‘It’s up to Mr. Trudeau to find common ground,’ Scheer says after meeting

OTTAWA—Tax breaks, pipeline expansion, funding for Toronto transit and tax-free parental benefits are on the table as the political horse-trading for the coming minority Parliament got underway Tuesday between the Liberal government and the opposition.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is meeting with the opposition leaders this week as Liberals plan their priorities for the coming session of Parliament, which will reconvene on Dec. 5.

Those priorities will have to win over at least one of the opposition parties, whose support the Liberals will need to govern in the minority Parliament.

First in the door to see Trudeau was Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who met with the prime minister for just under 30 minutes Tuesday on Parliament Hill.

Scheer went into the meeting warning that the country “is more divided that it ever has been.”

“We need to get to work as quickly as possible so we can address the priorities of Canadians and bring our country closer together,” he said at the outset of the meeting.

Afterwards, Scheer told reporters that he laid out priorities that included the national energy corridor, a “road map” for completion of Trans Mountain pipeline and elements of the Conservatives’ environmental plan.

“It’s up to Mr. Trudeau to find common ground to get this throne speech passed. I highlighted the areas that we would be focusing on and the parts of our platform that I believe should be implemented and it’s up to him to decide what to do with that,” Scheer said.

The Conservatives campaigned hard against the Liberals’ federal carbon pricing scheme. Scheer had vowed that if elected, scrapping it would have been his party’s first priority. But the wish list laid out by Scheer on Tuesday and highlighted in a statement from the party made no mention of the goal of axing carbon pricing.

It’s thought that the Liberals will look to the New Democrats and Bloc for support in the minority parliament.

But there was common ground between the Conservative priorities detailed Tuesday and the Liberals’ campaign promises. Scheer noted, for example, that both parties have proposals to make parental benefits tax-free.

The Conservatives and Liberals have promised funding for Toronto’s subway expansion. The Conservatives want tax cuts, and promised a tax cut in addition to niche credits. Trudeau has pledged that a broad-based tax break would his government’s first order of business, which he highlighted in his meeting with Scheer.

But the Liberals are unlikely to agree to other Conservative demands, such as the call to repeal Bill C-48, which bans tankers along the northern B.C. coast, and Bill C-69, which sets out new rules for the assessment of energy projects.

In the meeting, Trudeau also raised the recently negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement and told Scheer how important the agreement was. The new pact has yet to be ratified by Parliament.

Trudeau’s Liberals won 157 seats in the Oct. 21 election. That is short of the 170 seats needed for a majority but still gives Trudeau a strong hand by needing the support of just one of the opposition parties — the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois or New Democrats — on any given issue.

Trudeau told Scheer that he has an “open mind” on finding common ground, a message he intends to tell each of the opposition leaders in his meetings this week, said one official, who spoke on background.

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“Last month Canadians elected a Parliament that they expect to work together and that’s exactly what I’m going to be focusing on doing,” Trudeau said at the start of his meeting with Scheer.

“I’m going to be talking about our priorities this morning of affordability for Canadians, growth for the middle class and the fight against climate change.”

Bruce Campion-Smith

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