Justin Trudeau's cabinet retreat offers big vision, few details
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sidesteps questions on allowing federal deficit to exceed $10B, moving up budget
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.