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Business leaders urge Trudeau to meet Pelosi, as well as Trump to push new NAFTA

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OTTAWA — For now, he’s going to Washington to meet President Donald Trump, but Canadian business leaders say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be talking to Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi to push the continent’s new trade pact towards ratification.

Trudeau’s Thursday trip to Washington is being billed as part of a concerted push to win ratification of the new North American trade deal in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Legislation to do just that is slowly wending through the House of Commons, and Mexico’s Senate is poised to give its final legislative approval early next week. But similar legislation has yet to be introduced in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

The Democrats would like to deny Trump a victory on the trade front, but they also have specific concerns about the labour and environment provisions of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

With the U.S. Congress set to rise at the end of July, Trump’s hopes to have the House and Senate ratify USMCA this summer — as Vice-President Mike Pence promised Trudeau last month in Ottawa — are dwindling.

Brian Kingston, vice-president of international issues for the Business Council of Canada, says that’s why Trudeau should add Pelosi to his agenda.

“I think it would be important, if there’s an opportunity, to have a discussion with the House leader. That could be beneficial primarily because, right now, the ball is fully in her court,” Kingston said in an interview Friday.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says that’s a good idea, but only if Trump asks Trudeau to speak to Democratic lawmakers.

“If they feel it would be helpful for the prime minister to speak to members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, then I would think he’d be very open to doing that,” Beatty said Friday in an interview.

“Should we insert ourselves in the process without a request from the U.S. administration? My inclination would be to ask the administration what they think would be most helpful.”

Flavio Volpe, president the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said the meeting of the two leaders is probably most significant for its context rather than content.

“The Canadian prime minister publicly appearing on the same side as the American president could give Democrats some cover for supporting the new USMCA.”

The Prime Minister’s Office would only say that it would keep the media informed of Trudeau’s itinerary.

Trudeau and Trump will meet on Thursday in Washington where the new continental trade deal, as well as their shared concerns about China, will be major topics of discussion.

Business groups in all three countries are pushing for a timely ratification of the new pact because they say the uncertainty created by the long, tempestuous renegotiation of NAFTA and the ratification delays are harmful to long-term investment plans.

Canadian MPs are to adjourn by next Friday for their summer recess, their last planned sitting days before the October federal election, but they could be recalled in the summer to deal with ratification.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sidestepped questions on her trip to Washington this week about how Canada would proceed “in tandem” with the U.S. if its lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t ratify the deal before their summer recess.

In Canada, the Business Council, an association of top corporate executives, and the Chamber of Commerce, which represents 200,000 Canadian businesses across all sectors, have differing views on how urgent it is for the Trudeau government to ratify the new deal.

“Their strategy of following the U.S. process makes sense, however there will be a point where we should ratify this agreement before the election,” said Kingston.

“Our biggest concern right now is if the president does not feel the Democrats are moving quickly enough, he will withdraw from NAFTA. . . . That would be absolutely disastrous for the Canadian economy.”

NAFTA, which remains in force, allows any country to withdraw on six-month’s notice. If Trump did that, it would be the “ultimate pressure tactic” to push Congress, said Kingston.

Beatty said an earlier ratification is certainly a better option, but if the U.S. leaves it hanging, it is not imperative for the Liberal government to ratify before the federal election.

“It would be preferable, but I don’t think it’s essential. Both the Liberals and Conservatives are in favour of ratification. I would anticipate whether it’s before or after the federal election, there’s no serious impediment to ratification in Canada.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Education

School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar

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A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.

Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.

The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.

The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.

The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.

“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.

Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.

The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.

The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.

The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.

Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.

“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.

Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.

“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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Health

Ottawa paid $75M for veterans’ cannabis last year, could pay $100M this year

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OTTAWA — The federal government shelled out a record $75 million to cover the cost of medical marijuana for veterans in the last fiscal year — and it is on track to spend nearly $100 million this year.

The figures from Veterans Affairs Canada come despite the government having cited rising costs and a lack of scientific evidence about the drug’s medical benefits for cutting how much cannabis it would cover for veterans.

Unless a veteran gets a special medical exemption, the government will reimburse veterans for a maximum three grams of medical marijuana per day, which is down from a previous maximum of 10 grams.

While the change in November 2016 reduced the government’s costs the following year, those savings were shortlived as more and more veterans turned to the government to pay for their medical marijuana.

Yet even as more veterans are using medical marijuana, Jason Busse of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medical Cannabis Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says its medical benefits remain unclear.

The federal government is putting money into more research, but Busse says it is concerning that more and more veterans and non-veterans are turning to the drug when there are so many unanswered questions about it.

The Canadian Press

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