SUDBURY, Ont. – Justin Trudeau is acknowledging that his government faces a tough year ahead full of hard choices that won’t please everyone.
And he already seems to be trying to dampen expectations, at least when it comes to one of his most ambitious promises — to establish a new nation-to-nation relationship with Canada’s indigenous people.
The prime minister wrapped up a two-day cabinet retreat Monday, praising his government’s accomplishments thus far but conceding there’s more work ahead of it than behind.
“There are going to be difficult decisions and challenges ahead of us on everything from natural resources to investments to trade deals,” Trudeau told a closing news conference, his ministers arrayed behind him on the bank of a picturesque northern Ontario lake.
Trudeau’s comment echoed a warning issued at the retreat Sunday by Sir Michael Barber, a British guru on “deliverology” — the art of ensuring governments deliver on their promises — who’s been advising the Liberal administration.
Having spent the first 10 months of their mandate enjoying a prolonged honeymoon and consulting with Canadians on dozens of different issues, Barber effectively told ministers it’s time to fish or cut bait.
“If you want to generate results … then in Year 2 you really need a focus on relentless implementation, on taking some difficult decisions where you can’t please all of the people all the time,” Barber said outside the retreat.
Trudeau continued Monday to use soaring rhetoric to describe his ambition to fix the historic wrongs suffered by Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples and set the country on a new path of reconciliation.
“Canadians are telling us that in the same way that women’s issues are Canada’s issues, indigenous issues are Canada’s issues,” he said. “So, know this. Our government will not rest until we make life better for indigenous people right across this country.”
Still, Trudeau took pains to warn that it will be “a long process … and a complex one.”
Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie used the band’s last concert Saturday, watched by millions on television, to give a high-profile endorsement of Trudeau’s ability to get the job done.
While the prime minister said Downie’s “vote of confidence” was “extremely touching,” he again stressed that “we have an awful lot of work to do and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
One of hard choices the government must make soon is how to square the circle of Trudeau’s promise to combat climate change while promoting natural resource development and exports.
But Trudeau dodged Monday when asked whether he favours the Pacific NorthWest LNG (liquified natural gas) project, the fate of which his government must determine this fall and which is opposed by some British Columbia aboriginal leaders and environmentalists.
Trudeau continued to straddle the fence, saying his government is committed to building “a strong economy while protecting and preserving our natural environment.”
It will wait for an imminent report from the Canadian Environmental Review Agency, which conducted a “more robust” review of the project as mandated by the Trudeau government, before deciding whether it should go ahead, he added.
“We know that in terms of emissions that coal is worse than oil, which is worse than LNGm but we certainly need to make sure we’re looking at the whole range of challenges and opportunities to improve our development of these resources, our exporting of these resources and our use of these resources,” he said.
While such hard choices may inevitably sour some segments of the population against the Trudeau government, the prime minister continued to bask Monday in his post-election honeymoon.
He was mobbed by excited Sudburians at a community barbecue hosted by the area’s local Liberal MPs. RCMP had expected as many as 2,500 to attend but the massive crowd may well have swelled beyond that.
The cabinet retreat was held at Laurentian University, where the ministers bunked together in student dorms. Trudeau also stayed in the dorm but didn’t have to share a room.
“Being prime minister has its advantages. I think I got a floor monitor’s room,” he said.
“This was a great opportunity for collegiality. We had a bit of a floor party last night as we swapped what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation stories.”