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Liberals move ahead on Indigenous agenda after SNC affair, caucus ousters

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OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s Liberals say they are still hearing support from Indigenous people and leaders, despite concerns raised publicly about Trudeau’s expulsion of two ex-ministers who had been central to work on reconciliation.

While the Liberals have repeatedly said that addressing the relationship with Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a top priority, that commitment has been openly questioned by some Indigenous leaders, especially since the ejections of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus.

Terry Teegee, the British Columbia regional chief in the Assembly of First Nations, suggested the ejections showed a “deeply flawed and dishonest intent” behind Trudeau’s previously stated respect for Indigenous Peoples. Wilson-Raybould was one of his predecessors.

“The balance that was being forged within our societies through the process of reconciliation is now threatened,” he said when Trudeau expelled the two. Teegee called the decision “wrathful.”

Wilson-Raybould, as justice minister until January, had been the highest-ranking Indigenous person ever in the Canadian government. Philpott had been seen as one of Trudeau’s most capable ministers; a shuffle that moved her from the high-profile health portfolio to become minister of Indigenous services was a symbol of how important clean water and good housing on reserves, for instance, were to the Liberal government.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, who had worked closely with both, said that while the government is always mindful of triggering cynicism and concern about the relationship she tends, she is continuing to hear “very positive” feedback.

“Whether I’m on the East Coast or the West Coast or in Manitoba, over the last little while, I have to say that people will quietly take me aside and say, ‘We need your government re-elected,’ ” Bennett said in an interview.

“I would never presume that whomever I’m speaking to is speaking on behalf of more than one person,” she added. “I think that it’s important now for us to earn the respect and continue to make progress.”

In the next election, only First Nations, Inuit and Metis will be able to make ultimate determinations about whether their experience with the government has felt more like a partnership than paternalism, Bennett added.

Last week, Trudeau made the decision to remove Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from the Liberal caucus.

The two former cabinet ministers had been outspoken about political pressure to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec engineering giant facing bribery charges over contracts in Libya. Wilson-Raybould believes she was shuffled out of the Department of Justice because she wouldn’t give Trudeau what he wanted on the file, overruling a prosecutor’s decision not to pursue a plea-bargain-like “remediation agreement.” Both ultimately resigned from the cabinet.

Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing but has publicly acknowledged there was a breakdown of trust between Wilson-Raybould and his office.

Wilson-Raybould was not available for an interview but Philpott said she does see the controversy as a “setback” in the government’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

Trudeau’s cabinet worked hard on issues including the recognition and affirmation of rights for Indigenous Peoples, Philpott said, and there was “tremendous enthusiasm” about Wilson-Raybould’s being the first Indigenous justice minister in Canadian history.

Wilson-Raybould was moved out of the position into the veterans-affairs portfolio, prior to her subsequent cabinet resignation.

“I think particularly the fact that she was moved out of that role and then subsequently resigned from cabinet, is a setback, without doubt,” Philpott said.

As an independent MP, Wilson-Raybould continues to have leverage over her former party — and Trudeau in particular — as members of Indigenous communities watch her words and actions carefully, says University of Saskatchewan professor Joseph Garcea, a political scientist who studies Canadian politics.

“She’s got this government’s feet to the fire and it is up to her, really, how high she turns up the heat,” he said.

In 2015, the Liberal Party was keen to recruit Indigenous candidates and affirm its commitment to solving longstanding problems, including multiyear boil-water advisories on reserves.

Indigenous voters were also far more engaged in the last election. The Assembly of First Nations identified 51 ridings, including several in western Canada, where First Nations voters could affect the outcome and invested a great deal of effort in outreach.

After that election, Elections Canada reported the gap between turnout on reserves and turnout among the general population had been the lowest since it began calculating turnout for Aboriginal populations in 2004 (with the caveat that it does not capture demographic information at the polls and cannot count Aboriginal voters directly, whether they vote on or off reserves).

Compared to the 2011 election, Elections Canada said turnout on reserves increased by 14 percentage points — from 47.4 per cent to 61.5 per cent — while turnout among the general population increased by six percentage points to 66 per cent.

For his part, Metis National Council President Clement Chartier said he will not allow a “distraction” like the SNC-Lavalin controversy to “derail” the council’s efforts to work with the Liberal government.

“Why would we want to destroy something that has been of significant benefit to the Metis Nation?” he said, suggesting the response to the council from the Trudeau government has been “tremendous.”

The Metis National Council will reach out to all the political parties before the election on policy positions, he said, adding Metis citizens can decide for themselves whom to support.

“Until there’s an election, we will continue to support this prime minister and this government,” he said.

Wilson-Raybould’s tenure as the first Indigenous justice minister in Canada will remain a “huge breakthrough,” Bennett said. She said her team is very sad there was an erosion of trust with her colleagues.

“We would prefer that (Philpott and Wilson-Raybould) were still members of the team, still supporting the prime minister, but unfortunately that didn’t happen,” she said, but she believes the government’s Indigenous partners want to move on.

-Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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China asks for suspension of Canadian meat, citing forged certificates

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OTTAWA — The Chinese Embassy said Tuesday it has asked Canada to suspended all meat exports, a surprise move that comes amid the diplomatic dispute over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for a G20 leaders’ summit in Japan, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The embassy said in a statement to The Canadian Press on Tuesday that this latest move follows Chinese customs inspectors’ detection of residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. The additive has permitted uses in Canada but is banned in China.

“The subsequent investigation revealed that the official veterinary health certificates attached to the batch of pork exported to China were counterfeit and the number of those forgery certificates was up to 188. The Canadian side believes that this incident is criminal offence,” said the embassy statement.

“These forged certificates were sent to the Chinese regulatory authorities through Canadian official certificate notification channel, which reflects that the Canadian meat export supervision system exists obvious safety loopholes.”

China is therefore taking “urgent preventive measures” to protect Chinese customers and has asked the Canadian government to suspend all meat-export certificates, the embassy said.

“We hope the Canadian side would attach great importance to this incident, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure the safety of food exported to China in a more responsible manner.”

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau did not immediately comment on the report.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec, which first reported the story, quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended import permits for three pork producers.

A senior Canadian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the dispute, described the matter as a “technical issue.”

The official said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is “seized with the issue and looking into the matter to ensure that all the rules are being followed.”

The CFIA is working with Chinese officials to resolve the matter.

“This is a technical issue related to potentially fraudulent permits,” said the official. “We stand by the quality of Canadian products.”

The Conservatives blamed Trudeau.

“Conservatives know that Canadian farmers produce some of the highest-quality meat in the world. Any assertion by the Chinese government to the contrary is both false and baseless,” said a statement from Tory agriculture critic Luc Berthold. “It is clear that this is not an issue of food safety, but a political issue caused by Justin Trudeau’s incompetence and weakness on the world stage.”

Berthold said Trudeau has to “personally raise this issue” with Xi in at the G20 meeting and demand the trade barriers be lifted.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Report: China bans all Canadian meat before G20 as Trudeau turns to Trump on detainees

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OTTAWA — A report in a Quebec newspaper says China has suspended all Canadian meat exports in a dramatic escalation of its diplomatic dispute with Canada over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for the G20 leaders’ summit, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

The diplomat says the move is being taken because about 100 faked veterinary health certificates have been identified on exported meat products.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has yet to comment on the report.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended export permits for three pork producers.

The Canadian Press

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