National Newswatch

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is telling his caucus to play nice as Liberal MPs meet before the House of Commons resumes sitting again next week.

Trudeau says Canadians sent their elected officials a clear message to do better and they have to take that seriously.

He says political grandstanding doesn't create jobs, and his governing party needs to reach across party lines and regional divides to work on behalf of Canadians.

Trudeau says the government's top priority is ratifying the new North American trade deal because continued economic access to the United States is essential to the livelihoods of millions of Canadians.

He says the agenda also includes a new ban on assault weapons, strengthening health care, battling climate change, and seeking meaningful reconciliation with First Nations.

But he says none of that is doable is unless MPs from all parties work together, and that effort starts with the Liberals.

"It's up to us to work more with other parties, to work more across the country, as we take Parliament seriously. We need to make it work," he said in his opening speech to the Liberal caucus.

"Bickering, grandstanding, petty politics — none of these things create jobs. They don't make anyone's retirement safer, or our environment cleaner. Collaboration, dialogue, and constructive debate, however, can."

The Liberals were reduced to a minority government in October's election and will need co-operation from at least one of the other official parties to get anything passed in Parliament.

The government plans to move quickly to ratify the new NAFTA pact by introducing legislation next week, following the approval it received in the U.S. and Mexican legislatures.

But at least two opposition parties, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP, are making noises about wanting to take a closer, and perhaps longer, look at the deal.

The Conservatives, who are ardent free traders, are holding their cards close to their chests for the moment.

The Bloc has said it wants full parliamentary committee hearings on the new bill.

Trudeau says he looks forward to debate in the House, and to "committees doing their work," but he said MPs must move "resolutely and rapidly" to pass the new bill. 

"Millions of Canadian jobs depend on that free trade with the United States," said Trudeau.

"On reliable supply chains, on partnership that transcends borders, on an understanding that the predictability we have for businesses, for investors and mostly for workers and families across the country is essential, particularly at a time when the world has gotten less predictable."

Going into the meeting, there were hints that Trudeau's calls for unity and collaboration could face challenges within his own party.

At least two MPs said they had questions on behalf of their rural constituents on the ban on assault weapons, and that they wanted to hear more on the government's plans.

"It's a very emotional issue," said veteran Liberal MP Wayne Easter, of Prince Edward Island.

"I have in my briefcase here, probably a hundred letters, not many from my own riding, opposed to it, and I expect if you're in the urban areas members would be getting letters saying they support it ... so it is a controversial issue."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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