Liberal MPs gather to plot strategy for fall session of Parliament

GEORGETOWN, P.E.I. – Justin Trudeau has identified what’s ailing Canada’s middle class but he won’t be rushed into offering any prescriptions.

The Liberal leader says that will have to wait until the party unveils its platform for the 2015 election.

“This is not something to take lightly,” he said during a break in a Liberal caucus retreat aimed at plotting strategy for the resumption of Parliament this fall and beyond.

“It’s not something to reel off because people want answers. People want answers but people want to be part of generating those answers.

“And that’s where the Liberal party is absolutely serious about the kinds of meaningful consultation and working with Canadians to build a platform that reflects both the priorities, concerns and solutions that Canadians are generating across the country.”

Trudeau made improving the lot of middle class Canadians the central pillar of his leadership campaign and has continued that theme since becoming leader in April. But while he and other Liberals frequently rattle off statistics demonstrating that middle-class families are struggling to make ends meet, he has yet to spell out what he’d do to help them.

During the leadership, Trudeau similarly argued that platform development should be a bottom-up exercise, not something handed down from on high. Rival contenders complained that he was offering little but vague platitudes but their criticism found little traction among Liberal rank and file, who elected Trudeau by a landslide.

Whether it will work with Canadians at large remains to be seen. But pressed repeatedly Wednesday by reporters to finally put some meat on the bare bones of his pledge to improve the lot of the middle class, Trudeau didn’t budge.

“My responsibility is to put forward a comprehensive, robust platform in 2015 that is going to demonstrate to Canadians that the Liberal party is serious about working hard for them and responding to their concerns. And I’m not going to short-cut that process, which is a serious and responsible process, just because people want to know right now and they’re impatient to know.”

Liberal MPs and senators will begin the consultation process in earnest on Sept. 16, returning to Parliament as originally scheduled, even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced his intention to prorogue Parliament and launch a new sitting sometime in mid-to-late October.

They’ll hold roundtable discussions and meet with stakeholders on various issues, Trudeau said, filling the void left by Harper’s delay in recalling Parliament.

Earlier Wednesday, Trudeau, presiding over his first annual summer caucus retreat, kicked off proceedings with an upbeat message to Liberal MPs and senators.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic. People are excited about the change we represent and the new way of doing politics we’re bringing forward.”

That said, Trudeau warned there’s still “an awful lot of hard work” ahead to bring the party back into contention by the next election, after being reduced to a third-party rump in 2011.

“It’s back to school across the country and I am a former school teacher,” he joked as he instructed MPs and senators to pick up their pens and, for the sake of the TV cameras briefly allowed into the room, to at least pretend that they’re “hanging off of my every word.”

Since Trudeau became leader in April, the Liberals have vaulted into first place in opinion polls, a status that has not so far been dented by his frank admission last week that he smoked marijuana after becoming an MP.

The confession was part of a calculated strategy to present Trudeau as more honest, open and transparent than traditional political leaders.

In keeping with that theme, Liberal MPs and senators are to be presented at the retreat with a template for posting quarterly travel and hospitality expenses online. Trudeau, who promised greater transparency last spring amid the uproar over the Senate expenses scandal, said the new postings will begin Sept. 16.

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