The Liberal government is crying foul over a Conservative MP’s decision to decline an offer to bring Canadian embassy officials to recent meetings in Washington, but the Tory backbencher says it wasn’t required.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who heads the Canada-U.S. cabinet committee, criticized Conservative MP Kelly McCauley for attending meetings this week in the U.S. capital, including at the Pentagon, without a briefing or logistical support from Canadian embassy officials.
“The Conservatives talk a good game about playing for Team Canada but they aren’t actually doing that. They’re either sniping from the sidelines or actively obstructing what we’re trying to achieve for Canadians at the negotiating table,” Mr. Garneau said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
“For an MP of any party in the House of Commons to freelance meetings with the Pentagon, turning away support from our Embassy, is not only improper, it’s irresponsible.”
But Mr. McCauley, a first-term MP for Edmonton West, said his meetings were directly related to his work on the House of Commons government operations and estimates committee, which recently completed a study on federal procurement.
Mr. McCauley said he was in Washington this week to attend a whistle-blowers’ conference and also set up meetings with the U.S. Small Business Administration as well as with James Geurts, assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy for research, development and acquisition, at the headquarters of the U.S. Defence Department.
He said he gave the embassy a heads-up about the meetings in June and was offered to be accompanied by officials of the Global Affairs Department, but was also told that it wasn’t required. He called the meetings “boring” and said it wasn’t necessary for officials to come along.
“I think someone’s trying to make a mountain out of a molehill,” Mr. McCauley said. “Minister Garneau is either wildly misinformed about what we were meeting about, which is procurement and a whistle-blowing conference, or he’s purposefully trying to create a partisan event for political gain.”
Mr. McCauley said his discussion with Mr. Geurts, which included a procurement specialist, centred on U.S. strategies for procurement hiring. A spokesman for the U.S. Navy confirmed the meeting took place on Monday and focused on Mr. Geurts’s insights into “work force acquisition.”
Mr. McCauley added that the discussions had nothing to do with Canada-U.S. relations, including ongoing negotiations of the North American free-trade agreement.
“We recognize there’s difficulties going on right now. We certainly would not do anything that would get in the way of strong relations,” Mr. McCauley said.
A Canadian embassy spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. McCauley was offered logistical support as well as a briefing by senior embassy officials and staff in the Canadian defence liaison office. Spokeswoman Alexandra Vachon White said Mr. McCauley’s office cancelled a planned briefing Monday morning due to a scheduling conflict and subsequently informed Global Affairs officials in Ottawa that he would not require any support during his trip. She added that the embassy always offers support but it’s “absolutely” up to the visiting MP or senator if they want to accept it.
Derek Burney, who served as Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 1989 to 1993, said the embassy’s offer to help is “more of a courtesy” than anything else. “In my experience, it is normal for the Embassy to offer to accompany visiting MPs of any stripe on meetings with the Administration but they are not obligated to accept,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Last month, former prime minister Stephen Harper travelled to Washington to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow. Mr. Harper, who now runs a consulting business, later said the visit was in the context of his role as president of the International Democrat Union – a global association of conservatives – as well as a group called Friends of Israel. In a leaked audiotape released after the trip, Mr. Harper told a business audience in Montreal that he believes neither Canada nor the United States wants a renegotiated NAFTA deal, a claim that was dismissed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In April, three Conservative senators met with U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions about Canada’s plan to legalize marijuana. Online news site iPolitics later reported that the Canadian embassy was caught off guard by the visit.