Trudeau cabinet retreats to New Brunswick to plot course for budget

Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are holed up at a New Brunswick resort to talk about what promises the government can afford to deliver in its first budget.

Two-day gathering will allow colleagues to get acquainted and learn more about delivering on promises

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to supporters as he arrives for a cabinet retreat at the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, N.B. on Sunday. The federal Liberals will work on their plans for the year including their upcoming budget. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet is meeting this week in a place where people welcome the low Canadian dollar.

Just a 30-minute drive from the United States, St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick is a pretty resort town — one that, if the loonie stays where it is, will see more American visitors as well as more Canadians who choose a staycation, according to Mayor Stan Choptiany.

Things aren't as rosy elsewhere in Canada.

With the economy stalled, the country's finances will be a hot topic for ministers who will likely want to hear from Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who just wrapped up cross-country budget consultations. Cabinet must soon decide what promises it can afford to deliver with a budget expected in March.

As the budget will surely include funding for several large infrastructure projects, the minister responsible, Amarjeet Sohi, will address his colleagues Monday.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi told reporters Sunday the government wants to get moving on infrastructure and said he signed off on several projects over the holidays. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"My presentation is going to be focussing on the framework on which we are going to deliver that money to various communities, provinces, territories," Sohi told reporters on Sunday.

Sohi put special emphasis on the existing Building Canada Fund, announced in 2013, and said he signed off on several projects over the holidays.

"Now we are in 2016 and we have lost one construction season. Our goal is to get the money out to the communities as fast as possible."

Yet with provinces such as Alberta taking a battering, Sohi concedes some jurisdictions are telling him they might not be able to meet contribution agreements with the federal government and that more consultations are necessary.

"We don't want to presuppose the outcome of those discussions but we have heard from our partners about capacity issues, about whether we continue to be one-third partners or we come up with different way of increasing that support."

Progress reports on emissions, health talks

All 30 members of Trudeau's cabinet are attending the day-and-a half retreat, along with special guest Michael Barber, author of "How to Run a Government so that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don't go Crazy."

The former top adviser to former British prime minister Tony Blair headed up a special "delivery unit." Barber spoke to cabinet Sunday night about how to monitor progress and success on targets such as those included in each minister's mandate letter from Trudeau.

Cabinet will also hear from Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Health Minister Jane Philpott.

McKenna will update her colleagues on work towards a framework for addressing climate change in the wake of the recent UN climate change conference in Paris, as well as setting national emissions-reduction targets.

Philpott will fill cabinet in on her project to come to a new multi-year health accord in advance of her meeting with the provinces and territories later this week in Vancouver.

This retreat is also the first opportunity for cabinet ministers to get to know each other a little better, especially those who must work together on some of the government's larger and more complex committments.The public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, for instance, requires the close collaboration of the ministers of Justice, Indigenous Affairs and Status of Women. With busy and often conflicting schedules in Ottawa, officials in the prime minister's office hope the seclusion of St. Andrews will give ministers valuable face time to work on several files.

Work-life balance

Another discussion to take place among staffers at this retreat will be how to balance work life with family.

Many members of cabinet and their closest advisers have young children. Several of Trudeau's top staffers in the Prime Minister's Office are parents to infants, not to mention Trudeau's own young family.

There has been talk about having the House of Commons change its sitting hours, not sitting at all on Friday and holding votes earlier in the day. Until that happens though, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, for one, has established her own ground rules by telling staff she won't take work calls in the early evening unless it's an emergency.


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