For two and a half days, the Liberal cabinet huddled at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg, focusing on their objectives amid the context of their new reality: a minority government that will need opposition support to get anything done.
But from the prime minister’s closing news conference Tuesday and the ministers who spoke publicly when the retreat wrapped up, we still don’t have a full sense of the legislation the Liberals will table this winter — and they certainly made enough promises during the election campaign to keep Parliament busy.
We know the first order of business when the House resumes next week: to ratify the new NAFTA trade deal, CUSMA.
“Passing the new NAFTA in Parliament is our priority,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Whether it will pass, however, is another question. The Bloc Quebecois won’t support the new deal without more supports for aluminum workers, and neither the NDP nor the Conservatives are clear on their support, with both parties having said they want to review it closely.
Trudeau also spoke generally of other commitments, such as pharmacare, protecting the environment and stricter gun control measures, but offered no specifics on what may come forward as legislation or when.
“We’re stepping up to the plate. Just take our pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and to preserve more of Canada’s land and oceans,” said Trudeau.
“We’re taking real action to protect our environment.”
The prime minister, however, didn’t say what that action is, nor did he give any clues as to how his government would reach net zero emissions by 2050, amid criticism that Canada is not on track to meet its current targets for 2030.
On implementing a national pharmacare plan, another campaign promise short on details, the health minister couldn’t commit to any legislation this winter.
Here, the Liberals could face opposition not just from other federal parties, but from provinces and territories, as well, with health care a provincial responsibility.
“I have heard reluctance from some provinces and enthusiasm from others,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu Tuesday, calling herself a ‘pragmatist’ who will “always look for opportunities to work with the willing.”
Hajdu said it’s “very hard to say” whether legislation could be tabled this session, but she’s considering having some sort of public timeline so Canadians can see the “complexity” of the issue and hold both the federal and provincial governments to account in terms of how long things take.
On gun control, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Monday that implementation of different Liberal proposals would happen in a multi-stage process, with a proposed ban on assault rifles coming first, and a buy-back program later.
Global News asked the prime minister at his Tuesday news conference whether specific gun control legislation would be rolled out during the winter session. In response, Trudeau didn’t specify, saying only that “immediate steps” on the ban will be taken “in the coming weeks,” adding it’s a complex issue.
“There are many, many measures we will be taking,” said Trudeau.
Trudeau also wouldn’t provide specifics about which firearms would be considered “military-style assault rifles” and thus be covered by the ban. Fully automatic rifles are prohibited in Canada, but some semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15, are legal but restricted.
A couple of hours later, Blair told reporters some of the gun control measures will involve regulation and others legislation. When Global News asked whether legislation would come this winter, Blair said it is his “intention as quickly as possible” to finish consultations, discussions and research and bring them to the cabinet table.
It’s not yet clear, however, whether a ban would involve legislation tabled in the House of Commons.
On medically-assisted dying, meanwhile, the Liberals have been handed a due date of March 11 from Quebec’s Superior Court to make changes to federal legislation, after the court found some parts of it too restrictive, and therefore unconstitutional.
Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters on Sunday he hoped legislation could be tabled in February, but that he wasn’t ruling out asking the court for an extension. The government launched public consultations last week.
The headlines of the Liberal plan for the winter sessions may be clear — NAFTA, pharmacare, gun control, climate action — but how and when they plan to move on most of them remains a mystery.