By Greg MacNeil, Vice President
Moments ago, the Prime Minister wrapped up his post-caucus retreat media availability. This is the first time the caucus has gathered together since June. Unlike the recent Cabinet retreat in Sudbury, Liberal members did not have to share rooms with each other.
The timing of this year’s Liberal summer caucus retreat could not have been better for the government. After more than a week of news articles about inappropriate expenses submitted by Cabinet Ministers, the government used the retreat as an opportunity to reset and focus on core mandate promises like addressing climate change and encouraging economic growth.
While policy discussions were the primary focus of the retreat, there were lengthy discussions about operations. Specifically, how offices are handling expenses in order to avoid future distractions. Due to a change implemented at Treasury Board, Access to Information (ATIP) requests are being processed faster. Given this new reality, more stories about inappropriate expenses are bound to happen unless there is a cultural change in each office. More political oversight of expenses is being instituted in order to avoid future mistakes.
Caucus members were also told about some of the staff changes made in ministers offices. Specifically, many of the changes that occurred were done in an attempt to increase communications capacity in offices that are expected to receive more public attention over the coming months.
Over the next month, the government is expected to focus more on international relations. This morning the government pledged up to 600 soldiers and up to an additional $450 million in funding. The Minister of Defence will be going to London in two weeks to discuss with partner nations where these commitments are needed.
Next week, the Prime Minister and Minister Dion, will be heading to China to discuss ways in which the two nations can strengthen their relationship. Following these bilateral discussions, the PM will attend the G20 summit in Beijing. Lead ministers at the G20 summit will be Minister Morneau and Minister Freeland. The government is widely rumoured to be pursuing a free trade agreement with China. Minister Freeland is expected to raise a number of current trade irritants with the Chinese government. One of the more high-profile non-tariff trade barriers expected to be discussed is the recent restrictions on Canadian canola. Keeping in the spirit of Sunny Ways, the Minister is planning to give Chinese Government a jar of Canadian Canola Oil.