Trudeau to visit wildfires

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his newly shuffled cabinet gathered Tuesday for a retreat on Vancouver Island, under smoke-filled skies amid a provincewide wildfire emergency.

Ministers are to discuss plans for the fall sitting of Parliament, including proposals to beef up measures aimed at protecting Canadian elections from foreign interference.

But Trudeau's first order of business was to meet with Premier John Horgan, who had toured one of the hardest hit areas in the northern part of the province earlier in the day with federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

"I want to start by saying, obviously, our thoughts are with all the first responders, the firefighters and the residents who are struggling through the wildfires that are raging across the province," Trudeau said.

Trudeau is planning to take time out from the cabinet retreat Thursday morning to personally meet with firefighters and evacuees in Prince George.

"As a born and raised Vancouver Islander, I was racking my brain trying to think of the last time a federal cabinet would have come to hold a meeting here, and I can't remember it ever happening," Horgan said. "So, it's a delight to have the prime minister and his team here."

Horgan also praised the federal government's response to the wildfires. Seeing different levels of government working together on the crisis, "I think gives comfort to the public that federal, provincial, municipal, Indigenous leaders all coming together, speaking with one voice about the courage of our first responders and the tragedy that's hitting families and people throughout British Columbia."

He noted that this is the second consecutive summer that B.C. has declared a state of emergency, an unprecedented situation that "speaks to the challenges of climate change, which again are values that we share" with the federal government.

Trudeau said he and Horgan would also discuss how their two governments are working together on infrastructure projects, housing and protecting salmon, "something that is iconic and essential to B.C.'s culture and to B.C.'s economy."

Neither he nor Horgan mentioned the one big issue on which their governments vehemently disagree — the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to carry Alberta bitumen to tidewater in Burnaby.

The Trudeau government has decided to purchase the pipeline from Kinder Morgan, which backed out last spring, citing continued uncertainty that the project would ever go ahead given the B.C. government's determination to use every avenue possible to stop it.

The issue could still come up Wednesday, when Horgan is to attend part of the cabinet retreat.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, meanwhile, confirmed that cabinet will consider proposals to strengthen Bill C-76, omnibus legislation governing election rules that was introduced last spring. In particular, she said the government is contemplating ways to ensure foreign money is not involved in trying to influence how Canadians vote.

"We have to look very carefully at C-76," Gould said.

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