OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is ringing in the new year with a determined effort to re-establish his connection with grassroots Canadians after closing out 2016 amid accusations of kowtowing to wealthy donors at elite Liberal fundraisers.
Trudeau is planning to embark on a campaign-style tour, talking to average folks at coffee shops and church basements across the country.
His communications director, Kate Purchase, says Trudeau will make three or four pit stops each day of the tour.
It was initially slated to take up six or seven days over the next three weeks, with breaks for a trip to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and a two-day cabinet retreat before Parliament resumes at the end of the month.
But the Prime Minister's Office announced Friday that Trudeau has cancelled plans to attend the elite Davos summit of business, academic and government leaders. Instead, he'll expand the cross-country tour, spending more time meeting more ordinary Canadians in more locations.
The first leg of the tour is to start at the end of next week with Trudeau travelling Highway 401 from Ottawa to London, Ont., with an overnight at Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
That will be followed up by stops in British Columbia, Quebec and the Prairies, with events still being planned for the Atlantic provinces.
Purchase says the events will be a mix of traditional town hall-style, question-and-answer sessions and more informal mingling with people in coffee shops and church basements.
"We see this as part of a concerted effort to remain connected to Canadians, at home in their communities," she says.
"The prime minister wants to hear from them how they are feeling at the start of 2017, what their concerns and anxieties are and what we can do to help alleviate that."
The tour may also be intended to reverse the slippage in Trudeau's popularity over the final months of 2016 as he deflected allegations of unethical fundraising practices over his appearance at multiple events where donors contributed as much as $1,500 to the Liberal party in order to rub shoulders with the prime minister.
Expansion of the tour came on the same day that news emerged that Trudeau, his family and some friends spent the holidays on a private Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan, a wealthy philanthropist, hereditary spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims and a long-time Trudeau family friend.
The Aga Khan has a non-profit foundation based in Ottawa that is devoted to helping impoverished Asian and African communities. The foundation has received tens of millions of Canadian tax dollars and is formally registered as a lobbyist.
Two Conservative leadership candidates questioned Friday whether Trudeau's stay with the Aga Khan breached federal conflict of interest laws.
"This is just mind-numbing. There are clear rules on lobbying and ethics. Is the PM so arrogant that he thinks he's "above" them?" Lisa Raitt tweeted. One of her rivals Kellie Leitch tweeted there should be a prompt investigation into whether Trudeau breached the Conflict of Interest Act.
The tour will also feed into consultations leading up to his government's second budget, likely to be introduced in February or March.
The budget, the highlight of the winter parliamentary sitting, is expected to focus on the government's innovation strategy, which Purchase describes as anticipating economic opportunities of the future and helping middle-class Canadians take advantage of them.
In addition to the tour, Trudeau is to convene a cabinet retreat in Calgary on Jan. 22-24.
He held a retreat in nearby Kananaskis in the spring, but Purchase says the Calgary gathering will give ministers a chance to tap into the mood in the oilpatch following decisions late last year to approve two pipelines and to impose a national price on carbon as part of a pan-Canadian climate change strategy.
Trudeau will not be attending the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, an event not customarily attended by Canadian prime ministers.
As for the Davos summit, Jan. 17-20, the PMO says the Canadian government will be well-represented by a number of cabinet ministers.
"The forum is a prime opportunity to highlight Canada's strength as a place to invest, grow and establish new business opportunities and our ministers will be doing that work and building new relationships," said spokesman Cameron Ahmad.
This year's summit is focused on a theme close to Trudeau's heart: developing ways to ensure the benefits of economic growth and social progress are spread more equitably, to counter the frustration over unevenly shared prosperity that has led to an explosion of protectionism, populism and nativism around the globe.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press