OTTAWA — Six Liberal MPs will be the ones to decide whether the federal ethics watchdog will speak publicly about his scathing report on how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau handled the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Conservatives and New Democrats pushed for the emergency meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee to be held Wednesday in Ottawa, where MPs will debate whether to dig deeper into the scandal by inviting ethics commissioner Mario Dion to testify.
“Now we have facts,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus. “We should be able to ask the man who found those facts to explain them.”
The Liberals hold a majority on the 10-member committee. Voting in favour of the motion to invite Dion to appear would mean keeping the SNC-Lavalin controversy in the headlines as MPs gear up for the Oct. 21 election.
None of the six Liberals on the committee had agreed to comment by late Tuesday afternoon.
The report, released last week, concluded that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against the Montreal engineering giant.
Trudeau, who has defended himself by insisting he was acting in the best interests of Canadians, is now suggesting voters want to move on.
“Voters speak to me about jobs,” Trudeau said Tuesday in Trois-Rivieres, Que., when asked whether he is hearing about SNC-Lavalin at his meet-and-greet events. “Yes, people have concerns, but mostly, they speak of the work that we are accomplishing together.”
Conservative MP Peter Kent said he hopes his Liberal colleagues, at the very least, support inviting Dion to debrief the committee on his report.
Mary Dawson, the previous ethics commissioner, spent two hours answering questions about her December 2017 report that found Trudeau had violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he and his family when on vacation to a private island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan.
Kent said if the Liberals are concerned about the timing, they could have supported his efforts to investigate the scandal earlier this year.
At the time, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said it would be “premature” to begin such a probe before the justice committee wrapped up its study.
Erskine-Smith had also pointed out that Dion had begun investigating and that he reports directly to the ethics committee.
The committee should ensure he has what he needs to do his job, rather than do it for him, he argued at an April meeting.
Kent said he wants to ask Dion whether it is time the ethics commissioner’s office had stronger investigative powers.
In his report, Dion noted the confidentiality rules that govern cabinet documents and discussions prevented him from accessing everything he needed.
The Prime Minister’s Office had partially waived those obligations to allow Wilson-Raybould to testify before the justice committee earlier this year, but Ian Shugart, the clerk of the Privy Council, declined to expand the waiver for Dion.
Kent also said he wants to know whether Dion thinks his reports should have more teeth.
During her January 2018 testimony on the Aga Khan report, Dawson had said the negative publicity would be enough of a consequence.
Trudeau’s response to Dion’s report has been to take “full responsibility” for what occurred, all the while saying he disagrees with some of Dion’s findings. He has also pointedly refused to apologize for what he characterizes as trying to protect Canadians against job losses.
“We have a prime minister without shame, so naming and shaming is obviously less than effective,” Kent said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who last week urged the six Liberal MPs on the committee “to do what’s right,” repeated his call for the RCMP to investigate the matter.
“What I’m looking to get out of this is the truth,” Scheer said during a pre-campaign event in Toronto.
“We’re looking to get the truth for Canadians, so they can understand the lengths that Justin Trudeau went to get a special deal for SNC-Lavalin.”
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Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press
What the USMCA Might Mean for Agriculture and Biotechnology?
We welcome guest writers to all of our Todayville platforms. Here’s a submission from Emily Folk. Emily is passionate about agricultural sustainability and more of her work can be found on her site, Conservation Folks. In this story, Emily Folk explains the USMCA Impact on Agriculture.
What Could USMCA Mean for Agriculture and Biotechnology?
The United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) has been in the news a lot lately. The leaders of the respective nations signed the trade agreement on November 30, 2019, and ratification is pending. You can think of the USMCA as an updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to renegotiate NAFTA after publicly speaking unfavourably about it. The USMCA is the result of that vow. The agreement spans several areas, such as the origin of automobile parts and new labor laws in Mexico that make it easier for workers to unionize. The USMCA also has a “sunset clause” that makes its terms expire after 16 years. Plus, every six years, the leaders of the countries involved must agree on whether to extend the deal.
Some agriculture-specific stipulations also exist within the USMCA. Additionally, the agreement notably mentions biotechnology. Here’s a closer look at how the USMCA might change these two industries.
More Exporting Opportunities for Farmers
One of the key points often mentioned about the USMCA is that parties expect the agreement to cause a $2 billion increase in U.S. agriculture exports, triggering a $65 billion rise in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Canada and Mexico are currently the top two exporting markets for American farmers, supporting more than 325,000 American jobs. In 2018, the food and agricultural exports destined for Canada and Mexico totaled more than $39.7 billion.
The USMCA also opens exporting opportunities that did not exist before. Now, U.S. dairy farmers will have expanded access to send products such as fluid and powdered milk, cheese and cream to Canadian parties. There will also no longer be U.S. tariffs on whey and margarine. This change is notable, considering the Canadian dairy market produced roughly 17% of the United States’ annual output over the past three years.
In exchange, Canada will give the United States new access to chicken and eggs, plus increased access to turkey. Plus, all other agriculture products traded between the U.S. and Mexico will be under a zero-tariff model.
Moving Forward With Agricultural Biotechnology
Another improvement associated with the USMCA is that it looks at agricultural technology more broadly than other trade agreements have.
For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed trade agreement between 12 nations — only addressed biotechnology regarding recombinant DNA (rDNA). That process involves joining the molecules from two different species, then inserting the product into a host to create new genetic combinations. Instead, the USMCA opens possibilities for all kinds of agricultural technology, including gene editing. Moving ahead with biotechnology could be crucial for addressing pressing matters that affect agriculture, such as water scarcity.
Approximately 700 million people suffer from water scarcity, and that number could double by 2025. Also, the agriculture industry is the greatest user of water. Things must change — both to address the growing water scarcity problem and to give farmers more options for growing things without using so much water.
Biotechnology has already helped, and it seems highly likely to continue spurring progress. In one example, scientists altered the expression of one gene common to all plants. This change led to a 25% increase in the plants’ water-use efficiency without adversely impacting yield or photosynthesis.
As part of the USMCA, Mexico, Canada and the United States agreed to improve information sharing and cooperation about biotechnology matters related to trade. That change could speed new developments, resulting in positive outcomes for all involved groups and the world at large.
Fairer Agricultural Grading Standards
A grading system for agricultural products defines trading procedures. For example, commercial buyers of a product grown in another country refer to the grading standards to set expectations about a product’s quality. The USMCA specifies that Canada will evaluate U.S. imported wheat and assign it a grade no less favourable than it would give Canadian-grown wheat.
Canada will also no longer require country of origin statements associated with inspection certificates or quality grades. The United States and Canada will discuss issues related to seed regulations under the USMCA, too.
Concerning Mexico and the United States, the two countries agreed to non-discriminatory grading standards and services. Moreover, a dialogue will begin between the two countries to flesh out the details for quality standards and grading regarding trade.
A Promising Future
It’s too early to say what the real-life effects will be of the changes outlined here. But, the commitments laid out within the USMCA seem like they’ll represent clear improvements for agriculture professionals, as well as everyone who benefits from their goods.
I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation. You can read more of my work by clicking this link: Conservation Folks.
151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot
VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.
The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.
The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.
“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.
He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.
An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.
A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.
James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.
Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.
“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.
James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.
“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”
James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.
Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.
The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.
“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”
James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
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