OTTAWA — The cost of living will be top of mind for Liberal members of Parliament as they prepare to head back to the House of Commons next week, but for their Indigenous caucus, affordability is a long-standing issue.
The Indigenous caucus met on Thursday, kicking off the federal Liberal's three-day winter retreat during which they are strategizing about their priorities for the upcoming sitting.
As Canadians continue to deal with decades-high inflation along with rising food and fuel costs, Liberal caucus chair Brenda Shanahan said her party's No. 1 priority is affordability.
But affordability is not often discussed at the Indigenous caucus table, said Jaime Battiste, a Mi'kmaw MP and member of the Indigenous caucus. Instead, they focus on closing the gap between living on and off reserve.
"If you look at (the) situation on reserves, we've been dealing with prices around affordability and large areas of poverty for decades, not just years," said Battiste.
"(We're) usually talking about things everyday Canadians take for granted. Essential services like having health care in their communities. Essential services like having a policeman in their communities. Essential services like having clean water and infrastructure."
He said the group is focused on addressing the harms caused by colonization and creating economic prosperity within First Nations communities.
Battiste said the Indigenous caucus will also discuss his party's proposed gun buyback program to ensure Indigenous hunters are protected under firearms legislation.
The debate over the government's firearms bill will resume this year amid concerns that it will ban some common hunting rifles.
"Indigenous people have the constitutional right to hunt, and that's something we're looking at," Battiste said.
Other Liberal priorities include building a green economy, addressing climate change and expanding dental-care coverage, as highlighted in the confidence-and-supply agreement with the NDP, Shanahan said.
She said the retreat is critical because the 158 Liberal MPs haven't got together since before the holidays and it's time for them to put forward fresh ideas.
"You cannot underestimate what it means to morale and team-building to have people together," Shanahan said.
The event coincides with the one-year anniversary of the "Freedom Convoy" protests on Saturday. That weeks-long protest began with the arrival of hundreds of vehicles on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill on Jan. 28 and 29, 2022.
Caucus members attended last year's winter retreat virtually due to COVID-19, but Shanahan was in Ottawa. While speaking to reporters Thursday she quipped that there is no honking ringing through Parliament this time.
"We started hearing some horns honking … and I walked out on Wellington Street later that day to a lot of unexpected company," she said.
She said she is not concerned the retreat will be disrupted by protesters this year.
Liberal ministers met for a cabinet retreat in Hamilton earlier this week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will deliver a speech to caucus on Friday in Ottawa.
The House of Commons resumes sitting on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press