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Trudeau pushing for new rules to make air travel safer near conflict zones

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MUNICH — Canada is pushing for new international rules to protect civilian airliners flying near conflict zones, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday at an major security conference in Munich, Germany.

Five weeks after 176 people were killed, including 57 Canadians, when Iran’s military launched two missiles at a Ukrainian jetliner, Trudeau said he is working with the Netherlands and other partners to implement several recommendations to make the world safer for people to fly.

“The Netherlands, along with 10 other countries, was struck by a tragedy all too similar six years ago when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down,” Trudeau said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

“While the loss of life is heartbreaking, the fact that this could happen more than once is appalling.”

There were 298 people killed in July 2014 when the Malaysian airplane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile fired from a pro-Russian, separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine. Two-thirds of the victims were Dutch nationals. There was one Canadian on board.

Trudeau said one of his first calls after the Ukrainian airlines tragedy, was to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who told him there was a list of recommendations developed after the Malaysian crash to try and make the skies less volatile for civilians. Trudeau said “I pledged at that moment with him” to implement those recommendations.

Canada created a joint working group of countries who also lost citizens when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down in early January, a move that was part of implementing what Trudeau calls the “safer-skies initiative.”

Trudeau’s office has not yet provided further information about the recommendations or how the initiative would work.

Champagne is hosting a meeting of the joint working group in Munich on Saturday.

The plane was shot down hours after the Iranians launched missiles at Iraqi military bases housing U.S. soldiers, in retaliation for the U.S. killing a top Iranian general in a targeted drone strike in Baghdad the week before. While Iran initially denied a missile brought down the plane, it admitted three days after the crash that its military fired the missiles after thinking the plane was a hostile target.

Questions were immediately asked about why the plane was cleared for takeoff while tensions were so high.

“Millions of people board a plane every day, and they should not wonder whether they could become inadvertent targets,” Trudeau said.

Canada continues to push Iran to complete a full investigation of the crash and is losing patience over Iran’s reluctance to send the plane’s black boxes to France so they can be analyzed.

Trudeau stepped into a meeting scheduled between Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Munich Friday, hoping it would help put some more pressure on Iran to admit it doesn’t have the equipment to analyze the boxes itself.

“I made a promise to families in Canada to do everything I could to make sure that they get answers, that we have a full and complete investigation, that we understand exactly what happened,” he said.

Trudeau’s speech in Munich also delivered a sharp defence of the use of global organizations to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

The influence of multilateral organizations like NATO or the United Nations is under some threat, amid a rise of nationalism and protectionism around the world.

That defence was made as he continued to campaign for Canada’s bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, one of the world’s most powerful multilateral organizations that has also seen its role and influence questioned in recent years.

He met with more than 20 world leaders over the last eight days in Ethiopia, Kuwait, Senegal and Germany, including on Friday the leaders of Niger, Albania, and Kazakhstan.

After the meeting with Zarif Friday, Champagne said he felt progress had been made to persuade Iran to relinquish the black boxes from the plane.

“The discussions we had today was going further,” he said. “We were not talking about the why, we were talking about the how.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2020.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press




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Government needs to produce plan for dealing with veterans’ backlog: Ombudsman

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OTTAWA — Veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton says the federal government should clearly explain how it plans to eliminate a backlog that is keeping thousands of former service members waiting to find out if they qualify for benefits and aid.

The number of unaddressed applications for disability benefits and other assistance continues to grow despite repeated government promises to fix the problem.

Most recently, Veterans Affairs Canada revealed that there were 44,000 applications waiting to be processed at the end of September, which was a 10 per cent increase from six months earlier.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay says eliminating the backlog is his top priority and the department is trying to move files along faster.

Yet Dalton says the government has not laid out a clear plan that includes specific actions and targets.

Dalton also says the government needs to invest more money and resources into tackling the backlog, which he worries is leaving some veterans at greater risk of financial and health problems.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Freeland agrees to NDP trade pitch in return for new NAFTA support: letter

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OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says she wants to make Canada’s trade negotiations more “transparent,” by agreeing to proposals from the New Democrats to provide more details of future deals.

Freeland offers that view in a Wednesday letter to the New Democrats, a promise that secured the party’s support for a speedier ratification of the new North American trade deal, which is still before Parliament.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, Freeland makes clear she is agreeing to the NDP proposals to get support for ratifying the new continental trade agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Freeland maintains that the 13 months of acrimonious negotiation among the three countries was open and transparent because the government consulted widely with stakeholders.

NDP trade critic Daniel Blaikie disagrees, saying the actual negotiations were held in secret, and the government provided inadequate analysis of the economic consequences of the deal to Canadians.

Freeland says the government will provide the House of Commons with an economic-impact assessment at the same time the legislation to ratify a trade deal is tabled.

She said that report will include “estimates of overall economic impact of a free trade agreement on the Canadian economy, including changes in gross domestic product (GDP), trade flows, unemployment, and income as well as sector-specific estimates for the sectors directly addressed in the free trade agreement.”

The government also agrees to inform the House of “intent to enter into negotiations” on new deals 90 days before they begin and “to require objectives for negotiations” for new deals to be tabled 30 days in advance, the letter says.

Freelan’s letter says she is making the changes “in light of the NDP proposal and to add further transparency to the free-trade negotiations process.” It says she was responding to written proposals from NDP sent on Dec. 16. 

“In exchange for these changes,” Freeland concludes, “I understand we can count of the support of the NDP” to ‘expeditiously’ ratify the new trade deal — something the U.S. and Mexico have already done.

As the letter states, and Blaikie acknowledges, reopening the deal to further negotiations was a non-starter.

“We’ve always felt that the trade negotiation process has been far too secretive, and Canadians will benefit from a more open and transparent process,” Blaikie said in an interview.

“The way to do that is to make sure that the government has to be more clear about its intentions both in terms of letting Parliament know who it is negotiating with and also laying out its objectives so that at the end you can measure whether the government succeeded.”

Blaikie dismissed a suggestion that his party’s manoeuvring represented a break from its past policy of being skeptical and unsupportive of free trade.

“This agreement is still part of a model of globalized trade driven by corporations that we are critical of,” he said.

“We knew we couldn’t change the deal. You can’t open it up again. So, we wanted to focus on something we could change, which is what this looks like for future trade deals like Canada-U.K., Canada-China and Canada-India,” Blaikie added.

“I look forward to having a better process when the next government comes along that’s looking to sign Canada up for some kind of trade deal.”

Earlier this week, Freeland offered effusive public thanks to New Democrats for supporting the new deal and stinging criticism of the Conservatives for wanting to study it further at a Commons committee. In the House of Commons Thursday she said Blaikie was a pleasure to work with on the changes.

Freeland said the government wanted to limit study of the new deal, and was surprised that Conservatives wanted to extend committees’ study of the agreement into March.

But the Conservative trade critic Randy Hoback told The Canadian Press that there was no circumstance under which his party would vote against ratifying the trade deal. He said the Tories simply wanted to hear from witnesses to give voice to people who are concerned about the deal, to make it stronger in the long term.

“That’s what created the problem in the previous NAFTA is when people were left out. They were the ones that elected Trump this last election, because they were left out,” said Hoback.

President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to rip up the old North American Free Trade Agreement during the renegotiations. Freeland has had cabinet responsibility for Canada-U.S. relations during that time as foreign affairs minister and now as deputy prime minister.

Getting a new deal became the Liberal government’s top priority because of Canada’s massive economic dependence on access to the United States, its biggest trading partner.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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