New Brunswick

Justin Trudeau's cabinet retreat offers big vision, few details

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet used a retreat in scenic St. Andrews on Monday to begin plotting the agenda for their first full year in office, but few details emerged from the first day of meetings on how the Liberals will handle a shaky economy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sidesteps questions on allowing federal deficit to exceed $10B, moving up budget

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc as they head to a media availability during a cabinet retreat at the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, N.B. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet used a retreat in scenic St. Andrews on Monday to begin plotting the agenda for their first full year in office, but few details emerged from a day of meetings on how the Liberals will handle a shaky economy.

The combination of a falling Canadian dollar and the declining price of oil have generated clouds of uncertainty over the Canadian economy.

These duelling forces have led some economists to call for the federal government to loosen the purse strings and push the deficit up to roughly $30 billion, which is far above the $10 billion Trudeau pledged during the campaign.

Trudeau, standing in front of his entire cabinet, told a news conference that his Liberals were elected on an agenda to help middle-class Canadians and kickstart the economy.

But when asked specifically about whether he would allow Finance Minister Bill Morneau to move beyond the $10-billion deficit target, the prime minister remained cagey.

"I have instructed Bill to put forward a strong budget that reflects the needs of Canadians and the needs of the Canadian economy focused on growth while remaining fiscally responsible," Trudeau said.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr talks with reporters on Monday in St. Andrews. He is expected to tour the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John on Tuesday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
Trudeau also dodged another specific question over whether the Liberals would consider moving up the date of the federal budget in order to get money out of the door faster to help Canadians and communities.

Morneau, when speaking with reporters earlier in the day, also refused to get pinned down on any specifics about the budget deficit.

The finance minister also would not say whether the federal government would ramp up infrastructure spending even faster than promised in order to combat the economic headwinds facing the country.

He said the federal government is looking for infrastructure projects that will create jobs and boost long-term productivity.

"Our goal is to do that in a way that is responsible. If we find projects that are responsible that can help us with long-term productivity that are also ready now then we'd like to move forward," he said.

CBC Reporter Daniel McHardie has been covering the federal cabinet meeting in St. Andrews. 7:18

Infrastructure Minister Amerjeet Sohi struck a similar note when pressured over the possibility that the federal government will ante up more funds to help provinces and cities pay for infrastructure projects.

Normally, the projects are split equally between the three levels of government but Sohi said that could change and Ottawa could pick up a larger share.

Sohi wouldn't say how much more money Ottawa could put on the table or how that could affect the deficit.

Homefield advantage

The location of the cabinet retreat at the historic Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews allowed the federal cabinet a chance to get out of Ottawa to discuss their 2016 agenda.

Veteran Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, left, chatted with veterans as Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, centre, looked on, as they attend a spaghetti dinner at a local community centre on Monday night in St. Andrews. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
The selection of New Brunswick could have something to do with the fact that New Brunswick rewarded the Liberals with all 10 seats and, in particular, Karen Ludwig, the local MP, won her seat in the traditional Conservative stronghold of New Brunswick Southwest.

The meeting may have been a reward for New Brunswick voters but it also afforded the New Brunswick government a chance to pitch their federal counterparts on specific issues.

Premier Brian Gallant had a chance to meet with the prime minister and address the federal cabinet.

Economic Development Minister Rick Doucet, whose riding neighbours St. Andrews, was on hand to welcome the cabinet and for subsequent meetings.

As well, Finance and Infrastructure Minister Roger Melanson and Regional Development Corp. Minister Victor Boudreau also had a chance to meet their federal colleagues. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ed Doherty is also expected to meet Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett on Tuesday.

Trudeau posed with veterans before he attended a spaghetti supper on Monday night. The event drew 300 people inside the hall with another 100 or so packed outside of the room. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is also going to visit the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John before he leaves New Brunswick.

The Liberals also got out of picturesque hotel and rubbed shoulders with many people in southern New Brunswick.

Before the cabinet meeting, Immigration Minister John McCallum visited Hampton, where the community has raised money to help Syrian refugees settle in the community.

Trudeau and his cabinet ministers also attended a community spaghetti supper that drew 300 people inside the W.C. O'Neill Arena Complex in St. Andrews and about 100 more people who lined up outside the hall.

About the Author

Daniel McHardie

Digital senior producer

Daniel McHardie is the digital senior producer for CBC New Brunswick. He joined in 2008. He also co-hosts the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.