POLITICS

Liberal Caucus Retreat: Grits To Talk Middle Class Concerns, Telecom, Expense Disclosures In P.E.I.

08/26/2013 01:06 EDT | Updated 11/13/2013 08:19 EST
CP

CHARLOTTETOWN — Liberal MPs and senators are descending to eastern Prince Edward Island this week for the party's first caucus retreat since Justin Trudeau became leader.

Thirty-three senators and 34 MPs are expected to attend three-day retreat in Brudenell, P.E.I., to talk strategy and meet Islanders.

On the agenda:

  • A caucus presentation by Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison about the middle class — Trudeau’s rallying call but so far not the focus of much of his policy agenda;
    • A discussion on developing the Liberals' telecom policy;
    • A discussion about the upcoming riding redistribution and how it will affect the Liberals' ground game for the next election in 2015;
    • A presentation by New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc and Senate Liberal leader Jim Cowan about the Liberals’ upcoming public posting of expenses.

    Trudeau pledged this spring that all Liberal MPs and senators would have to abide by the same rules that govern the public disclosure of ministers’ expenses.

    Cowan told The Huffington Post Canada that the Liberals hope to lead by example and to encourage colleagues in other parties to follow suit.

    "Whether they will or not, I don’t know," Cowan said.

    Cowan said part of the summer was spent developing a way to merge the reporting mechanisms in the House of Commons and the Senate so as to give the public a clearer picture of where and how their public officials spend their money.

    Liberal MP Hedy Fry told HuffPost that the retreat is important because it allows MPs to report on what they have heard from their constituents over the summer.

    "It’s a way of getting everybody in caucus to understand what’s going on, across the country, in regions that most Canadians know very little about," Fry said.

    "What British Columbians think is very different from what Albertans think and feel and the issues they are facing," she added.

    HuffPost has learned that Trudeau is expected to stress with caucus members the importance of getting out of Ottawa.

    "You learn what actual Canadians who are going to vote for us want and expect of us," a Liberal insider said.

    Liberal MPs might look to their P.E.I. colleagues for inspiration. The Liberals have dominated federal politics here for 25 years.

    Charlottetown MP Sean Casey said he thinks that is because his colleagues on the Island understand that "all politics is local."

    "The Liberal members of Parliament here, presently and traditionally, have always been strong constituency politicians," Casey said. Liberal MPs Wayne Easter, Lawrence MacAulay and former MP Joe McGuire were always close to the ground, Casey said.

    The other reason the Liberals have held almost every seat since 1988, Casey said is that Islanders have voted against the Tories. (Conservative MP Gail Shea won in the riding of Egmont in 2008, although it had been Liberal since 1980. She held her seat in 2011. She is the only Tory to hold one of the Islands’ four ridings).

    Islanders are upset with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his divisive comments on Atlantic Canada's culture of defeat, Casey said. They are also upset that the Tories refused to pay part of the cost for a third electricity cable to connect the island with the mainland, he added. And they are embarrassed by Mike Duffy's Senate appointment and an expense scandal that keeps negative references to P.E.I. in headlines across the country.

    Liberals and Conservatives alike felt Harper had taken a P.E.I. Senate seat and given it to someone from Ontario, Casey said about Duffy’s initial appointment.

    MacAulay, the MP for Cardigan, said changes to the employment insurance system and the loss of many federal jobs on the Island have compounded the problem for the Tories.

    "The widespread consensus here is that he [Harper] doesn’t care about us," Casey said.

    Before things kick off Tuesday with the Senate caucus, women’s caucus and regional caucuses, Casey has organized a town hall in his riding with 22 MPs and senators on Monday evening.

    Casey said he hopes to engage the public on themes of responsible resource development and women and business, but he said there would be time for the audience to ask questions about whatever they want.

    Trudeau is not expected to arrive in Brudenell until Tuesday afternoon.

    On Wednesday, he will give a speech during a rally and barbecue at MacAulay’s farm. MacAulay, a former farmer who became the MP for Cardigan in 1988, told HuffPost that he expects 500 to 600 people to turn up.

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