Newly disclosed cabinet documents show that Ottawa produced an internal estimate in February of the GDP impact of countrywide blockades, figures Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland did not provide when asked during a June committee hearing on the government’s use of the Emergencies Act.
Minutes of a cabinet-level meeting attended by Ms. Freeland that took place the day before the government invoked the act show ministers were told that the blockades were causing economic losses of 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP per week.
Canada’s GDP is about $2.6-trillion, meaning the estimate showed that the Canadian economy was losing between $2.6-billion and $5.2-billion a week. The source of that economic estimate is not clear because of the extent of redactions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet invoked the act on Feb. 14 for the first time in Canadian history as a means to resolve several highly disruptive blockades by people who were primarily opposing COVID-related restrictions.
A package of highly redacted cabinet-level documents were made public this week in Federal Court as part of a legal challenge seeking a judicial review of the government’s use of the act. The documents included the revelation that the Prime Minister’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, told the full cabinet on the evening of Feb. 13 that there was a potential for a breakthrough with the protesters who had blockaded downtown streets in Ottawa for weeks.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said this week that the breakthrough comment was in reference to talks that had taken place around that time between the protesters and the City of Ottawa. However, the federal government concluded those talks would not succeed.
Invoking the Emergencies Act triggers a legal requirement for a special joint committee of MPs and senators to hold hearings and review whether the government’s decision to use the special powers was appropriate.
In May, the committee heard from two senior Finance Canada officials – assistant deputy minister Isabelle Jacques and director-general Julien Brazeau. In response to MP questions, they both said that the department may have produced some economic impact analysis of the blockades, but neither of them knew for sure or had seen such information.
“I did not receive at that time, certainly any numbers, concerning that,” Ms. Jacques told the committee.
Conservative MP Glen Motz then followed up directly with the minister in a June 14 committee meeting with a series of questions about what economic assessments were produced, if any.
Ms. Freeland responded by discussing the concerns that business leaders were expressing at the time, but did not provide any national GDP impact figures.
She did provide an opening statement to the committee that included Statistics Canada estimates of the daily trade effects the blockades caused in Alberta, Manitoba and at the Ambassador Bridge in Ontario.
“I personally had many conversations and read many reports that caused me to be very concerned about the economic consequences of the illegal blockades and occupation,” she replied to Mr. Motz. “I spoke directly with Canadian business leaders, who told me that they were hearing from investors that their confidence in Canada, as an investment destination, was shaken.”
Later in the hearing, NDP MP Matthew Green picked up on the same line of questioning: “I need to know if the government had, within its department – within your department, your ministry – facts that meant the economic impacts of the occupation were significant enough,” he said. “I’m going to put the question to you directly: What were the economic impacts of the occupation, and were they significant enough to meet the threshold of a threat to national security, under section 2 of the CSIS Act?”
When Ms. Freeland again responded with general comments about the economic impact, Mr. Green interjected: “Can you quantify it?”
“I had many conversations with Canadian business leaders,” she replied.
“That’s not good enough,” Mr. Green responded.
In an interview Friday, Mr. Green said the fact that the numbers were not revealed earlier is part of a pattern of obstruction from the Liberal government.
“I actually think it’s outrageous that these numbers existed the whole time,” he said.
Conservative MP and emergency preparedness critic Dane Lloyd said in a statement that the government has not been fully truthful with Canadians about its decision to invoke the act.
“It is concerning that the Liberal government was not forthright with Canadians about the existing economic impact,” he said. “It is clear that the Liberal government was more interested in dividing, wedging, stigmatizing and name-calling Canadians, rather than seeking a solution using existing powers and practises.”
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