Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets people outside Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Wednesday. NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin

Cabinet meetings in Nanaimo ‘going great,’ says PM Trudeau

Ministers talk NAFTA, pipelines and more; meetings continuing Thursday

Federal ministers began their cabinet retreat meetings Wednesday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, where protesters, journalists and members of law enforcement gathered.

Trudeau left the conference centre before many of his ministers did yesterday. He was greeted by a small crowd of individuals, some of whom managed to grab selfies with him. Surrounded by security and walking quickly to his hotel, Trudeau briefly told the News Bulletin that he was pleased with how the retreat has been going.

“It’s going great,” Trudeau said while walking away.

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Chrystia Freeland, minister of foreign affairs, told reporters before meetings began that she has been in close touch with officials from the United States and Mexico regarding North American Free Trade Agreement discussions and her ministry is concerned about what it’s hearing from both sides. She said one of “central” issues between the two countries is around the origins of vehicles, adding that once those issues have been resolved, Canada will re-engage.

“Canada is looking forward to joining the negotiation and a swift conclusion of the NAFTA negotiation,” she said.

Freeland said while NAFTA is a trilateral agreement there are bilateral issues that are being focused on right now. She said the origin of vehicles is an issue that concerns all three countries and that there have been some discussions with the United States on that matter.

“We reached, with the United States, high-level agreement on some philosphical principles,” she said. “Obviously rules of origin is an issue where detail matters and Canada will very much have a voice in the finalization in all of this.”

RELATED: Canada ‘very encouraged’ by progress on NAFTA talks

Shortly after the lunch hour, Pablo Rodriguez, who was recently appointed as minister of Canadian heritage and multiculturalism, briefly spoke to the News Bulletin about how the retreat was going.

“A month ago I wasn’t a minister and this is my first meeting and being with my colleagues is great. I’m learning, I’m listening and it’s a privilege to be here,” he said.

Rodriguez wouldn’t talk about what goes on behind close doors at the conference centre, but did describe the atmosphere.

“It is very well organized, very structured and very important conversations but of course they are internal conversations and we can’t share,” he said, adding that it is interesting to be with the other ministers.

VIDEO: Pipeline protesters rally outside Trudeau cabinet meeting in Nanaimo

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcomson along with the Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, spoke to the media during a protest of the Trans Mountain pipeline outside of the conference centre.

Malcolmson said it is disappointing that a prime minister who has called for innovation and focusing on renewable technology would agree to purchase a “leaky” pipeline and broken promises.

“He got snowed on this and there are deeply disappointed people as is evidenced by protests,” she said.

MacGregor said Trudeau has “painted himself into a corner” when it comes to the pipeline.

“I really don’t think he’s left himself any options,” MacGregor said.

Amarjeet Sohi, minister of natural resources, spoke to reporters about the Trans Mountain pipeline. He said the federal government realizes that many people have serious issues with the project and respect their right to protest.

“I understand the concerns from Canadians and they are able to express those concerns in a peaceful way,” he said.

Although not specifically mentioning the pipeline or bitumen, Sohi said his government has been clear about the need for economic growth and that Canada needs to get its natural resources to global markets.

“We have resources … that have been developed very, very sustainably,” he said, adding that those resources must be shipped to markets worldwide in an effort to reduce dependency on one single market.

Sohi called Trans Mountain a “large infrastructure project” that requires a lot of planning and design work, which is already underway. He said delays in construction on the pipeline are costing the government billions of dollars in revenue.

“We are losing $15 billion of potential revenue that we can use as a foundation … for investments in green technology and protecting our environment. So we see this as a part of broader plan of creating jobs,” he said.

One way or another, the Trans Mountain pipeline will “move forward,” according to Sohi, who said the true cost of the project won’t be known until “all the contracts” have been signed.

Freeland along with many other ministers left immediately following the meetings and did not take any questions from the media.

The final day wraps up this afternoon, when Trudeau is expected to hold a press conference.



nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

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