Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media during a press scrum on the second day of the Liberal Cabinet Retreat at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Sudoma

Liberal priorities for minority Parliament, NAFTA ratification, assault rifle ban

Liberals can probably rely on the support of the Conservatives to win ratification of the new NAFTA

Ratifying the new North American Free Trade Agreement will be a top priority for the Trudeau government when Parliament resumes next week.

Legislation to ban military-style assault rifles will also be high on the agenda for the first extended sitting of Parliament since the Oct. 21 election reduced Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to a minority.

The prime minister may flesh out the agenda more today when he wraps up a three-day cabinet retreat aimed at setting the government’s priorities and figuring out how to achieve them when the Liberals no longer hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

Every measure will require support from at least one major opposition party to pass; a defeat on matters of confidence, such as the coming budget, would topple the government.

The Liberals can probably rely on the support of the Conservatives to win ratification of the new NAFTA, despite the fact that the Tories have accused Trudeau of caving in to concessions demanded by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The NDP and the Bloc are likely to oppose NAFTA, but are expected to support efforts to strengthen gun control.

On Monday, government House leader Pablo Rodriguez said ratification of the new NAFTA is “an absolute priority” — a view echoed by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was the lead minister throughout the tortuous negotiations to renew the continental trade pact and who remains responsible for seeing it across the finish line.

“The new NAFTA was ratified last week by the U.S. Senate, it was ratified before Christmas by Mexico. Now it’s Canada’s turn,” Freeland said.

“I think that is very important for certainty in the Canadian economy, very important for millions of Canadian workers, of Canadian businesses, of Canada families.”

Rodriguez called upon opposition parties to ratify the deal “as quickly as possible.”

“I think we should send a strong message that we are united in the ratification of this very, very important agreement,” he said.

The government did introduce a ratification bill last year, but did not forge ahead with it, preferring not to get ahead of the ratification process in the United States. The bill died when the election was called.

During the campaign, the Liberals promised a number of measures to stiffen gun control in Canada, including banning assault rifles and empowering municipalities to ban handguns if they so choose.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Monday that the government will be able to move on some measures faster than others.

“The prohibition of the assault-style rifles I think is an important step that perhaps could be accomplished in the near term,” he said.

“The arrangements on any potential buy-back (of assault rifles) … will take a little bit more time because I think it’s really important that we get good value for the expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars and, at the same time, I’m very mindful that we’re dealing with law-abiding Canadians and I want to make sure that they’re treated fairly and respectfully.”

Blair said part of the discussions about the coming budget will involve how much money is available for programs for communities and kids aimed at preventing gun violence.

He noted that many municipalities went through “a very difficult summer” last year with a spate of shootings, and indicated that he’s hopeful new investments will be made before next summer.

READ MORE: Canada to ratify new NAFTA next week following U.S. Senate approval, Trudeau says

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


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