The governing Trudeau Liberals are facing new pressure to bring public scrutiny to foreign exports of Canadian arms and military goods as the Commons prepares to debate and vote on a motion that would create a direct role for MPs in screening this growing trade.
The New Democrats are using their Opposition Day time slot Thursday to bring forward a motion to establish a new Commons committee dedicated to reviewing defence and security exports – similar to what British parliamentarians have. Debate will take place Thursday and a vote will likely come next Tuesday. The New Democrats put the motion for parliamentary oversight of military goods on the Commons' order paper Tuesday evening.
Related: The inside story of Canada's $15-billion Saudi arms deal
Hélène Laverdière, the NDP foreign affairs critic sponsoring the motion, says she's betting it will be difficult for the Liberals with their Commons majority to publicly reject this proposal for two reasons. First, the Trudeau government is seeking a temporary seat for Canada on the United Nations Security Council and is trying its demonstrate commitment to measures that stabilize and build security "in difficult places around the world." And second, Mr. Trudeau promised a more honest and open culture in Ottawa, she said.
"The Liberals are always talking about transparency and open government. Let's have a committee that can track an issue Canadians clearly care a lot about," Dr. Laverdière said, citing opinion polls on the controversial deal to supply the Saudis with weaponized armoured vehicles despite the Middle East country's abysmal human rights record. As recently as July, in a Nanos Research poll, a strong majority of Canadians objected to this country's sales of military goods to Saudi Arabia, China and Algeria, three countries with poor human-rights records that currently rank among the top 10 buyers of defence and security gear from Canada.
This year, Canadians have engaged in a growing debate over the military and security business that this country is conducting with Mideast countries and Asia – including a $15-billion deal with human-rights pariah Saudi Arabia – and increasing concern Ottawa is not doing enough to monitor and control this trade. The federal Conservatives as the Official Opposition have supported the NDP's call for a Commons committee to monitor defence exports.
Canada's defence industry and its annual exports are big business. For instance, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries says its sector employs 63,000 Canadians and generates $10-billion in annual revenue with roughly 60 per cent coming from exports.
Robert Nault, the Liberal MP representing Kenora and former cabinet minister chairing the Commons foreign affairs committee, has already promised he will be taking a hard look this fall at the export controls Canada places on foreign sales of military goods and whether sanctions and embargoes meant to stop arms shipments by Canadians have sufficient teeth.
Questions that have arisen over the past year include whether Canada exercises sufficient scrutiny when deciding to allow shipments to countries with poor human-rights records, including armoured vehicle shipments to Saudi Arabia by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada and Terradyne Armored Vehicles; whether Ottawa is sufficiently transparent with Canadians about the arms trade; and why one Canadian-controlled company, Streit Group, has been selling armoured vehicles to Libya and Sudan despite arms embargoes against these countries.
The NDP argues that Mr. Nault's study is not the sustained review needed given the burgeoning weapons trade Canada is doing, both in military goods and "dual-use" exports, such as jet engines that are being placed in military planes produced for other countries, including those with poor human rights records.