeau said he was pleased with his chat with the students despite the division's decision.
"It's a shame that there are people out there still playing petty politics, but I will continue to engage with as many people as openly as I possibly can."
Trudeau got the star treatment at the food court below the TD Centre at Portage and Main, where he posed for dozens of photos with camera-happy diners.
Speaking briefly with reporters, the 41-year-old Montrealer continued to promote a positive message, which he said he hopes will help engage more Canadians in the political process.
"People have been talking about how pleased they are that we're taking the high road, that we're talking about engaging with Canadians in a constructive and positive way," Trudeau said.
"A lot of people, even Conservatives and NDPers, are looking at the negativity put out by the Conservatives, by the government specifically, and saying, 'You know what? I think we're better than this as a country and as people.' "
Lawyer Trish Goulet was among those on hand to gawk at the eldest son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
"My 15-year-old daughter was dying to be here, so I had to come get a picture for her," said Goulet, who admits she's not had a great interest in politics until now.
"It's interesting to see what a new young leader is going to bring at this stage of the game. He's charismatic, which is huge. It's going to go a long way and hopefully bring out younger voters."
Maureen Habington, a legal assistant, said she received an email at work that Trudeau would be at the TD Centre, so she decided to check him out.
"My Mom would have been mad at me if I didn't," she said, adding that Trudeau "seems like a really approachable, nice guy."
Although the House of Commons was sitting Thursday, Trudeau trekked to Winnipeg to thank local Liberals for their support in the leadership race and press the flesh with Manitobans.
"A lot of people really need to believe that politicians actually are accessible and ready to engage with them," he said. "You can't underestimate how important that is to get out as a message, because people are too used to politicians being walled off, sitting behind spin and propaganda rather than engaging directly with Canadians."
He vowed that if elected prime minister, he would be more open to the media and to Canadians in general than the current tenant of 24 Sussex Drive. "For me, being accessible to people isn't just about trying to win over their votes; it's actually about beginning an engagement that's going to lead us to building better solutions as a country," the former schoolteacher said.
Sam Dixon, a lifelong Liberal, said Trudeau's ascendancy as leader has provided local Grits with a much-needed boost. Reduced to just one seat in Manitoba in the 2011 election, the Winnipeg North constituency represented by Kevin Lamoureux, recent polling suggests the Liberal brand may again be on the rise, he said.
"There's been a huge (popularity) increase for us, and a lot of it has come from the undecided vote," Dixon said. "(Trudeau)'s exactly what the party needs to build more energy and get more enthusiasm back."
-- The Canadian Press, with staff files