Evidence of meeting #143 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was important.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Marta Morgan  Deputy Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

I am very happy to talk about this.

Maybe I'll start with a phone conversation I had this morning before coming to the committee, where I had a chance to speak to Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State.

Because the section 232 tariffs are on national security grounds, this was an issue that was appropriate to raise with the Secretary of State. Also, I do want to thank my colleague Harjit Sajjan who raised the issue very effectively with the Pentagon.

This morning I had a chance to thank Secretary Pompeo for the work he did on this, which I think was considerable.

I think this is really a story of our country being united, of our country being persistent, of our country understanding that facts matter and of our country being resolute.

You guys should talk to Steve afterwards, because I'll be interested in his view, but I think the lifting of the tariffs actually started on July 1, when our retaliatory measures took effect. It was the largest trade action that Canada had taken since the Second World War. It was a clear sign that Canada would act in response.

It was also important that we took that action, as I believe the Prime Minister put it at the time, more in sorrow than in anger, that we understood that this action was harmful to everybody, that having tariffs between Canada and the U.S. just made no sense and hurt people on both sides of the border, and that—

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you for touching on the retaliatory measures. How important were they actually during the negotiations?

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

The fact that we acted strongly from the outset was absolutely essential. I know there were voices in Canada that called on us publicly to drop the retaliation. I'm glad we didn't listen to those voices.

The retaliation was difficult. It was difficult to stay the course, but that was absolutely essential.

I do want to thank another person and I'd like to just mention a couple of other things.

We were able to work very closely with the leaders of the steel and aluminum sectors, both industry and unions. We had a meeting of the steel CEOs last Friday in Toronto. Steve was there, as was Ambassador MacNaughton. The steel CEOs said to me and Steve that they would miss our sometimes nearly weekly Friday get-togethers. I do really want to commend both of those sectors for doing the homework that was necessary for us to support them. They worked hard. They got together.

I'll also mention Catherine Cobden. She is the head of the steel association and she did a really good job of bringing those people together.

A final person who I think it's worth mentioning is Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the U.S. Senate finance committee. He has been very clear about his view that the section 232 tariffs needed to be lifted. He wrote an important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on April 29, where he said explicitly that NAFTA could not be ratified in the U.S. Senate as long as the tariffs were in place.

I have been in close touch with Senator Grassley. I've met him twice in person and spoken to him often on the phone. Our ambassador, David MacNaughton, and our embassy have been working closely with him and his staff. His strong work and his strong credibility really also made an important difference.

I emphasize that because it's important for us to recognize a good trade deal—

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

You have 30 seconds.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

—is a win-win and lifting the tariffs is good for both countries.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Minister, very quickly, on the Columbia River Treaty negotiations with the U.S., since it's in British Columbia, I'm very keen to know, in 10 seconds, how you could help with that.

Thank you, Chair.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Sorry for letting my enthusiasm about section 232 take over.

Yes, the Columbia River Treaty is obviously an important treaty for B.C. in particular, but also for all of Canada. I was recently in Castlegar in the Columbia River basin.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

That's time.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

One important thing we were able to do and announce there is that, for the first time in a Canadian treaty negotiation, the indigenous people will be represented at the table, sitting on the Canadian side—

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you, Minister.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

—with official observer status.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you.

We will now move to MP Saini, please.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Good morning, Minister, and thank you for coming here this morning, and thanks to your colleagues, also.

I want to touch on two topics that you mentioned in your opening comments. The first one is about Venezuela. I'm sure you can appreciate that all Canadians are concerned about the tragic situation that's happening in Venezuela right now. We appreciate the fact that Maduro seized power through fraudulent means. It's an international crisis that's slipping across the borders, especially with Colombia, as you can appreciate.

I know that Canada has taken a strong lead within the Lima Group. Can you update us as to where we are, the stance we've taken and the leadership we've shown within that group and where we're going forward?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Yes. Thank you for the question. It's a really important issue.

The situation in Venezuela is a tragedy. Venezuela not so long ago was among the richest countries in our hemisphere, and it has now been reduced to a terrible state of human misery. There has been, by the Maduro regime, a systematic and intentional dismantling of Venezuelan democracy. That is why we, the hemispheric partners of Venezuela, had to act, and we are acting.

On a few specifics, I can announce a few things that are happening. Next Monday, June 3, we will have a meeting in New York of three countries of the Lima Group—Canada, Chile and Peru—with the European-led ICG, led by Federica Mogherini. The foreign minister of Portugal will also be there. That's an effort to continue our work with international partners.

It's important because I think one of the really central positive facts in a tragic situation over the past few months has been the very wide international recognition of Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. The European Union and the European Union countries have been central in that, so it's an important meeting.

We will also be having a meeting of the Lima Group in Guatemala on Thursday, June 6, which I will be attending, to continue the conversation.

Obviously one of the issues I discussed with Secretary Pompeo this morning was the situation in Venezuela, and we continue to be working closely with our American partners.

I'd like to mention for Canadians two other aspects of this. I spoke about—and it is really an overwhelming concern of mine—the threat to liberal democracy in the world today and the rise of authoritarianism. In a world that is facing that challenge, our hemisphere has been doing pretty well. You could even describe our hemisphere as one of the refuges for liberal democracy in the world. I think that's one of the reasons it is so important for Canada and for our hemispheric partners to stand up in support of democracy and human rights in Venezuela.

The second element of the Lima Group I want to quickly mention is that I really think a key tool of diplomacy and foreign policy today and in the years to come is assembling multilateral coalitions of like-minded countries to work on pressing issues. The Lima Group is a fantastic example of that, and I am really proud of the countries of our hemisphere coming together to do that work, so I really thank our Lima Group partners.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

My final question is one that is somewhat personal to me because I have a Rohingya community in my riding, not sizable but very active, and I have been engaged in this issue ever since the situation emerged in August 2017. As you know, it's a genocide, a terrible situation in terms of human rights that almost half a million have been displaced.

I know that through our international development assistance and also through our foreign policy, we've also had significant effects on what's happening on the ground. Can you update us on what we've been doing there?

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Thank you for the question.

I do know about the Rohingya community in your riding. It is a small but mighty Canadian community. I've met with leaders of that community.

I'm glad you mentioned their specific work, because I think a strength of Canada is the fact that we have many Canadians who are personally connected and engaged with so many parts of the world. I have learned a lot about the Rohingya—

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

You have 30 seconds.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

—from Canadian Rohingyas.

I'm also really glad—and I'd like to say this to everyone on the committee—that our country and our Parliament were able to acknowledge what has happened to the Rohingya as a genocide. It's a very important step, and I'm glad for us, as a country, that we did it.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you very much.

We will now move to MP O'Toole.

May 28th, 2019 / 10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to follow up on Monsieur Caron's line of questioning because Saudi Arabia has always been a challenge. There are not common values, but there is often very aligned mutual interests. On August 3 of last year, a tweet in Arabic from the embassy in Riyadh led to a crisis with that country on a diplomatic level. In fact, the outgoing former ambassador, Ambassador Horak, called the tweet “a serious overreaction”. By the end of August, your department was advising of major trade disruptions with that country.

Last fall, throughout September, October and November, SNC-Lavalin met with Michael Wernick, Bill Morneau, Ben Chin, Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard. That's quite well known now in Canada. Over that period, the largest company hit by the disruption was SNC-Lavalin. In fact, the CEO said that diplomatic tensions, in his words from that tweet, were “hurting the company's bottom line”, so much so that material statements were made publicly, because it's a publicly traded company. A few months ago, they estimated that the losses attributable to that tweet and the dispute at $1.1 billion for SNC-Lavalin.

While there were discussions about the DPA with SNC-Lavalin, were you involved in any discussions about the diplomatic dispute that was costing them billions?

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

I was not.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Were any of your officials involved in any discussions with the Prime Minister's Office on relief in one way or another for SNC-Lavalin?

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Not that I am aware.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Can you undertake to check on that, Minister?

I find it difficult to believe that the situation with Saudi Arabia—not on your part—was not part of the overall discussion last fall on the SNC-Lavalin affair. A diplomatic dispute led to far more losses than a criminal court proceeding and a remediation agreement.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

You may find it difficult to believe, but it is absolutely the case that the issue was not raised with me by anyone. My own position on the importance of speaking up for human rights is well known, and let me also add, that's the right thing.

I really want to say that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is long-standing and has many different elements, and that is a relationship which is ongoing. Having said that, particularly today, when human rights are under attack in so many parts of the world, when fewer countries are prepared to raise their voice and speak up for human rights, I strongly believe that is something Canada needs to do. We need to speak out for human rights activists who are under pressure, including women activists. That is something we have done and we will continue to do. I strongly believe that is something Canadians think is the right thing and they support.

Specifically—