WINNIPEG – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers are trying to concentrate on the Liberal government’s domestic agenda and how to see it implemented in a minority parliament – but unforeseen emergencies still require their urgent attention.
The monster storm that buried the eastern regions of Newfoundland and Labrador in snow, and the trauma of the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane dominated questions posed to ministers as they came and went Sunday from the opening day of a three-day cabinet retreat.
But while these events continued to dominate outside the retreat, ministers inside were focused on a more banal issue: the preparation for Parliament’s resumption on 27 January for its first extended session since the October 21 election reduced the Liberals to a minority.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and newly-appointed middle-class prosperity minister Mona Fortier updated their colleagues on the cross-cutting consultations they have conducted ahead of the forthcoming budget.
“This morning we had the opportunity to talk about our economy, to reflect on how well middle-class Canadians have done over the last four years, but also to think about the things we still need to do,” he said. Morneau.
“It was an important start to our day.”
But Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne began his day even before the early morning start of the cabinet retreat, sending a letter to his Iranian counterpart, stressing that Canada expects flight recorders from Ukrainian airlines’ flight PS752 to be analyzed by experts in Ukraine or France.
His letter came amid signs that Iran – which has admitted that it accidentally shot down the passenger plane and killed all 176 on board, including 57 Canadians – may be withdrawing from a previous commitment to share the damaged black boxes with external experts.
The scheduled flight was shot down on January 8, and the tragedy has occupied the government ever since. Trudeau, who intended to assume a lower profile during his second term, has held four news conferences on the case, met with the families of the victims and attended memorials.
Trudeau offered no comment Sunday as he came and went from the retreat.
Late in the day, various diplomats from across the globe gave ministers a tour of the international stage.
They included Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, where two Canadians have been arbitrarily jailed for more than a year in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei director Meng Wanzhou at the instigation of the United States.
Asked to summarize the picture of the global situation that the diplomats drew, Champagne said: “It is a complex world. It is a world that is less predictable. It is certainly not the world of our parents.”
That unpredictability is not limited to the international scene.
Three other ministers – Secretary of State Bill Blair, Secretary of Defense Harjit Sajjan and Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan – spent at least part of the retreat dealing with the federal response to the storm that ravaged Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday and Saturday. .
“We make sure there is good, close coordination to ensure they get the resources they need,” said Public Safety Secretary Bill Blair shortly after the trio of ministers spoke by telephone. with the province’s prime minister, Dwight. Ball.
Sajjan said 150 to 200 troops would be on the ground in the province by the end of the day, with up to 150 more ready to go if needed.
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, one of about a dozen experts asked to speak to ministers Sunday on a variety of topics, later said the storm is an example of how the warming climate is making extreme weather events worse.
Ministers also heard from economists about the state of the economy and the government’s efforts to strengthen the middle class.
Morneau later declined to go into detail about how the budget preparations in a minority parliament differ from those made during the Liberals’ first majority term. He only acknowledged that consultations with opposition parties – at least one of which must support the budget if the government is to survive – will be “more robust this year.”
Cabinet withdrawals outside of Ottawa are part of Trudeau’s approach to regionalism, in which Winnipeg was elected for this special outing in an attempt to recognize that the Liberals were run off on the prairies in the October 21 election – primarily because of environmental policies. considered hostile to energy. industry.
They were completely shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan and lost three out of seven places in Manitoba.
Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson reiterated that he is open to proposals for improvements in the Liberals’ climate change policies. But he made it clear that there is little chance that it will involve any change to the introduction of a national carbon tax, noting that two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties that support this approach to climate policy.
On the flip side, ministers also received an update on the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, which is intended to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the BC coast for export abroad.
Construction has begun and Ian Anderson, CEO of Trans Mountain Corp., said the project is expected to be completed by mid to late 2022.
O’Regan said he hopes it will help “change the temperature” in the prairies, especially in Alberta, where alienation and talk of segregation have been high since the election.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 19, 2020.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press