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Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Thursday February 18, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Thursday February 18, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Politics Briefing

Dion explains why he won't cancel controversial Saudi arms deal Add to ...

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POLITICS BRIEFING

By Chris Hannay (@channay)

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion told the Senate on Thursday that the Liberals do not approve of the controversial $15-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but that the government would not do anything to stop it – though, as Steven Chase has reported, it is within the government’s power to block weapons exports to countries with poor human rights records. Mr. Dion was asked about the arms sale by Senator Serge Joyal, a former Liberal MP who was appointed to the Senate by Jean Chrétien. Here is the Foreign Minister’s full explanation for the continued deal, for the record.

Mr. Joyal: “Minister, I would like to talk about the sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. I don’t need to go into detail about Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record. That country still practices corporal punishment – Raif Badawi is a shocking example of that – as well as the death penalty. In fact, it has one of the highest rates of sentencing people to death. It continues to ignore gender equality, a value that Canada champions on the international stage.

“How can you say that selling armoured vehicles to that country is not in direct conflict with your department’s guidelines?

“I will read the guidelines in English because I received them in English: ‘The policy with respect to countries with serious human rights problems places the onus on proving “no reasonable risk” squarely on the exporter.’ “Here is my question: Does the government simply lack the will in this situation, or are the guidelines not clear enough to oblige Canada to stand firm on its commitments with respect to the values underpinning its reputation?”

Mr. Dion: “Thank you, senator. This is a very, very important subject.

“First of all, the government is not approving this contract. The government is simply refusing to cancel a contract approved by the former government, a contract between a private company and Saudi Arabia. That is an important difference because, if we were to cancel a contract that had already been approved, Canadian taxpayers would probably have to pay some pretty hefty penalties. It would also dilute the credibility of the Canadian government’s signature on contract approvals, not just in this case, but in many others as well.

“Moreover, what would surely happen is that the equipment in question would be sold to Saudi Arabia by a less scrupulous country, and the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia would not change one iota. We strongly object to Saudi Arabia’s terrible human rights record, which you just described so well, and we vigorously voice that opinion.

“Furthermore, one of the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ responsibilities is to review export contracts and to cancel them if the equipment sold to a country is to be used in a manner that would violate human rights or the interests of Canada or its allies. That is my responsibility and one that I will have to exercise with utmost rigour. With respect to this file and every file, in the coming years – this is a multiyear contract – I will exercise this responsibility in accordance with the law and the guidelines that you just mentioned.”

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING

> Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is adamant he does not want anything to do with the federal Liberals’ plan for a $15-a-tonne national minimum carbon price. Some provinces, including Alberta and B.C., have or are planning to have carbon prices that are higher, which Mr. Wall says suits him just fine. “I don’t want a level playing field for our province,” he said. “I want this to be the most competitive place that it possibly can be … and that does not include a new carbon tax, especially now, given the state of the economy.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers meet to discuss climate policy in Vancouver on March 3.

> The Liberals are continuing to explore the idea of a guaranteed income, with one expert pitching the idea – at the invitation of a Liberal MP – at this week’s pre-budget hearings of the finance committee.

> After ruling out the F-35 fighter jets last fall, the Liberals now say they are open to the warplane as one possibility to replace Canada’s aging F-18s.

> Two for the price of one? The ethics commissioner says her office might as well be merged with the lobbying commissioner’s office.

> Senior military sources tell CTV that they are concerned about a staffing shortfall, which is why the Canadian Armed Forces will begin a new recruiting campaign later this year.

> Ottawa has lifted a deportation order for a 16-year-old Syrian boy on compassionate grounds. The boy’s case brought to light the government’s continued practice of detaining foreign national children.

> And Jane Taber looks at the political evolution of Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the NDP MP once mocked as “Vegas girl,” who has long since won over her riding and the New Democratic caucus.

SECUREDROP

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WHAT EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT

“Major groups such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs have not been criticizing the Liberals. They have largely expressed satisfaction, and noted official policy on Israel, and votes at the UN, have not changed. But there have been grumbles from within the community about a Trudeau appointment or a government statement – and things such as the Liberal plan to fund UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, could raise tensions. So when Mr. Dion responded to the Conservative motion on Thursday, stressing staunch support for Israel was the priority.” – Campbell Clark (for subscribers).

Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail): “The inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, promised by the Liberal government, is getting wider and wilder.” (for subscribers)

Tim Harper (Toronto Star): “Now that Trudeau has moved that Liberal house into an elite neighbourhood, many are wondering why there is no room at the inn for [Bob] Rae.”

David Akin (Sun): “Get this: Some of your MPs this week started work on some way to sell you on the idea that they should only work four days a week.”

Jen Gerson (National Post): “Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s government deserves just a tiny bit of credit [for backtracking], then. Lesser governments would have tried to blunder forward even with the knowledge that its actions were totally and inexcusably idiotic.”

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