Liberal MPs to get peek at plans for climate change, peacekeeping
Two-day caucus strategy session will set scene for fall sitting of House of Commons
Liberal MPs gathered in the scenic Saguenay region of Quebec over the next two days are expected to get a peek at the Trudeau government's plans for climate change and possibly peacekeeping.
The government caucus will apparently get the chance to see details of the environmental plan approved earlier this week by cabinet, which includes carbon pricing and steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a source with knowledge of the file tells CBC News.
The source wouldn't reveal precisely what the government plans to do, but the climate change package is up for discussion between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers this fall, and the government needs all Liberal MPs onside ahead of time.
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The broad strokes of Canada's United Nations peacekeeping commitment are also likely up for discussion following Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's whirlwind five-country Africa tour this month.
Upon his return, Sajjan said he had a good idea how may troops would be deployed but was awaiting direction from cabinet.
The figure is expected to be in the hundreds, sources told CBC News.
The caucus strategy session, ahead of the fall sitting of the House of Commons, comes on the heels of an agenda-setting cabinet meeting in Sudbury, Ont., and amid opposition accusations of posh spending by two cabinet ministers on limos and photographers.
Trudeau, at an infrastructure funding announcement on Tuesday in Barrie, Ont., said his government must ensure it's a "responsible steward of public funds," and the contracting of photographers by departments is being examined.
'Perhaps not the best use of public funds'
"We have seen — and over the course of the past months have noticed — many long-standing government policies that we are questioning, and that's certainly one we are looking at as perhaps not the best use of public funds," he said.
A professional photographer was hired last fall to document Environment Minister Catherine McKenna's work at the COP21 climate summit in Paris at a cost of $6,600, a routine practice the minister has told her department to review.
The uproar over the photographer, combined with revelations about $3,700 in limousine service bills for Health Minister Jane Philpott, has given Conservatives, still licking their wounds from last year's election defeat, some political fodder.
The party, which dug up the expenses through access to information and shared them with the media, issued a fundraising letter on Wednesday citing what it characterized as lavish Liberal spending.
Many on the government benches are no doubt hoping the politically damaging headlines — arguably the first since the Liberals were elected last fall — don't prove too much of a distraction.
Tough year ahead, PM says
After the cabinet retreat, Trudeau acknowledged his government faces a tough year ahead, when it's expected to make some choices.
Quebec MP Francis Scarpaleggia, the Liberal caucus chair and a long-time MP, tried to keep things in perspective.
"Personally, as a parliamentarian who's had a number of mandates here, I think we hit the ground running pretty hard after the election," he said. "Every year is a tough year and there are always new challenges."
Face time with Morneau
Scarpaleggia says the caucus meeting will be an opportunity for members to get some face time with Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who met Wednesday with 14 private sector leaders and advisers on how best to boost the listless economy.
"The economy is a top priority, as it should be," he said. "We'll be hearing from MPs in different regions about the dynamics of the economy in their region, and informing the finance minister about what's going on in different parts of the country."
In addition, Scarpaleggia says the retreat in the Saguenay region, about two hours north of Quebec City in what used to be the heart of sovereignist territory, will give MPs a better sense of Quebec outside the major urban centres.