Implications of the new federal government
Posted on Nov 21, 2019

National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, a Vancouver Member of Parliament and three-tour veteran of Afghanistan, has retained the portfolio in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet which was sworn in Nov. 20. So, too, have Navdeep Bains, the Toronto-area MP responsible for federal industrial support, and Prince Edward Island MP Lawrence MacAuley, back at Veterans Affairs. However, parliamentary rookie Anita Adnan, just elected in October, is the new Minister of Public Works and Procurement.

Bains’ ministry has undergone a small but possibly significant rebadging in that it’s name now is Innovation, Science and Industry rather than Innovation, Science and Economic Development. The latter element has been spun off as an added responsibility for Official Language Minister Melanie Joly, a Montrealer whose city and surroundings are home to many major aerospace companies. Smaller companies remain the purview of Mary Ng, Minister for Small Business and Export Promotion.

Two other portfolios of interest to the defence sector are affected by the cabinet reorganization which saw mostly familiar faces at Government House for the swearing-in by Governor General Julie Payette. Quebec MP François-Philippe Champagne, who speaks Italian as well as English and French, has been moved from the Infrastructure and Communities portfolio to Foreign Affairs. He replaces Toronto MP Chrystia Freeland, who has been named Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Anand may be a parliamentary rookie, but is no rookie in the abilities she brings to the government’s purchasing arm. A widely-respected University of Toronto law professor, she succeeds Vancouver-area MP Carla Qualtrough, who now is Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, the central element of which could be of interest to the defence industry.

Anand held the prestigious J.R. Kimber Chair in Investor Protection and Corporate Governance at the UofT, where she also was Associate Dean from 2007-2009, and had served as Academic Director of the Centre for the Legal Profession and its Program on Ethics in Law and Business since 2010. Earlier this year, the Nova Scotia native was recognized by the Royal Society of Canada for “outstanding contributions in governance” relating to private and public organizations.

At last week’s annual conference and trade show in Ottawa, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which has many defence suppliers in its ranks, strongly endorsed a call for more government cooperation in addressing a persistent shortage of skilled labour. The AIAC took Qualtrough’s appointment as proof that former Deputy Prime Minister Jean Charest’s Vision 2025 report for the AIAC had a clear “impact” on Trudeau’s administration because Qualtrough had been “given a mandate to focus on workforce development.”

Even before the Oct. 21 general election reduced Trudeau’s 2015 Liberal majority to a parliamentary minority that needs support of the smaller parties, mainly the New Democrats, to remain in power, the aerospace industry was trying to get a grip on how it would be treated after the election and cabinet reorganization.

The AIAC wrote to all political parties about their positions on the industry’s future. There was no response from the Greens but the major parties were only too happy to indicate their priorities for an industry that contributes $25.5 billion annually to the economy and provides nearly 215,000 jobs.

Those two numbers were in the AIAC’s sights at last week’s conference as President Jim Quick and others pressed the membership to mount a coordinated lobby for more federal government support for the industry. Charest’s report was a hot topic for an industry trying to recover from slipping export sales.

Charest told FrontLine that the defence industry is too often taken for granted in Canada despite its economic clout. “The industry’s doing fairly well and we have skills shortages, but . . . we are losing ground,” he reiterated in an exclusive interview. “It’s happening gradually and we are concerned about that and our membership is saying ‘let’s not allow this to happen, make sure that we renew that partnership with the government’ – which is what 2025 is about.

“Let’s do our own homework first, which we have done, and avoid losing ground for the wrong reasons. We do expect more competition; our traditional competitors are more aggressive, but there’s new entrants, so it’s going to be a different world from the one we had before.”

Asked whether the government – unlike all of its major allies – is concerned or even afraid of being seen in an alliance with what postwar U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”, Charest said he hoped that isn’t the case, “especially with the defence requirements we have, with the opening of the North.

“The challenge for the government will be to put its defence procurement commitments in the context . . . of the different threats that we have. If they do that, the way we’re trying to frame the discussion about the aerospace industry, there’ll be more public support than they had before on doing government procurement on defence.”

Other nuggets from the new cabinet

U.S. President Donald Trump evidently has used social media to suggest that Canada is about to pull the plug on talks about a new North American trade pact, but Chrystia Freeland, newly appointed as Trudeau’s Deputy PM and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, declined to respond “specifically.”

However, she did tell reporters after the new federal cabinet was sworn in that she’d had “a very good conversation” with Richard Neal, the Chair of the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means committee, when he led a congressional delegation to Ottawa earlier this month.

Freeland said that she had also spoken with Neal earlier this week and had been assured that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remain “hopeful of reaching agreement with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on moving the negotiations forward. “There have been meetings this week,” she added. “I also spoke . . . with Ambassador Lighthizer, who gave me the same message.”

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Prime Minister Trudeau remains concerned about the continued detention in China of two Canadians on what are believed to be trumped-up security charges even as Canada tries to build a closer relationship with the government in Beijing.

A reporter from a Chinese-language Canadian TV network suggested after the new cabinet was sworn in that China “seemed to be resorting to hostage diplomacy” with its arrests of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and that polls indicate that most Canadians have a negative perception of China and its lack of respect for basic human rights and the rule of law. 

Asked whether “a new understanding of the regime and the situation’ might prompt his government would reshape its China policy, Trudeau replied that Canada has always understood two things about China.

One is that it’s a growing economy which impacts other countries through trade. “There are opportunities for Canadian businesses, Canadian exporters, and Canadian investors to do well with better relations, economic relations,” he said.

“At the same time, Canadians expect us to stand up for our values and our rights, and we are going to do that. We have condemned the arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and we're continuing to endeavour to demonstrate that we will stand up for our interests as a country, we will engage with the world in a constructive and positive way and we will, at the same time, ensure that we're looking for opportunities for Canadians.” 

That led to a question about the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong and its implications for the 300,000 Canadian citizens who live there.

“It is an issue of concern for us all,” Trudeau replied. “We have repeatedly called upon China to respect the terms of the ‘one country, two systems’ principles. We will continue to call for de-escalation and an end to violence and true dialogue that'll lead to a more peaceful situation.”

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The new Minister of Public Safety, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair – shuffled from the Border Security and Organized Crime portfolio when Saskatchewan veteran Ralph Goodale was not re-elected on Oct. 21, says there will be no immediate government decision on the prospect of Huawei’s 5G network being permitted in Canada.

Goodale had said there would no decision until after the election but, when pressed by reporters on Nov. 20, Blair said there are “very complex economic and security issues” which have to be addressed first. “It will be a priority when we come back to government and when cabinet meets to examine those issues and to make that decision,” he continued, adding that he did not have “a specific timetable.”

Asked whether he would consult Canadian telecommunications service providers to find out whether they feel Huawei should be banned, Blair said it still was being examined by government officials. “It remains a priority for us and . . . we also have international partners that we are in discussion with as well.” Those include other governments which have either already banned entry of Huawei’s 5G technology or are still considering it.

– Hudson on the Hill (aka Ken Pole)

21 Nov 2019