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Martin wins 3 points from Bush

  • April 15, 2008 9:10 pm

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U.S. agrees to make concessions on Iraqi contracts, mad cow and deportations

Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief

CanWest News Service

OTTAWA – In their first official meeting since he became Prime Minister, Paul Martin won concessions from George W. Bush yesterday that open the door for Canadian companies to bid on Iraqi contracts and for an integrated North American approach to the mad cow crisis.

The U.S. President also assured Mr. Martin the United States will not deport Canadians holding dual citizenship to the country of their birth without first notifying Canada.

The men emerged from their 75-minute meeting singing one another’s praises.

“He’s a straightforward fellow, who’s easy to talk to,” Mr. Bush said. “I really look forward to working with the Prime Minister.”

Mr. Martin said he admires Mr. Bush’s willingness to seek solutions to contentious bilateral disputes. “He is a man who is very frank. It’s clear that his convictions are profound,” Mr. Martin said. “He is a man who wants to find solutions to the problems.”

Mr. Bush said Canada’s opposition to the war in Iraq is no longer an obstacle to Canadian companies bidding on Iraqi reconstruction projects. The first US$5-billion in contracts will go only to nations that fought, but Mr. Bush said Canada will be eligible to bid on the second wave of contracts, worth US$13-billion.

The President said he changed his mind on the contracts because Canada has already contributed $300-million to reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

“They want Iraq to succeed. They understand the stakes with having a free country in the midst of the Middle East,” he said.

Despite violence in Iraq, Mr. Martin said he is confident Canadian companies in construction, oil services, education and health care will line up to bid.

“I certainly believe the breakthrough that was made was certainly quite significant,” he said. “These are areas where Canada has great expertise — both in the construction contracts and in the service contracts — and I very, very much believe that Canadian companies will bid and that they will be successful bidders.”

Mad cow disease took up most of the meeting. Canadian officials were pleased Mr. Bush acknowledged it is a North American problem.

“We got a lot of beef going across our border. We’ve got beef on the hoof and beef in the box. The cattle industries are very important for our respective provinces and states,” Mr. Bush said.

“The best way to make sure we’re able to satisfy the consumers in both our countries, as well as around the world, is for there to be very close co-ordination on regulation, on information and on the science,” Mr. Bush said.

He did not promise to immediately reopen the U.S. border to all Canadian beef, although the subject will be on the agenda when Canada’s Agriculture Minister, Bob Spellor, meets his U.S. counterpart on Friday.

Mr. Martin said recognition of the need to develop common standards for the safety of the cattle industry will help both countries retain their markets in such beef-buying countries as Japan and South Korea.

“Our countries have got to seek a North American solution, that we can’t be piecing one off against the other and the President accepted this is a North American industry and that essentially there has to be very close co-operation,” he said.

Mr. Martin also tried to trumpet a letter signed by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell promising Washington would not deport Canadians to third countries without notifying Canada first.

He described the U.S. commitment as “precedent-setting” and said this would prevent a repeat of the Maher Arar affair. Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was deported by the United States to Syria on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaeda.

But Mr. Bush made it clear that while the United States will now notify Canada, it reserves the right to deport Canadians suspected of terrorist links.

“What I can assure Canada is that we will do everything we can to protect our country from attack … which should make Canadians very happy to hear because we’ve got a lot of Canadians living in the United States and we’ve got a lot of Canadians with relatives in the United States,” he said.

Mr. Martin and Bill Graham, the Foreign Affairs Minister, maintained it is now unlikely the United States would deport a Canadian to a third country if Ottawa objected.

But Mr. Arar and a chorus of critics dismissed the agreement.

“Nothing in this agreement would have changed what happened to me, and I am left with the same questions now that I had yesterday,” Mr. Arar said.

“Why did this happen to me? Why did Canadian agencies tell the United States I was a suspect? How do I clear my name? These are the questions that all Canadians need answers to if we are really going to feel safe.”

Mr. Arar’s lawyer, Amnesty International and opposition MPs roundly criticized the deal.

Mr. Martin said yesterday he wants an early answer to whether the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service played a role in Mr. Arar’s deportation. Two independent bodies are investigating the two agencies but Mr. Martin said he would not wait for their “final conclusions.”

Little progress was made on softwood lumber, but Mr. Martin reinforced Canada’s long-standing view that U.S. lumber tariffs violate the principles of NAFTA.

Talks to end the tariffs have failed largely because of the strong lobbying by the U.S. lumber industry in Congress.

“One of the points I made to the President is that essentially we have a free trade agreement and … that means the free flow of commerce across the border,” he said. “When people’s livelihoods are at stake, given the vicissitudes of the market, they can’t be subject to politics.”

Bad Spellers

  • August 19, 2007 9:12 pm

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Mordecai Richler, in a withering put-down, once dismissed the novelist Hugh Garner as “a good speller.” In the summer of 2003, grinding through 160 Canadian books as a jury member for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in English, I learned that for many contemporary Canadian writers, Garner’s level of dubious distinction remains out of reach.

It may sound perverse to become fixated on spelling while judging books for a literary prize. But serving as a juror for the Governor General’s Awards is like taking a gruelling road trip. You try to read a book every day and usually fail. On the days when you succeed, all the towns may not look identical, but there are, in most cases, distinct similarities: coming-of-age rites, failing relationships, cultural alienation. Like a child in the back seat longing to ask, “Are we there yet? Can I go back to reading for fun?” you count the passing fenceposts and giggle at the funny names on the mailboxes.

Standard Canadian spelling follows British spelling in many, though not all, cases. (The British drive on “tyres,” use “aluminium” siding and “realise” that they can be sent to “gaol.”) Like other aspects of Canadian culture, our spelling, in spite of its second-hand appearance, is unique. Part of our inheritance is a system for distinguishing between related nouns and verbs. The laminated card that authorizes you to get behind the wheel of a car is a “licence,” but the bar from which you take a cab home is “licensed.” Your son “practises” a sport, but you drive him to “practice.”

My students at the University of Guelph—and even some of my colleagues—are unable to master this system. Many of them write “colour” and “favour” and sometimes “centre,” as a basic declaration of identity, but after that they throw up their hands. Their confusions mirror the inconsistencies of the signs we see around us, where dissonant spellings mingle. Our newspapers offer little guidance. For years Canadian newspapers used U.S. spelling. In the early 1990s the Globe and Mail, in theory, changed to Canadian spelling. Major Southam papers such as the Montreal Gazette switched to an impoverished version of Canadian spelling, adopting “centre” but not “colour”; under Conrad Black’s ownership of Southam, the “-our” forms came into use, though some American spellings (“traveler,” “two-story house”) were retained. Quill & Quire, another editing anomaly, brandishes a house style that juxtaposes the Canadian “offence” with the U.S. “defense.”

On the basis of my Governor General’s reading, I concluded that this half-eroded Canadian spelling is becoming the new norm. Older writers, whichever usage they preferred, were consistent. Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies, edited in Toronto, used Canadian spelling. Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro, their stories edited at The New Yorker, conformed to American usage. Some younger Canadian writers with large U.S. audiences, such as Douglas Coupland and Naomi Klein, also employ straight American spelling. Coupland’s choice of spelling is consistent with his obsession with U.S. popular culture; with Klein, whose work defends local cultures, the spelling feels like a contradiction of the writing.

Most younger Canadian writers, even the best ones, spell inconsistently. Michael Redhill, in Fidelity, shuffles between “moulded” and “molded”; Ann-Marie MacDonald, in The Way the Crow Flies, alternates the U.S. “crenelated” with the Canadian “panelled.” While these writers’ lapses are rare, the inconsistencies run rampant in many who are less accomplished. Almost no Canadian writer—not even Leo McKay, Jr., who is a high school teacher in Truro, Nova Scotia, and one of the few Canadian authors who continues to write “snowplough” rather than “snowplow”—can resist the insidious spread of “license” as a noun. Any spelling adopted by high school teachers in Truro, Nova Scotia has become the Canadian standard.

The case of “licence/license” and “practice/practise” shows how inconsistency (also exemplified by hyper-corrections such as a “licenced” bar or an “honourary” consul) is the hallmark of cultural erosion. In the Ottawa Valley village where I grew up, grade four girls from families with modest formal schooling would chant, “‘Ice’ is a noun so when ‘practice’ is a noun you write it with ‘ice.’” This dictum enabled them to disentangle “licence” from “license” and spell “defence” correctly. Such seemingly trivial ditties are the bricks and mortar of a culture.

It is tempting to shrug off the scattershot spelling of current authors, attributing it to an uphill struggle against U.S. spell-checking programs (although most computer programs now offer a Canadian spell-check option), or seeing in the inconsistencies a typical Canadian compromise between American and British customs. But this won’t wash, because current spelling is too irregular to fit a defined pattern, and most publishers no longer enforce a uniform house style. A conscious move away from British spelling toward American forms might be interpreted as an ideological statement in favour of integration into U.S. culture—and to some extent the promotion of U.S. spelling in Alberta and British Columbia may be seen in this way. (Hence the unusual spelling career of the B.C./Alberta novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz. Her first novel used U.S. spelling; after acquiring a national audience she switched to Canadian spelling.)

To state the spelling question in terms of British versus American is to misunderstand it. Canadian writers long ago forged distinctive spelling conventions. The question is why—without any of the passion that swirls around spelling wars in countries like Germany or Romania—these conventions are fraying even as they have been consolidated by the publication of volumes such as the Oxford Canadian Dictionary (1998). My summer reading turned up a “theatre” here, an “odour” there, with other spellings intermittently Americanized; where the authors stumbled, the editors were incapable of picking up the slack. This is not a conscious decision, nor is it trivial: it is evidence in microcosm of a culture that is being forgotten.

Stephen Henighan is the author of Lost Province: Adventures in a Moldovan Family (Beach Holme) and the novel The Streets of Winter, to be published by Thistledown Press in April 2004.

Jack’s jump

  • February 9, 2007 9:07 pm

OTTAWA — About once every dozen years the hopes of the federal New Democratic Party surge, not so much through electoral results as by public opinion polling.

For a while, their electoral prospects become talking points among the political buffs, and speculation blossoms that a rising NDP may signify a minority government ahead or the need for some real levering toward the left by the Liberals, our natural governing party.

Surely you’ve begun to notice signs of reactions to this particular NDP blip. For example: The Liberals have come up with a particular Web page that will follow and expose the misinformation and “lies” about them and their new leader which they say are being bandied about by the newish, fiery, little leader of the NDP, Jack Layton.

Another example is Layton’s recruitment of good old Ed Broadbent to be his candidate in the very home riding of Parliament Hill itself.

Some readers may have appraised the astounding figures in a Globe and Mail poll last week. It still has my head swirling over both its big response and the shocking percentages that had been registered by those who had phoned in an answer to the question: What federal party will you vote for in an election in 2004?

At my last look at the numbers, just over 30,000 readers had responded. The results — get this — were: Bloc Quebecois 2%; Conservative 32%; Liberal 27%; NDP 28%; Other 11%.

Yes, yes, such a poll is laughably unscientific, but the choices were made by citizens serious enough to respond in numbers more strongly than normal to a daily feature which was developed for the Internet replica of the paper.

Unless there was a monster “stuffing” of the choices through either anti-Liberal or pro-Conservative and pro-NDP design, this poll indicates, particularly regarding Ontario (from where so many of the votes had to come) that both the Conservatives and New Democrats have at least fair hopes for a showing beyond the expectations those of us who write or comment about politics have been giving them. And the NDP could well be the greater beneficiary if the abysmally low support for our ruling party in this poll has any substance.

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If you’ve been reading or viewing the purveyors and interpreters of national political news, you know that most reporters and columnists have been less taken with the probable leaders of the new Conservative party than with Layton. Notably, the very cool Stephen Harper has had little of the sharp, personal attacks on rivals or the flair of the fiery Layton.

Layton was a high-profile councillor in Toronto, and had been the NDP candidate in 1997 for the federal seat of Broadview-Greenwood, losing to incumbent Liberal Dennis Mills, who still has the riding but tells me he is not running again. If so, it makes a grand start for Layton in getting into the House.

Since Layton succeeded Alexa McDonough as NDP leader last spring, he has made more evening newscasts, despite not having a voice in the House, than she did in any of her eight years as leader. His recruitment of Broadbent, 67 and just two years older than Paul Martin, gives him something he himself is short of, i.e., some real depth in federal affairs.

Before the Mulroney sweep in 1988 — free trade and all that — opinion polls had Oshawa’s Broadbent, for 13 years NDP leader, well ahead of Brian Mulroney and John Turner as the public’s most favoured leader.

When the NDP’s array of MPs grew to 30 after the 1984 election, Broadbent seemed to bulk up, both as a parliamentarian and as a national leader. Rather rapidly, much sage commentary began appearing, forecasting the breakthrough at last for the NDP toward, perhaps even into power.

The ’88 vote was not an NDP disaster. It got the most MPs ever, 43. But this was seen as a rebuff. Broadbent had blown his chance at far more by not grasping, as Turner did, that the huge issue was the trade deal with the U.S. The Liberals as official Opposition had 40 more MPs than he had, and Mulroney had a workable majority.

A year later Broadbent retired and his party chose Audrey McLaughlin, an MP from the Yukon with less than three years House experience. In Jean Chretien’s first win in ’93, the NDP seats fell to nine; party status was lost for a Parliament. McDonough got it back in ’97, backed by a score of MPs, then she saw it drop to a dozen in 2000.

Layton has such a long way to go, and yet, if he and his campaign ignore the Conservatives and stick to their own aims and to taking apart Paul Martin, he might match Broadbent’s best.

Free trade? It still comes with a price tag

  • October 3, 2006 9:02 pm

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Most politicians are keen to take credit for the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement. So why am I still regularly paying duties on purchases when I cross the border?

My initial reaction to free trade back in the ’80s, when the project was being debated, was banal glee at the notion that I could now order duty-free from American mail-order catalogues.

Well, things didn’t turn out that way. And not just with mail orders.

Recently, when I was returning from New York, a stern looking woman in a customs uniform eyed me dubiously when I told her I’d kept to the $200 spending limit for Canadians visiting the U.S. for less than a week: “What exactly did you buy?”

“Well, a few T-shirts … oh, and a pair of shoes …”

What I felt like saying was: “Hey, I’m not a terrorist; that’s all that should concern you. Haven’t you heard about free trade between Canada and the U.S.?”

The fact is, Ottawa, despite free trade, retains authority to impose quotas on purchases residents bring back into the country duty-free, and does.

Beyond which, “free trade is not free trade on literally everything,” explains Andre Lemay, of the International Trade Department in Ottawa.

“Countries can carve out or put exceptions or exemptions for certain areas, and sectors or subsectors. Some tariffs are still in place.”

And on procurement, any level of government on either side of the border has no obligation to accept tenders from the other country.

Canadian businesses also complain of unofficial trade barriers — cumbersome customs clearance and inspection procedures.

They point to discriminatory regulations that make it difficult to operate in the U.S. market. For example, the introduction of labelling or packaging requirements, new health and safety, or environmental regulations the Americans might suddenly impose.

The softwood lumber dispute, which began in 2001, is cited as a perfect example of a discriminatory regulation — the Americans unilaterally deciding our forestry practices don’t meet their standard of free enterprise and imposing anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

Free trade between Canada and the U.S. did wipe out duties on many categories of goods and certainly has had its upside. At the launch of the 1989 agreement, 75 per cent of Canada’s exports went south. Today more than 87 per cent are U.S. bound.

So, we do have a readier market closer to home. That sounds positive though it does have a downside. We’ve become so reliant on U.S. trade, Canada is all too vulnerable to the whims of the elephant.

Many, for example, have been wondering if Canada’s refusal to participate in the Iraq war and a recent spat between the Chretien Liberals and the Bush Republicans would hurt trade relations.

According to a new survey by the Fraser Institute, this is precisely what has happened.

The study of 107 firms of varying size, operating in various sectors, across Canada, reveals 72 per cent of exporters feel deteriorating relations between the two countries have indeed damaged their ability to export to the U.S.

This compares to 45 per cent in a similar survey a year ago who said they had encountered unofficial trade barriers.

That increase is “shocking and disturbing,” says Fred McMahon, of the institute who conducted the survey. “This could develop into a serious economic problem for Canada. A third of everything produced in Canada is exported to the U.S.”

TitledThe Unseen Wall, Mr. McMahon’s publication says a spike in customs delays and unofficial trade barriers was anticipated right after 9/11 but would’ve been expected to diminish thereafter. This hasn’t happened. If anything, the situation is worsening over time.

The Fraser Institute is arguing for a more comprehensive trade agreement with the U.S. — for freer trade — and more aggressive Canadian action on the security file to ease American border concerns.

Personally, I’ll know we have a true free trade system when I can order a few L.L. Bean turtlenecks each winter and be dinged exclusively for the currency difference and postage.

Canada may review foreign policy to make it complementary to that of U.S.

  • September 25, 2006 9:15 pm

OTTAWA (CP) – Canada will re-evaluate its policies abroad to retain its independence from Washington while making its foreign policy more complementary to that of the United States.

President George W. Bush was open to working closer together with Canada overseas when Martin raised the “independent but complementary” initiative during their private session over breakfast last week in Mexico, U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci said Tuesday.

“Our values are complementary,” an official in Prime Minister Paul Martin’s office said Tuesday.

“The American pursuit of democratic reforms and our pursuit of good governance are complementary,” the official said.

The two leaders will explore the issue further during a working visit Martin will likely make to the United States in March.

“Canada has always had a foreign policy that has been independent to the United States,” Cellucci said in an interview. “Because we have shared goals and objectives (their foreign policies) should be complementary.”

State Department officials were still looking for more details from the Martin government on the proposal, but Cellucci said Bush welcomed the suggestion from Martin given the stresses on U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East and around the world.

“I don’t know exactly what the prime minister means, but I suspect he means that if we’re so heavily invested in the Middle East, whether it’s the effort in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian situation, maybe there are other parts of the world, maybe in this hemisphere that need attention that Canada could take the lead on,” Cellucci said. “That would be complementary to what the United States is trying to do.”

“What he’s talking about is very positive and right and independent and complementary.”

Martin has made better management of the Canada-U.S. relationship a top priority of his government.

That relationship works well at the commercial and diplomatic level but was strained at higher levels over former prime minister Jean Chretien’s handling of Canada’s decision to stay out of the war to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Chretien’s public criticism of Bush’s handling of the U.S. economy also rankled some in the White House.

Martin has created a cabinet committee that he chairs to monitor and improve the bilateral relationship. He attaches so much importance to the issue that he met with Cellucci in April to discuss his proposals on the relationship before he delivered a policy speech on international affairs as a leadership candidate.

Some of Martin’s most seasoned and trusted advisers met regularly with American diplomats to discuss changes to the relationship over the past summer, before Martin officially succeeded Chretien.

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But the prime minister will have to walk a fine line in any re-assessment of cross-border strategy. Bush and his spurning of the kind of multilateral diplomacy that has been the cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy are unpopular in Canada. Any move that might be perceived as harmonizing the overseas visions of the two countries would be fraught with political risk for Martin as he heads into an election.

Bush was expected to tell Americans how he sees changes in the state of the world since the war in Iraq during his annual State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Martin was asked what he hoped to hear in the speech.

“That the world working together is going to essentially deal with the major problems that exist in the world in terms of poverty, in terms of reconstruction in post-conflict areas, that effectively the way in which the world is going to govern itself is going to come to a far greater state of maturity,” Martin said in Toronto.

Allan Gotlieb, who served as Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 1981 to 1988, said it only makes sense that two countries look for other areas where they can work in tandem.

“I think independent-but-complementary is quite consistent with what Canadian foreign policy has always been,” said Gotlieb, who was in Washington during the negotiations that led to the Free Trade Agreement.

“There is no Cold War now but there are enemies. We share common adversaries. Terrorists are the obvious ones, but there are drug dealers and others.”

Cellucci said Bush, his national security adviser, his chief of staff and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell are looking forward to the search for more common goals in foreign policy between the two countries.

“The president and Condi Rice and Andy Card and Secretary Powell and his team – all the vibes we got after the meeting were very positive.”

“Everybody thought it was a good idea.”

He said Denis Paradis, now minister for financial institutions, provided a scenario under which the two countries could achieve a common goal with Canada’s help last year when he suggested Washington allow Canada to take the lead on stabilization of the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti.

“There’s an example of something that right now would be very difficult for the United States to take the lead on in a major effort, but maybe there is something Canada could do.”

Martin has a unique opportunity to move forward on Canada-U.S. relations given his tremendous popularity reflected in polls, Gotlieb said.

“If you look at our common values and the influence of those values on our citizens it would be unfortunate if we didn’t work towards a foreign policy that was complementary,” he said.

“Martin has the political capital. He’s got a tremendous opportunity. Washington regards this an opportunity to better relations.”

Senator Kerry cites cheaper Canadian drugs as solution to U.S. ‘health care crisis’

  • June 27, 2006 9:16 pm

Campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry said he favours allowing cheaper prescription drugs into the United States from Canada and using the buying power of the federal government to drive down prices. He offered a package of health care proposals in response to President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address. “We are facing a health care crisis in this country and last night the President offered only sound bites but no solutions,” Mr. Kerry said. Prescription drugs can be 30% to 80% cheaper in Canada, the Kerry campaign said, but Washington bans their import. Such programs as Medicare — through which billions of dollars in drugs are purchased — could use their clout to negotiate lower prices.

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John le Carré’s gospel

  • October 10, 2005 9:08 pm

Whatever happened to John le Carré? Renowned as the author of spy novels with a literary sensibility, he has become a fire-and-brimstone preacher of that poisonous creed: anti-Americanism. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he has bitterly criticized the United States for what he sees as its belligerent response. In a blistering opinion piece that made waves around the world, he accused the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush of using Sept. 11 to launch an unnecessary war against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

There is nothing wrong with that. Many people opposed the war. Mr. le Carré, an intelligent man with a broad knowledge of world politics, has every right to question Washington’s conduct. “The war on Iraq was illegitimate,” says a character in his recent novel, Absolute Friends. “It was a criminal and moral conspiracy. . . . It was an old colonial war dressed up as a crusade for Western life and liberty, and it was launched by a clique of war-hungry Judeo-Christian geopolitical fantasists who hijacked the media and exploited America’s post-9/11 psychopathy.”

That clique of American Christian evangelists and Zionist zealots is every bit as dangerous as the Islamic extremists grouped around Osama bin Laden, le Carré told The Globe’s Alan Freeman in London recently. “So please don’t fall into the trap of believing this is a battle between the civilized and uncivilized world.”

But he falls into another kind of trap. Throughout the Cold War, the era that inspired his most successful novels, many Western intellectuals insisted there was little or no difference between the Communist Soviet Union and the democratic United States. Moscow may have had Joseph Stalin, but Washington had Joseph McCarthy. The Soviet Union may have prevented Jews from emigrating, but the United States hindered blacks from voting. And so on.

The same thing is going on today. Mr. le Carré is only one of a host of writers who claim that the oil-hungry, God-crazy, power-mad United States is the most dangerous force in the world today. That is the kind of nonsense that only an intellectual could believe. U.S. conduct since Sept. 11 has been far from perfect, but its response is motivated by a genuine fear of the very real danger posed by international terrorism, not by oil or power lust or religious zealotry. To suggest that George W. Bush, with all his faults, is in the same moral league as Osama bin Laden is to enter a Looking Glass world. If there was ever a “fantasist” in this world, it is John le Carré.

Citizen groups denounce court ruling: places corporate rights above health and the environment

  • September 20, 2005 9:13 pm

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Ottawa–Citizen and environmental groups denounced yesterday’s Federal Court ruling that Canada owes a US corporation millions of dollars under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The court affirmed an earlier trade tribunal decision that Canada could not prohibit the export of hazardous waste contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) into the United States without violating the US corporation’s so-called “investor-rights.” The Council of Canadians and Sierra Club of Canada are demanding that the Canadian government appeal this ruling.

“It is ridiculous for the Federal Court of Canada to uphold a ruling that so clearly favours corporate profits over environmental regulation.” stated Jean-Yves LeFort of the Council of Canadians “This ruling is costing Canadian tax payers millions of dollars and seriously compromises Canada’s international obligations and domestic law on hazardous waste treatment.”

The Federal Court ruling upholds a NAFTA tribunal decision stating that under the controversial Chapter 11, the Canadian Environment Minister could not prohibit the export of toxic waste to the U.S. Today’s tribunal ruling grants S.D. Myers Inc., of Tallmudge, Ohio, USD $8-million with an additional USD $1-million in interest accumulated during the appeal process.

The United Nations Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste was negotiated between 130 countries to explicitly restrict cross-border trade and traffic in hazardous waste. The Basel Convention is named in NAFTA as an appropriate environmental treaty that does not trigger trade sanctions; however, the tribunal refused to acknowledge the Convention because the U.S has not ratified it.

“Astonishingly, the fact that the importation of this hazardous waste was illegal under US law didn’t deter the tribunal from ruling that Canada had nevertheless offended the rights of the US company.” explained Andrea Peart, Director of Health and Environment with Sierra Club of Canada.

Sierra Club of Canada and the Council of Canadians application to gain intervenor status before the Federal Court in the public interest were denied, exemplifying the closed and arbitrary nature of the NAFTA Chapter 11 process.

Canada-U.S. relations: On the balance beam

  • August 7, 2005 9:07 pm

Shortly after Prime Minister Paul Martin took power on Dec. 12, the Bush administration quietly made an overture that it saw as consistent with Mr. Martin’s desire to improve Canada-U.S. relations. Mr. Martin was welcome to come to Washington for a quick trip to start to repair the frayed ties from the Chrétien era — within days, if he wished.

The new government demurred. Having Mr. Martin break bread with President George W. Bush could wait. Better to have the symbolically important first meeting with the U.S. leader on neutral ground, by holding a tête-à-tête next week on the margins of a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in Monterrey, Mexico.

Mr. Martin is taking a page out of the playbook of Jean Chrétien, who held his first bilateral meeting (with former president Bill Clinton) at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Seattle, in late 1993.

Isn’t it a strange opening gambit to mimic the Canadian leader who, the Martin camp believes, was unnecessarily abrasive in his dealings with Washington? Certainly, some Washington officials think so. Others aren’t surprised. With a federal election likely in the spring, the White House has been warned that it should expect some mixed signals from Mr. Martin, even if his overall goal remains to improve bilateral ties.

Polling done for the Liberal Party points to the wisdom of Mr. Martin’s cautious approach. Asked what they think should be Ottawa’s foreign-policy priorities, Canadians put improved Canada-U.S. relations down the list, after the protection of Canadian sovereignty and the flexing of Canadian influence and values abroad. Canadians certainly are not fans of the Bush administration.

So Mr. Martin has been remarkably outspoken during the past month — by demanding in the Arar case that the United States “respect the Canadian passport” (while the White House responds that it did nothing wrong); by saying that Washington should butt out of the marijuana debate (though the White House says it is solely concerned about Canadian smuggling); and by expressing dismay that Washington has not opened up reconstruction contracts in Iraq to Canadian firms (highlighting once again that Canada opposed the war).

Mr. Martin is not, in other words, reticent to disagree with the White House. He has bent over backward to emphasize that policies he deems essential, such as increased defence spending, won’t be pursued to satisfy Washington’s view that Canada should change course, but solely because it is deemed in Canada’s own interest. That is precisely the tack he is likely to take when he announces in the next few months, as he is widely expected to do, that Canada will join the U.S. national missile-defence program: that to do otherwise would be akin to handing sole responsibility for continental defence to the United States, and would be an abnegation of Canadian sovereignty.

“He has sounded like a bit of a nationalist,” said a Canadian official. “That has surprised some people, but I’m not sure it should have.”

The issues Mr. Martin has emphasized of late, topped by the mad-cow crisis and including the ever-present softwood-lumber dispute, are likely to dominate Mr. Martin’s short meeting with Mr. Bush in Monterrey, which is scheduled to be held on Tuesday.

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It remains unclear whether Mr. Martin will be able to point to any substantial progress, though the two men may announce, once their get-acquainted meeting is out of the way, that a bilateral summit is to be held soon. (It likely would be held in Washington, though there have been low-level discussions at the U.S. State Department about a possible trip to Ottawa by Mr. Bush, who cancelled one last spring.)

The key issue faced by Mr. Martin since he took power, the discovery of a second cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has highlighted how difficult cross-border issues can be. Mr. Martin emphasized yesterday that the North American beef industry is highly integrated, implying that it makes little sense for Washington to keep the border closed to Canadian livestock. Yet, as Canadian cattle producers have seen, continental economic interests are easily trumped by national regulators when advantage is to be found.

“The Americans are absolutely blaming us,” said another Canadian official. “They know it could happen to them, but they’re trying to get the notion out there that it’s solely a Canadian problem.”

There is some irony in the mad-cow issue being so prominent just as Mr. Martin takes power. The Prime Minister has generally remained vague in terms of Canada-U.S. relations, beyond saying that he wants to improve the tone and to build closer institutional ties, such as between MPs and members of Congress. His most important structural step was significant in that regard: the creation of a new ministry of public safety that will help embed security co-operation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Martin has been silent on what many within the federal government — including Scott Brison, Mr. Martin’s parliamentary secretary for Canada-U.S. relations — view as probably the dominant bilateral issue in the next few years: the potential deepening of economic co-operation beyond NAFTA to include much closer regulatory co-ordination and even steps toward a customs union or common market.

The Policy Research Initiative, which is essentially the government’s internal think tank, is knee deep in studies on these issues, as are others. Some think that Washington and Ottawa already are years behind the ad hoc economic integration being carried out by the private sector. The risk of this, they say, is made clear in the mad-cow crisis — it is so easy to close the border and engage in beggar-thy-neighbour policies.

Canadians, polls show, know their prosperity depends on a smoothly functioning North American economy with a seamless border. But they are particularly sensitive now to anything that smacks of buckling under to U.S. interests. Mr. Martin, having made bilateral issues a focus of his government, will try to clear away some of the files that roil relations. But that will hardly be the end of the story.

Drew Fagan is The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau chief.

Winnipeg wants the Penguins

  • August 1, 2005 9:01 pm

Seven years after losing the Jets to Phoenix, it appears the city of Winnipeg wants the National Hockey League back.

The Winnipeg Sun reported Thursday that the city’s deputy mayor Coun. Dan Vandal penned a letter to Penguins owner Mario Lemieux on Dec. 9 to consider moving his team to Manitoba.

In his message sent to Lemieux, Vandal pointed out that the league is facing “difficult decisions” with an imminent labour shutdown, and said Winnipeg was ready to welcome the struggling club if it can’t make things work in Pittsburgh.

“We have to be cognizant of the changing issues in the NHL, and position ourselves to capitalize on those changes,” Vandal told The Sun in explaining his inquiry to Lemieux, which is dated Dec. 9.

“The quality of the fan here is second-to-none — so consider us.”

Neither Lemieux nor anyone from the team has responded to the letter, and Penguins general manager Craig Patrick told reporters earlier this week that a rumour saying Lemieux would sell without a new arena deal by the time a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached is false.

Vandal’s letter – not considered to be an official city query – is the first public declaration of another city wanting to house the Penguins.

Many expect the league to suffer a shutdown due to a strike or lockout when the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and its players expires next September, and that some teams may not survive a potential work stoppage.

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