SUDBURY, Ont. – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers have been warned they’re heading into a tough year.
The warning came Sunday from Sir Michael Barber, the British guru on “deliverology” – the art of ensuring that governments deliver on their promises – who spoke to the federal cabinet during the first day of a two-day retreat.
Having spent the first 10 months of their mandate enjoying a prolonged honeymoon, consulting with Canadians on dozens of different issues and setting the stage to deliver on Trudeau’s ambitious agenda, Barber effectively told ministers it’s time to fish or cut bait.
“If you want to generate results … then in Year 2 you really need a focus on relentless implementation, on taking some difficult decisions where you can’t please all of the people all the time,” he said outside the retreat.
“You’re bound to make hard choices basically.”
Trudeau faces no shortage of hard choices on everything from electoral reform to pipelines, from climate change to fighter jets.
One of the biggest challenges looming this fall is a planned first ministers’ meeting that’s supposed to hammer out a national strategy to combat climate change, including putting a price on carbon.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna conceded there are “some difficult issues” to overcome but insisted “very good progress” has been made in behind-the-scenes negotiations. She vowed that Canadians “will see a serious climate plan in the fall,” as planned.
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But he says the hard part starts in the second year, when the government must begin making hard choices that will not please everyone.
The government’s need to make some hard choices comes against the backdrop of a stagnant economy that is showing few signs of life. Canada lost more than 31,000 jobs in July while job creation fell to its lowest level since the recession in 2008-09.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said some of the measures taken in last winter’s budget to stimulate the economy – investments in infrastructure and a new, more generous child benefit – are likely to start having “some traction” soon.
For instance, he said he’s hearing that families intend to spend their enhanced child benefit on back-to-school supplies for their kids.
“That’ll be money that will go into the economy,” he said.
As well, Morneau said the federal government has struck agreements with most of the provinces on disbursing infrastructure funding, which will “enable us to make the investments that we know will be positive in the short term and positive in the long term for the Canadian economy.”
For his part, Trudeau said one of the big themes of the retreat was “relationships” – with indigenous peoples, with the provinces and territories and with the United States.
On the latter, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, briefed the cabinet on the potential opportunities and challenges presented by the American presidential election in November.
Among other things, MacNaughton noted that both Republicans and Democrats and their respective presidential nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have adopted anti-trade stances that could wind up hurting Canada.
“There is a deep concern in the United States about how people don’t think that trade deals have worked to their benefit, that some people have benefited a lot but lots of people have been left behind,” he said outside the retreat.
“I’ve said frequently … there are nine million U.S. jobs that are dependent on trade with Canada and the problem is that nobody in Congress understands that.”
The somewhat gloomy messages were consistent with the back-to-school tone of the retreat, held at Laurentian University under threatening black clouds.
Ministers are bunking together in a student residence, three or four assigned to each apartment-like dorm.
“Actually, it’s really cool,” said Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, who is bunking with fellow ministers Judy Foote, Chrystia Freeland and Jody Wilson-Raybould.
“It goes back to my heydays as a graduate student.”
Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu said it’s a good way for ministers to reconnect after a summer spent working apart.
“I think it was really nice for all of us to convene in this way … We had a little dorm party as people do in dorms,” she said, stressing that they were “well behaved with the addition of a little libation.”