Economy on the agenda as Liberal MPs prepare for fall

It will be a session of tough choices ahead for the Liberal government

MPs and Senators pose for a group photo on the front steps of Parliament in Ottawa. (Dave Chan)

MPs and Senators pose for a group photo on the front steps of Parliament in Ottawa. (Dave Chan)

OTTAWA — Liberal MPs arrive in Saguenay, Que., today for a caucus retreat where they will prepare for a year of tough choices as the not-so-fledgling government figures out how to make good on its long list of promises.

“(We will) talk about the challenges and the opportunities that come when we are responsible about the trust Canadians placed in us to serve them well in the coming years,” Trudeau said Tuesday in Barrie, Ont.

The details of what will take precedence on the fall legislative agenda — beyond vague assertions the middle class will remain a priority — have yet to be shared, but Liberal MPs headed into two days of closed-door meetings that begin in earnest Thursday morning said they hope for substantial discussions on everything from electoral reform to a review of anti-terror legislation.

“The summer’s been really busy and as we prepare ourselves for the House to get back in session, this is an opportunity for us to discuss how the summer has been going, what our constituents have been saying,” incoming government House leader Bardish Chagger said in an interview Tuesday.

Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, the national caucus chair, was only slightly more specific as he rhymed off his list of expected topics: the economy, the environment, national security, health care — “the big issues that Canadians are expecting us to continue to move forward on.”

The summer caucus meeting comes on the heels of a cabinet retreat in Sudbury, Ont., where the stagnant economy provided the context for a message that the second year in power will require some patience and acceptance of the fact that the government cannot please everyone all of the time.

Voters are not the only ones who want attention from the government.

Liberal MPs return from their summer breaks with local concerns, arising from the numerous town halls cabinet ministers asked them to conduct in their ridings, the canvassing the Liberal party has asked them to keep up and their own ties to the regions.

The question of what to do about Bombardier, for example, will undoubtedly come up during a breakout gathering of the Quebec caucus, where Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes said support for a bailout is pretty well unanimous, so long as the conditions are in the best interest of Canada.

“We are waiting with bated breath to see what is finally decided,” Mendes said.

The new Supreme Court of Canada appointments process and whether it will mean the Liberal government breaks with the convention of appointing a judge from the Atlantic region to replace retiring Nova Scotia Justice Thomas Cromwell, will likely be a hot topic for the 32 East Coast MPs.

The talk of staying the course also comes amidst some recent changes, including a big one which moved Chagger into the job formerly held by Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

The Liberals had a tough time getting their legislative agenda on track this spring — helping to create a bitterly partisan atmosphere which played a role in the so-called “elbowgate” controversy in May. The choice of Chagger, a rookie MP, is seen as a way to bring down the temperature.

The hiring of Mark Kennedy, a veteran political journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, as the communications adviser for parliamentary affairs and democratic reform, a role he took on quietly in the Prime Minister’s Office last month, is another move meant to help the government stay focused on its mandate.

The hard work will also come with some time for MPs to reconnect after a summer away from Parliament Hill, or even get to know each other for the first time.

“The caucus is a team and to be even more efficient it’s important that caucus members know each other, that they bond and can relate,” said Trudeau spokesman Olivier Duchesneau.

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