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Trudeau Set to Make Sales Pitch at Davos While the Canadian Economy Tanks

As he gets set to board a plane to Switzerland, interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose has requested a meeting with the prime minister “at the earliest opportunity to discuss the rapidly deteriorating economy.”

by Tamara Khandaker and Justin Ling
Jan 18 2016, 11:50pm

Photo by Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to rebrand Canada's economy on the world stage in Davos, opposition parties are demanding a say on how his government plans on spending its way out of a weak loonie, tanking oil prices, and a sluggish economy.

As Trudeau gets set to board a plane to Switzerland on Tuesday, interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose has requested a meeting with the prime minister "at the earliest opportunity to discuss the rapidly deteriorating economy," in a letter released to the public on Monday.

Trudeau's speech to the World Economic Forum is already receiving hype from the likes of Bloomberg, even despite Canada's precarious financial situation.

His sales pitch to world markets, and a raft of private meetings that will bookend it, is expected to focus on his planned infrastructure and technology investments. Reports suggest that Trudeau will work hard to brand Canada as something more than an oil-reliant energy state, and that he's slated meetings with tech industry giants like Jack Ma, founder of online trading hub Alibaba.

Back at home, controversy is brewing over whether or not the new government will consult with opposition parties before drafting its inaugural budget.

Related: The Loonie Is Plunging, and Oil Is Dirt Cheap in Canada

Normally, members of Parliament from all parties, as well as industry groups, NGOs, and economists, are invited to discuss and debate federal spending ahead of a budget. But this time, amid a faltering economy thanks mostly to plummeting oil prices, that might not happen, at least according to senior Liberals who spoke to the Globe & Mail. Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Liberal MP Wayne Easter admitted they were "not sure" whether the government would strike a committee to get insight on the budget from Canadians.

The government wasn't able to get the committee off the ground before the current recess, and the House of Commons won't return until January 25. Easter told the Globe the time frame for holding hearings will be "very, very tight." Once the committee is officially formed, they'd have to quickly figure out how to meet—perhaps every day for two weeks, he said. But in order to have any impact at all, the committee would have to hold their hearings and release a report at least three weeks prior to the budget's release, which typically happens in March.

In her letter, Ambrose, who has embarked on a national tour ahead of the winter session of Parliament, said Morneau and Easter's comments were "disconcerting."

"The government has been in office long enough to have a clear plan to deal with the current economic situation, but the sense of urgency from the Trudeau Liberals has been completely absent," Ambrose said in the statement. "With markets tumbling, the oil price remaining depressed and the dollar weakening, the time is now for the government to demonstrate leadership."

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, meanwhile, called the possibility of forgoing the budget hearings "unseemly," and noted that even Trudeau's predecessor, no fan of working with the opposition, invited the other parties to participate in budget discussions.

Related: Canada's Oil Country Is Bleeding Jobs and Suicides Are on the Rise in Alberta

At a press conference in Ottawa on Monday afternoon, Mulcair said he would be pressing the prime minister to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership, arguing it would cost "tens of thousands" of Canadian manufacturing jobs, in stark contrast to Ambrose, who said in her statement that she would be calling on Trudeau to sign and ratify the deal brought in by the Conservatives.

Speaking with reporters at a Liberal cabinet retreat in New Brunswick on Monday, Trudeau said he looks forward to meeting with Ambrose to discuss her concerns. He wouldn't answer directly, however, when asked if he was considering letting the deficit balloon to $30 billion — significantly higher than his promised $10-billion limit — in order to stimulate growth, as some economists have recommended.

He also wouldn't say whether or not there was a chance of the budget being released early — a senior government official told the Globe and Mail last week that the budget might come out on the third week of March.

Trudeau acknowledged that Canada has "underperformed in the way of growth in the past decade," blaming this lack of growth on his predecessors. "We need to turn that around," he said.

Addressing oil-related economic challenges in Alberta, Trudeau said "we recognize that for 10 years, there has been a government that has not understood the way to support our resource industry is environmental oversight and responsibility" and committed to meeting with provincial and municipal partners across Canada to "create an economy that will thrive while protecting the environment." 

Follow Tamara Khandaker and Justin Ling on Twitter: @anima_tk  @justin_ling

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