This is a brief overview of some of the federal issues facing our community.
A December Parliamentary Budget Officer report estimated the country’s deficit at $26.1 billion for 2018-2019, and predicted it could reach $31.1 billion next year. Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise of a balanced budget was for October 2019.
The same report also found the oil price decline could reduce Canada’s GDP by billions of dollars annually, potentially leading to a worse deficit.
However, Justin Trudeau has publicly said he isn’t concerned the deficit could impact Canada’s ability to deal with unexpected events like economic downturns.
UN COMPACT FOR MIGRATION
In December, the Trudeau government signed Canada onto the United Nations’ Compact for Migration, an international framework on migrant rights.
Costs associated with signing onto the compact, or measures relating to implementing the compact, are unknown and the government has not provided any cost estimates.
The government admits non-binding agreements like this compact can become customary international law and can inform the interpretation of domestic law.
Since purchasing the Trans Mountain Expansion Project last year, the federal government has done little to revitalize the project. The federal Court of Appeal issued a decision against the pipeline, ordering the government to do more Indigenous consultation. Consultations are expected to be completed this spring.
In February, the National Energy Board released a report finding the project to be in the national interest.
However, the project is no closer to shovels in the ground. Justin Trudeau’s cabinet now has at least 90 days to determine whether the project will proceed.
Justin Trudeau also failed to deliver promised legislation to assert federal authority over the project, and voted against Senate Bill S-245, which would have provided that authority.
As a result of these events, American oil companies are receiving a $100 million dollar a day discount on Canadian oil because Canadian oil cannot reach international markets. This means less revenue to provinces and territories to pay for essential services and Canada’s reputation as a safe and predictable place to invest bas been severely damaged.
Despite renewed interest in the Energy East pipeline, the Prime Minister has publicly stated that project won’t go forward because “there is no support for a pipeline through Quebec.
NO-MORE-PIPELINES BILL C-69
This bill was tabled by the government in February 2018 to create a new federal impact assessment process and will replace the National Energy Board with the new Canadian Energy Regulator.
The bill was passed in the House of Commons by the Liberal majority government and is currently being studied by a Senate committee.
With this new bill, resource projects will need to pass a number of obstacles before approval is given to the projects, including:
Taking into account Indigenous knowledge and consulting Indigenous groups on decision-making;
Ensuring projects assess how groups of “women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and projects.”
Many industry groups have voiced concerns that this bill will slow down an already-rigorous approval processes.
Changes to firearms laws under Bill C-71 include requiring the RCMP to conduct a background check on a person’s entire life before issuing a firearms licence and requiring gun retailers to keep sales records for 20 years. This legislation has been passed in the House of Commons and is currently being studied by a Senate committee.
The government is also considering a ban on handguns and assault weapons. They’re currently in consultation stages.
The legislation aims to correct firearms crimes, but doesn’t address the root causes. Bill C-71 targets law-abiding firearms owners; the word “gang” does not even appear in the bill.
Multiple associations have said this bill will create a back-door gun registry.
The Liberals have also earmarked $327 million for police to fight gun and gang violence, but nothing yet has made it to the front lines.
In December, Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese communications company Huawei, after a request from the United States. She was later released from Canadian custody and is on house arrest at her Vancouver home.
In retaliation, the Chinese government detained some Canadian citizens and sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg, who has been in Chinese prison since 2015, to death on drug charges.
On January 22, John McCallum, the former Canadian ambassador to China, held a press conference with Chinese media to say Meng Wanzhou had a good case to avoid extradition to the United States. After repeating similar comments to another reporter later that week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired McCallum.
After a month of indecision, Trudeau has acknowledged the detentions of Canadians in China are “completely politically motivated” but still has not called the Chinese president to address this escalating diplomatic dispute.
On Monday, January 28, the United States Department of Justice announced they are seeking the extradition of Meng Wanzhou and charged her with bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud. The Department of Justice is also charging Huawei with fraud, IP theft and sanctions violations.
On March 3, Meng’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and the federal government, alleging “serious violations” of her constitutional rights. The case will return to court on May 8.
On March 4, the Chinese government accused the detained Canadians or conspiring to steal state secrets. The Prime Minister responded by saying it is “unfortunate that China continues to move forward on these arbitrary detentions.”
Meng remains on house arrest in Vancouver.
CANADA INFRASTRUCTURE BANK
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau established the Canada Infrastructure Bank after coming to office in 2015.
The bank cost taxpayers $35 billion to establish and its role is defined as attracting “private sector and institutional investment to new revenue-generating infrastructure projects that are in the public interest.”
The bank has announced just one project in the last three years, an electric rail system for Montreal. However, that same project was already promised by Trudeau a year earlier.
Despite only announcing one project, the Canada Infrastructure Bank has requested more than $11 million in additional funds to cover salaries, legal services, travel and expenses for its board of directors.
I’ve written more about the lacklustre performance of the Infrastructure Bank in the Financial Post.
SNC-LAVALIN AFFAIR (JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD)
In January 2019, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of her cabinet role and made the Minister of Veterans Affairs. She later published an unusual statement on her website saying it was her “view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role.”
On February 7, the Globe and Mail published allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office had attempted to get Minister Wilson-Raybould to intervene in a corruption and fraud trial involving SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering company. The company is alleged to have bribed officials in Libya to secure government contracts.
When asked by media if he influenced Wilson-Raybould to intervene in this matter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded that he had never “directed” her to do such a thing.
Conservative and NDP members of the House of Commons Justice Committee have put forth a motion to have Minister Wilson-Raybould and several other key players appear before the committee by the end of February.
On February 12, Wilson-Raybould resigned from Cabinet. A week later, Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, also resigned from his position.
The Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is the head of Canada’s public service, confirmed they discussed the SNC-Lavalin matter with Wilson-Raybould when she was the attorney general, reminding her jobs would be affected if the company’s court case continued.
On February 27, Wilson-Raybould testified for more than four hours in front of the Justice Committee, detailing more than 10 meetings, emails and text messages from the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Clerk of the Privy Council and senior political staff to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin.
In one instance, she said the Prime Minister reminded her of the importance of keeping SNC-Lavalin in Quebec, citing the upcoming Quebec provincial election and adding “I am an MP in Quebec – the member for Papineau.”
Trudeau has said Wilson-Raybould’s testimony is false and is deciding whether to keep her in the Liberal caucus.
On March 4, President of the Treasury Board Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet, stating: “Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me.”
On March 6, the Prime Minister’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts testified in front of the Justice Committee, confirming the events but saying “two people can experience the same event differently.”
The Justice Committee voted down a motion to have Wilson-Raybould testify before them a second time.
Trudeau addressed the allegations on March 7, saying an ‘erosion of trust’ sparked the controversy.
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, former Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff of Canada, was suspended from his duties two years ago and charged in 2018 with breach of trust for allegedly revealing, on 12 occasions, Liberal government secrets to Davie shipyard in Quebec pertaining to the government’s plan to lease a navy supply ship from Davie.
The resignation of former Treasury Board President Scott Brison, a member of Trudeau’s cabinet, is alleged to be in relation to the ongoing court case. Norman’s lawyers argue Brison tried to sabotage the Davie contract for rival Irving Shipbuilding in Brison’s home province of Nova Scotia. Brison is alleged to have close ties to the Irving family. He has since left the government and accepted a position with the Bank of Montreal.
Norman’s legal team has subpoenaed emails and other communications from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior staff members, alleging Norman has been a victim in political games and the government interfered in the case.