It's that time of year again — the summer is drawing to a close and MPs are turning their minds back to their jobs in Ottawa after spending a few weeks in their ridings and taking some time off. Liberal MPs today are meeting at a golf resort in eastern Prince Edward Island to plot their return to Parliament Hill this fall.
Their summer caucus gathering kicked off Tuesday with separate meetings of the women's caucus and the Senate caucus and the full caucus will meet today. After a day of work, the Liberal MPs will have a chance to relax and have some fun at a barn party hosted by Lawrence MacAuley, the P.E.I. MP for Cardigan.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will deliver a speech to rally his troops at the evening event. He spent Tuesday afternoon touring around Charlottetown and meeting local residents, some of whom encouraged him to keep telling the truth. They were referring to the controversy he prompted last week when he admitted in an interview that he smoked marijuana at a dinner party three years ago.
Aside from some buzz about their leader's experience with pot and his call this summer for it to be legalized, here are a few other key topics that will be discussed at the Liberal caucus meeting.
Trudeau is latching on to the theme of openness and transparency not only in talking honestly about his experience with drug use, the money he's earned from speaking engagements and other personal issues, but with policy proposals. Near the end of the spring sitting of Parliament he said Liberal MPs this fall will post their travel and hospitality expenses online for all to see. There will be some discussion of that commitment at the meeting, talking through the logistics of it and MPs will talk about what else they can do to brand the Liberals as the party of honesty and transparency.
Middle-class economic policies
Liberals say their policy focus is on the struggling middle class. Trudeau told reporters Tuesday that his party is making the economic issues facing Canadian families today a priority and they will focus on "how we as a party and we as eventually a government are going to be able to respond to that."
The party's finance critic, Scott Brison, is armed with the latest employment numbers and other statistics and he told CBC News that they are grim, particularly the youth unemployment rate. He said it's not only young people struggling financially but also their parents because of the help they are trying to offer their kids. The Liberals will talk about what policies they can propose to help the middle class.
Now that the long leadership campaign is over Liberals can start focusing more on preparing for the next federal election in 2015. Deputy leader Ralph Goodale told reporters last week that there is strong sense of excitement among MPs who feel that the campaign generated renewed interest in the party among Canadians and now they have to capitalize on that momentum. He said this caucus retreat will begin the process of organizing ideas and laying the groundwork for an election plan so Liberals can deliver results on the ground.
"We need to organize that enthusiasm so that it translates into the ability to contact every voter between now and an election," he said.
There are also a round of byelections coming up that will involve two Liberal-held seats left vacant by Bob Rae's and Denis Coderre's departures from Parliament Hill. Trudeau plans to give up his authority to appoint candidates and nominations will be open ones in the future.
This time last year, when Liberals gathered for their end-of-summer caucus meeting, they had Bob Rae as the interim leader and were talking about the leadership campaign rules. Now Trudeau has the top job and will be leading his first summer caucus meeting. He spent part of his summer on the road touring different parts of Canada and will be reporting to his caucus what he heard from people along the way. One MP said Trudeau has been "working his tail off" meeting Canadians.
Trudeau said Tuesday in Charlottetown that he is trying to set himself apart from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. "I am certainly trying to make myself look different from the kind of politics that people have been suffering through for the past years," said.