Feds try to keep politics out of China-canola controversy

Politics were in full swing April 1 as Members of Parliament returned to the House of Commons for two full sitting weeks.

The Ottawa bubble remains obsessed with the SNC Lavalin story after former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled additional documents with the clerk of the House justice committee on March 29.

That submission included an audio tape of a conversation she secretly taped with the clerk of the privy council, Michael Wernick.

More documents, this time from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, are expected to be tabled with the committee in the coming days.

The Trudeau government has been on the defensive for months after allegations surfaced that officials in the Prime Minister’s Office inappropriately pressured the former attorney general in a file involving SNC Lavelin.

But the existence of the tape has infuriated the Liberal caucus, where anger was mounting over whether Wilson-Raybould and her former cabinet colleague, Jane Philpott, should stay in caucus.

Several Liberal MPs told reporters on their way into question period they wanted the women out of caucus. As of press time April 1, the two women were still part of the Liberal caucus. Caucuses typically meet on Wednesday mornings.

But the Liberals weren’t the only party contemplating political manoeuvres.

Just hours after MPs took their seats in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre stood up and started to filibuster.

MPs were supposed to spend the next four days talking about the federal budget. Instead, Poilievre said he planned to use this time to protest the Liberals’ handling of the SNC Lavalin file.

Opposition MPs are angry after Liberal MPs shut down two committee investigations — first by the justice committee, then by the ethics committee —into the SNC Lavalin controversy.

Under parliamentary rules, Opposition MPs can speak for an unlimited amount of time. The filibuster, however, cannot interfere with question period and will not force the House to sit overnight.

But, with all the pre-election politicking, there’s one file in Ottawa the Trudeau government is trying to keep free of politics.

That file is Canada’s ongoing trade dispute with China over canola exports.

Canada and China have become embroiled in an escalating trade dispute over canola exports. In early March, Chinese officials stripped Richardson International’s canola export licence because of pest allegations. A second Canadian grain company, Viterra, has also had its export licence pulled. Chinese importers have also stopped buying Canadian canola seed.

The Trudeau government has said repeatedly the ongoing trade dispute with China is a top priority, insisting Canadian canola is a high-quality product and that Canadian exports are safe.

Yet, despite demands from Conservative MPs that the dispute is a political issue that should be dealt with using politics, the Trudeau government has stayed loyal to the science argument.

The federal agriculture minister said March 29 that she had not spoken to her Chinese counterpart or the Chinese ambassador to Canada about the file for the same reason.

Over the weekend, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau wrote a letter to her Chinese counterpart, Han Changfu, requesting a high-level delegation led by the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency be allowed to travel to China to discuss the matter.

China must approve the request if the committee is to travel.

The delegation would comprise CFIA plant health experts and technical experts from the prairie provinces.

The request for a delegation, Bibeau said, does not include federal cabinet ministers because, she stressed again, Canada wants to keep the discussions science-based.

In a statement March 30, the Chinese embassy said Beijing “stands ready to communicate with the Canadian side on technical matters.”

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