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Freeland leaves D.C. with no tariff deal, despite early optimism from U.S.

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OTTAWA — Close, maybe, but no cigar.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland came and went from Washington on Wednesday, shifting diplomatic gears and jetting to Havana on a day that saw early hope that the end of the Canada-U.S. tariff dispute was close fizzle in a puff of figurative smoke.

“I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had said in Congress, prior to Freeland’s meeting with Trump trade czar Robert Lighthizer.

Mnuchin was testifying before the U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee, where he was asked why those two countries continue to face a 25-per-cent duty on steel and 10-per-cent levy on aluminum exports to the United States.

Freeland had no new developments to report as she emerged in the morning from the headquarters of the United States Trade Representative. She said she had a “good meeting” with Lighthizer.

“And we made the case, as we have been doing for some time, that the best outcome for both Canadians and Americans would be to lift those tariffs and to have free trade between our two countries,” Freeland said. 

Freeland met later with the influential Republican chair of the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley, who had said earlier this week that the tariffs might soon be lifted.

After that, she expressed optimism over incremental progress, though she refused to speculate publicly on whether a resolution of Canada’s trade dispute with the U.S. is close at hand.

“One meeting closer to achieving a great outcome,” Freeland said. And then: “OK, I think we need to leave for Cuba soon.”

Freeland will be pressing Cuba’s foreign minister over his country’s steadfast support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Canada and its Western Hemisphere allies in the Lima Group, as well as the U.S., view Maduro as a dictator who has impoverished his people and should relinquish power. 

“My sense is that we’re making progress but there’s obviously more work to be done,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said of the tariff situation in Ottawa Wednesday.

Morneau said he brings up the tariffs with Mnuchin every time they talk, including in a telephone call last week and face-to-face meetings last month in Washington at World Bank and G20 finance ministers’ meetings.

“I’m regularly putting forward the point of view that these tariffs are not only not helpful to the Canadian economy — to either the producers or buyers of steel — but they’re also damaging to the U.S. economy,” said Morneau. 

President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs during contentious continental trade talks by using a section of U.S. law that allows the president to tax imports on national-security grounds. The three countries’ negotiators ultimately reached a new deal that the Americans call the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Mnuchin acknowledged to the senators what business leaders in all three countries, as well as U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political divide, have been saying: that the tariffs must be lifted for the newly negotiated North American free trade deal to be ratified by legislators.

“I can assure you that Canada and Mexico are the priority,” Mnuchin said. “The president has instructed us to try to figure out a solution, and this is a very important part of passing USMCA, which is a very important economic agreement for two of our largest trading partners.”

Freeland’s visit comes after what she described as “a couple of good conversations” between Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in telephone calls on consecutive days late last week.

She, Trudeau and others in the Canadian government have derided the tariffs as absurd, illegal and insulting.

Lighthizer planned to meet House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday to discuss the Canada-Mexico tariffs and the broader U.S. tariff war with China.

Pelosi and fellow Democrats in the House have raised concerns about ratifying the new trade deal because of concerns over labour rights in Mexico, among other things.

Freeland discussed workers’ rights in her meeting with Lighthizer, and filled him in on her talks on Tuesday in Toronto with two visiting members of the new Mexican government, which is embarking on major labour reforms to meet its obligations under the new trade deal.

“We discussed ways Canada can support Mexico in this important effort, which is good for workers in Mexico, good for workers across North America,” she said. “Canada is a real supporter of union rights and we’re happy to be discussing that important issue with our Mexican colleagues.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


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Appeal for calm as tensions mount in Oka over land transfer to Kanesatake

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MONTREAL — There were appeals for calm Thursday amid steadily mounting tension in Oka, Que., over a private developer’s plan to return land to the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

Hundreds packed a church Wednesday night in the community, about 90 kilometres northwest of Montreal, to discuss the return of a pine forest central to the 1990 Oka crisis as part of a federal ecological donation to the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

The meeting was convened by Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon, who said he was caught off guard by land developer Gregoire Gollin’s intention to donate the 60 hectares known as The Pines last month, ensuring its preservation.

Gollin said he acted in the spirit of reconciliation when he signed the agreement, and was also prepared to discuss the sale of an additional 150 hectares he owns to the federal government to transfer to the Mohawk community — nearly half of which he said is adjacent to land owned by Kanesatake.

Quevillon said he is concerned about Oka becoming “surrounded” by the Mohawk territory, and worried about property values. He implored the federal government to take the town’s concerns into consideration.

He said the adjacent Mohawk community has illegal dumps and numerous cannabis and cigarette merchants — things the village of Oka doesn’t want to see expanded.

“My comments are the reality — I would like to tell you otherwise but it’s the reality in Kanesatake,” Quevillon said.

Quevillon stressed he doesn’t want another Oka crisis but said he fears one could be triggered — this time led by Oka residents worried about encroachment. 

“We don’t wish it, but if there is another one, it won’t come from the residents of Kanesatake because it’s the residents of Oka and their rights that are impacted,” Quevillon said.

Speaking to reporters in Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he felt the mayor’s comments about being surrounded “lacked the necessary respect and understanding that is key to true reconciliation.”

“Reconciliation is extremely important for Canada and Canadians, that means overcoming difficult challenges, some loaded with historical significance,” Trudeau said.

“We know that the only way forward is through respectful partnership and dialogue and we certainly hope that all parties in Oka will engage in that respectful and constructive dialogue to allow us to move forward for the benefit of all.”

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said tensions with Oka’s leadership have worsened in recent months and he has sought intermediaries like the provincial government to help.

“There’s always been an underlying tension,” Simon said. “There’s always been the ghost of 1990 and a mistrust of each other.”

But Simon took particular issue with the idea that the repatriation of lands would result in a drop in properly values, calling the mayor’s remarks racist.

He also called the notion of invoking another Oka crisis inflammatory, given the historical precedent.

“It’s irresponsible of him knowing damn well what happened and how it happened (in 1990) and he’s following in the same footsteps,” Simon said. “He’s knowingly fomenting a crisis.”

“(It’s) dangerous, very dangerous,” Simon added. “My community, we don’t want to live through something like that again … people back home aren’t afraid to fight, but it comes at a heavy price.”

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador called Thursday for calm, noting the mayor’s comments are reminiscent of how tensions sparked between the Mohawk nation and Quebec some 29 years ago this summer.

Grand Chief Ghislain Picard said the priority is finding a way to talk.

“I certainly feel confident we’ll come to a resolution,” Picard said. “This obviously lies with the capacity of both Oka and Kanesatake to find a common space to engage in a constructive dialogue.”

Also Thursday, Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Sylvie D’Amours vowed to work with all sides, even though land claims are federal jurisdiction.

“In order to preserve social peace and ensure the safety of all, Minister D’Amours has been intensifying exchanges with the federal government, the mayor of Oka and the grand chief of Kanesatake for months,” spokeswoman Nadine Gros-Louis said in an email. “It is essential that the dialogue be open and positive.”

The donated land is part of lands central to the Oka crisis which began July 11, 1990.

Gunfire erupted between provincial police and Aboriginals defending a small stand of pine trees from the expansion of a golf course, resulting in the death of officer Marcel Lemay and sparking a 78-day showdown.

At the end of it, a deal was struck to bring down barricades in exchange for cancelling the expansion.

Simon said his own community held a meeting about the ecological gift and raised concerns about a gift of land that belongs to them. But he said it was a way to cut through red tape and keep the lands free from development, noting that part of the forest in question includes a wetland.

As for other future developments, Simon said Oka would be able to invest in projects that would be of use to both communities, like an arena for example, which could promote reconciliation through sport.

“We just need to find a way to work in harmony with our neighbours and promote more co-operation, peace and equality,” Simon said.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press



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$900-million settlement reached in class action on sexual misconduct in military

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OTTAWA — The federal government is paying $900 million to settle multiple class-action lawsuits lodged on behalf of survivors of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and sexual assault in the military.

The settlement provides $800 million for members of the Canadian Armed Forces and $100 million in compensation for another class of employees of the Department of National Defence.

Over the past few years, participants in several lawsuits alleging similar misconduct and systemic problems in the military agreed to co-operate in their legal actions against the government.

The government had originally sought to defend itself in court against the lawsuits, filing documents in December 2017 in an attempt to quash them.

But after facing criticism, the government moved to begin settlement proceedings in early 2018.

In Thursday’s settlement, the government also promises an external review of existing anti-harassment programs and revisions to how it deals with disability benefits for survivors of sexual assault or harassment.

The Canadian Press

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