WINNIPEG — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hoping to apply the same spirit of solidarity that saw Canadians pull together during recent disasters to get things done in a minority Parliament.
Parliament returns next week for its first extended sitting since the fall federal election reduced the Liberals to a minority, forcing them to rely on support from opposition benches to pass legislation and survive confidence votes.
But with Newfoundlanders still digging out from under a massive snow storm and the country still mourning the loss of so many Canadians in Iran's downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet, it's not likely to be politics as usual — at least not right away.
For his part, Trudeau said he intends to appeal to opposition MPs to pull together in common cause, as Canadians have done throughout the past few traumatic weeks.
"Canadians at our best, in difficult times, are there for each other," Trudeau said Tuesday as he wrapped up a three-day cabinet retreat aimed at setting priorities for the winter parliamentary sitting.
"We lean on each other, we support each other through challenges and that's very much the approach that Canadians have shown us all over these past weeks.
"And it is certainly the approach with which we will engage in the House of Commons, looking to find common ground with our colleagues in the House, looking to work together on bringing forward real measures to help Canadians."
Pablo Rodriguez, the government House leader, said Canadians were already demanding a more collaborative, less partisan approach after last fall's "nasty" election campaign. He suggested they have even less appetite for toxic hyper-partisanship — from the government or opposition parties — in light of recent events.
"The tragic events remind us that, first and foremost, we're all humans, we're all fathers, sons, sisters and mothers and we may disagree on things but, at the end of the day, we're all there to improve the quality of life of human beings," Rodriguez said in an interview.
The parliamentary agenda contains a number of potential flashpoints that will doubtless test the spirit of collaboration.
Ratifying the new North American Free Trade Agreement will be the top priority. Trudeau said the government will introduce a motion Jan. 27, its first day back in the House of Commons, to apply some elements of the deal and will table legislation to ratify it two days later.
All the major parties have levelled varying degrees of criticism against the pact but Rodriguez said he expects all parties to support ratification in the interests of economic certainty and securing access to Canada's largest market.
As Trudeau put it: "Millions of Canadians depend on stable, reliable trade with our largest trading partners."
The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement may be the easiest item on the agenda to accomplish. Others promise to be more controversial.
Next month, the government intends to introduce legislation to amend the law on assisted suicide, bringing it in line with a court ruling that struck down the provision stipulating that only those already near death can seek medical help to end their lives. But even as it prepares to drop that restriction, the government is conducting public consultations to see if Canadians believe new restrictions or safeguards should be added.
"I think the most important thing for our country is making sure that we get that balance right between protection of the most vulnerable and respecting people's rights and ability to make choices about their own lives," Trudeau said.
Legislation to ban military-style assault rifles will also be high on the agenda, although Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said a program to buy back such firearms will take longer to pull together.
"We know that weapons designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time have no place in our communities," Trudeau said, promising "immediate steps ... in the coming weeks on that."
The government will also be taking other steps to stiffen gun control, including ammunition restrictions, beefed up border controls and investing in communities.
It is also expected to follow through on a campaign promise to legislate targets to reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Every measure will require an opposition dance partner to pass.
A defeat on matters of confidence, such as the coming budget, would topple the government.
"Obviously, there are going to be many conversations to come between our excellent House leader, Pablo Rodriguez, and the other parties as we negotiate our way through," Trudeau said.
Many pundits predict the Liberal minority will be stable for some time, at least until the Conservatives choose a new leader at the end of June.
But Rodriguez, who's sat through three previous minority Parliaments, said he's learned one thing: "Never take one day for granted. Anything can happen.'
That's a message that's likely to be drilled into the heads of Liberal backbenchers when they gather, starting Wednesday, for a three-day caucus retreat in Ottawa.
Caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia has said he expects the retreat will be primarily a training session on minority Parliaments for Liberal MPs, most of whom have no experience with anything other than majority governments.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 21, 2020.