Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are gathering in St. John’s, N.L., where they will look to the past before preparing for the months ahead and the second half of their mandate.
The visit to Newfoundland will begin with Trudeau marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by joining a discussion on how a small community opened its doors to thousands of stranded airline passengers after U.S. air space was closed.
The prime minister will attend the Come From Away forum – named for the award-winning Broadway musical that chronicles how the residents of Gander, N.L., responded when nearly 7,000 passengers and crew from 38 planes were diverted there following the attacks.
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On Tuesday and Wednesday, Trudeau and his ministers – including Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan, who became minister for veterans affairs earlier this month in a cabinet shuffle that followed the resignation of Judy Foote, a long-time Liberal MP from the province – will hunker down for their annual cabinet retreat.
The relationship with the United States and administration of President Donald Trump will continue to be a focus of discussion, especially as Ottawa is to host the next round of North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations Sept. 23-27.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador in Washington, D.C., will update ministers on that file.
The cabinet ministers will also hear from Anil Arora, the head of Statistics Canada, who will go over the results of the 2016 census and provide an update on the demographics of the country to help inform policy decisions going forward.
The retreat will also give ministers a chance to share updates – and grill each other – on their own files, such as what the federal government is doing to assist Canadians affected by the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, as well as the ever-present task of promoting economic growth.
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There are just over two years left before the 2019 federal election, so some of the talk is also expected to focus on how the Liberals can make good on more of their promises before Canadians head to the polls.
The cabinet will look at a busy legislative agenda this fall, which includes some massive bills such as the proposed legalization of cannabis for recreational use and a new National Security Act. The Liberals also face a new Conservative leader and an increasingly unpredictable Senate.
“We always want to work as productively as possible in Parliament and have respectful and productive exchanges with all members of Parliament in the House,” said Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau.
“At the same time, we have a mandate we were elected on to fulfil,” said Ahmad, who then said the parts of the mandate dealing with jobs and the economy will be the biggest priority.
The cabinet gathering comes on the heels of a Liberal caucus retreat in Kelowna, B.C., last week, where backbench MPs were not shy about airing their concerns about a plan to end tax provisions used by a growing number of small businesses.
Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal strategist, said it was probably one of those times when cabinet ministers – especially those who took on that role as rookies – likely learned the importance of MPs.
“Those cabinet ministers don’t get to be in cabinet unless they form a government, so you need these MPs,” he said. “I think they got a real quick crash course in constituency business,” said MacEachern, who is now with the lobby firm Environics Communications.