Last week at the Senate: U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trans Mountain Pipeline and a moment of silence for the Sisters in Spirit Vigil day.
Former American statesman, Dean Acheson said, “Negotiation in the classic diplomatic sense assumes parties more anxious to agree than to disagree.” This is certainly true for the negotiation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that was agreed to this past week.
With trilateral trade valued at USD $1.1 trillion in 2017, there was a lot to lose. As James Moore, a former minister for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted, “free trade faced its greatest threat to date and free trade won.”
The agreement-in-principle puts an end to business-dampening uncertainty and sends a clear message that Canada is a good place to invest. As Rona Ambrose, former interim leader of the Conservative party of Canada said, “A NAFTA deal in principle will help ease investor anxiety, stabilize trade-exposed sectors and reassure the world that North America remains committed to free trade.”
The agreement is the result of tireless outreach efforts led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Chrystia Freeland. Members of “Team Canada” visited the United States more than 300 times, and made more than 500 individual contacts with American officials.
Canadians of all political stripes can take satisfaction in a deal that will create jobs, strengthen economic ties and expand trade. As former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said, “This agreement is a highly significant achievement for Canada, while benefiting all three countries, as it should. Canada appears to have achieved most, if not all, of its important objectives in this lengthy and challenging set of negotiations.”
Conservative Senators are concerned about the construction timeline of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project.
Last week, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced that the government would not appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling, claiming it would be “inefficient.” At the same time, he refused to release a timeline for completing the Indigenous consultation process.
The government’s refusal to commit to a simple timeline for this project puts thousands of Canadian jobs at risk. Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Yonah Martin, noted this week that the government has made two announcements in response to the Federal Court of Appeal ruling – but neither provides a clear path forward.
During his press conference, Minister Sohi was asked a simple question: Is it possible that after the Indigenous consultation process is over, the government will choose not to proceed with Trans Mountain at all? The Minister responded: “I will not presuppose the decision cabinet will make.”
Those words are truly worrisome as they demonstrate the absence of a plan of action, and do not provide a clear sense of certainty for workers who are wondering about their future. The government paid $4.5 billion of taxpayers’ money for a project they now won’t commit to building.
Without the Trans Mountain expansion, Canada will be shut out of new opportunities in the Asian energy market. This project is vital for Canadians. We expect the Liberal government to secure the creation of thousands of jobs with the successful completion of this project.
For the second year on October 4th, the Senate began with a solemn moment of silence for the Sisters in Spirit Vigil day in order to remember and honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, survivors, and the families of those lost.
Relying on historical data, we are experiencing roughly 30 to 40 Indigenous women and girls a year being murdered or made missing. As these numbers continue to grow, the urgency has never been clearer. Last week, we heard the story of Mary Madeline Yellowback, a 33-year-old Indigenous woman from Gods River, Manitoba. Mary was found dead in a recycling depot in an industrial area in Winnipeg’s northeast corner. The words of Mary’s father, Rex Ross, are truly heartbreaking:
I never realized it would be me who would lose a daughter through this tragic event of being destroyed, her life being cut short.
We were so fortunate that she was dumped in recycling . . . .
His words clearly and unfortunately encapsulate how Indigenous women and girls are viewed in Canadian society: as something that can be thrown out, recycled and dumped without care.
Sadly, Mary’s story is a stark reminder to us all that even though the federal government finally took action to establish a national inquiry, and that inquiry is doing the necessary work of hearing from the victims and families, there is still much more that we need to do to achieve lasting social change.