Gerald Butts’ departure marks end of position rarely seen in Canadian political life

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In a past political life, working for a long-ago premier of Ontario, Gerald Butts helped usher in a new provincial holiday called Family Day.

Little did Butts know that he’d be marking Family Day in 2019 stepping down from a job at the very top of a government led by his old university friend, Justin Trudeau.

Many people step down from political life to spend more time with their families, but this professional parting of the ways between Butts and Trudeau will be as tumultuous as a family breakup — not just in the lives of this duo, but for the government as a whole.

It’s a question that has come up periodically throughout Trudeau’s rise to power and the past three and a half years of Liberal governance: could Trudeau exist without Butts at his side?

The short answer is yes, of course: life and government does go on, as Butts himself said in the no one is indispensable part of his public statement Monday. Note too that Katie Telford, chief of staff to Trudeau, remains in the PMO and while her personal history with Trudeau is shorter and less high-profile, the tight, inner circle around the PM hasn’t totally left the building.

Butts travelled with Trudeau; he sat in caucus and cabinet (along with Telford.) He spoke for the prime minister, on Twitter and social media, and on deep background to reporters. When Trudeau dined with foreign leaders, Butts and Telford were often at the same table. When cabinet ministers or MPs requested a private meeting with the PM, they could usually count on the presence of Butts or Telford in the room if the request was granted — and that’s if they weren’t just told to meet with Butts instead.

This dynamic, incidentally, could be crucial to the ongoing questions about what led to the demotion and departure of Jody Wilson-Raybould from cabinet, which precipitated Butts’ resignation. She spoke to Butts on a number of occasions before the now-infamous January cabinet shuffle; Butts was at Trudeau’s side in the conversations the ex-minister held with the PM before she quit her new job as veterans’ affairs minister. That’s how things worked in this government.

That’s how things worked with Trudeau. He and Butts met at McGill University when they were both studying English literature and on the debating team. Their friendship endured after university, even as Trudeau moved to B.C. to teach and Butts went on to work in politics — first, briefly, as an aide in the Jean Chretien years, and then on to Queen’s Park, to serve as senior adviser to premier Dalton McGuinty.

It’s there that Butts met Telford, then a chief adviser to then education minister Gerard Kennedy. Trudeau surprised some people by supporting Kennedy in the 2006 federal Liberal leadership — not the people who knew of his friendship to Butts, and through him, then to Telford.

By 2012, when he was working at the head of the World Wildlife Fund in Canada, Butts was helping his friend get into the Liberal leadership race and amassing the team around him. Butts has a huge network of friends in politics. One of his early mentors was James Coutts, the man who served as principal secretary to Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau. Just a few months ago, Butts was one of the keynote speakers at an event to donate Coutts’ diaries to Trinity College at the University of Toronto.

Traditionalists in the Liberal party — indeed in Canadian politics — often balked at Butts’ large public profile while serving with Trudeau. While the prime minister himself grew more cautious in public life, speaking increasingly through careful statements and behind talking points, Butts was very much a personality on social media, sparring with critics of the government, often impolitically.

Two speculative conclusions arose: either Butts was saying what the PM couldn’t, or worse, that Butts was the real voice behind the power at the centre. Neither is likely correct: it’s probably more accurate to say that the two spoke — and thought — in tandem.

Back in 2013, in those early days while Trudeau was running for the Liberal leadership, we sat down for a long interview for an ebook I was writing for the Star. I asked Trudeau to talk about his inner circle of advisers and his relationship to each of them. Here’s what he said to me about Butts:

“Thinking objectively about Gerry is like thinking about myself and that’s a really challenging thing to try and figure out. We bounce off each other really well,” Trudeau said.

Now Trudeau speaks alone, at least for his government. It’s not entirely clear how and when and where we’ll be hearing from Butts again, but those who have known him for a long time know that he’s unlikely to disappear into obscurity.

For a while, Butts was posting instalments on his Facebook page from a favourite book called “The Daily Stoic.” The book contains meditations for each day and the instalment for Feb. 18 is called “Prepare for the Storm.” Butts is gone from the PMO, but the storm isn’t over, for Trudeau or his old friend.

Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: sdelacourt@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt

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Charlottetown teens ‘feeling safe’ in Haiti despite political unrest

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Two young Charlottetown women volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti say they do not want to leave the troubled Caribbean country until their work is complete.

Paige Biggley and Lilly Gillespie, both 18, are among a group teaching English at an orphanage in Saint-Marc, about a two-hour drive from capital city Port-au-Prince.

Some Canadians have left Haiti, and others have been trying to leave, amid violent protests over skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to the country.

Travel warning

On Tuesday, Global Affairs Canada issued an advisory warning against all non-essential travel to the country. On Thursday, it advised against all travel.

I am extremely happy here and would be very disappointed if we were forced to leave early due to the political unrest. — Paige Biggley

The Canadian embassy in Haiti was closed on Wednesday due to the unrest.

In a text message to CBC, Biggley said she and Gillespie feel safe at the orphanage and are « awaiting news to see what will happen next. »

« I am extremely happy here and would be very disappointed if we were forced to leave early due to the political unrest, » she wrote.

She said they have not come in contact with the protests and are « feeling very safe in the area we are living in. »

Demonstrators flee from police gunfire as a car burns Tuesday in Port-au-Prince. Protesters are angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multibillion-dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Biggley’s father, Joshua, said the safest place for her right now is at the orphanage because she would have to travel to Port-au-Prince, where where most of the violence is happening, in order to leave the country.

« She is in the place that she wants to and needs to be, » he said.

« For her to be so courageous and say, ‘Look, I’m not coming home now, even if they wanted me to or even if everyone else leaves’ … she is adamant that she is going to stay. So, to me, she is my hero. »

Due back on P.E.I. in May

The two women graduated from Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown last June. They left for Haiti in January through an international language program based out of Utah. They are due to return in early May.

Josh Biggley said, according to his daughter, the protests in Saint-Marc have begun to subside.

On Friday, Paige felt it was safe to go into the downtown area, he said. However, she cancelled a planned six-hour drive to Cap-Haï​tien for safety reasons and, due to a gas shortage, she was uncertain she could find fuel along the way.  

Biggley said the families will continue to keep a close watch on the developments in Haiti.

« It’s difficult as it is to go into a country like Haiti that has such poverty, and then on top of it to throw the uncertainty of a destabilized government with violent protests and a lack of even the basic resources, » he said.

« There’s always the risk that it could spread outside the capital city region and we have to figure out how to get our girls out of Haiti. »  

More P.E.I. news

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Liberal-dominated committee votes to limit investigation into allegations of improper political influence on Wilson-Raybould

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OTTAWA— Liberal MPs have voted to restrict an investigation into allegations of improper political influence on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, blocking opposition efforts to have her and the prime minister’s top aides testify before a Commons committee.

The vote came after a Liberal MP said the Conservatives were embarking on a “fishing expedition” and a “witch hunt” in their bid to hold hearings and summon witnesses — including senior PMO, justice department and Privy Council officials — to tell their stories under oath.

Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt speaks with the media in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 13, 2019. Raitt said that Jody Wilson-Raybould’s surprise resignation from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet underscores the need for an investigation into the affair.
Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt speaks with the media in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 13, 2019. Raitt said that Jody Wilson-Raybould’s surprise resignation from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet underscores the need for an investigation into the affair.  (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Liberals used their majority on the justice committee Wednesday to shut down a bid by Conservatives and New Democrats to summon Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau aides Gerald Butts and Mathieu Bouchard to testify.

The Liberals also blocked a motion that called on the prime minister to lift solicitor-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak freely about the allegations that have rocked the government.

“That is not an investigation. That is simply going through the motions,” NDP MP Nathan Cullen said after the meeting, charging that the Liberals sought to “batten down the hatches today and not allow any truth to come to light.”

She was shuffled out of the justice portfolio to veterans affairs in January. On Monday night, she told Trudeau she was quitting her cabinet post — a move Trudeau said “surprised and disappointed” him. Her resignation was tendered hours after the prime minister had publicly suggested that her continued presence in cabinet showed nothing egregious had occurred.

Conservative Michael Cooper charged Wednesday that Liberal MPs on the committee were “acting as agents of a broader cover-up on the part of the PMO.

“It’s very clear they are not serious about getting to the bottom of what happens,” Cooper said.

Instead, Liberal MPs voted to hear from just three officials: current Justice Minister David Lametti, his deputy minister Nathalie Drouin, and the Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who serves as Trudeau’s top public servant and deputy minister.

The committee will also take a broad look at the legal rules and standards that apply to how an attorney general interacts with political colleagues, and hear legal opinions on how their work could impact current court proceedings involving SNC-Lavalin.

Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus scoffed at the Liberals’ move to change the focus of discussions, saying “We don’t need a law class here.”

The committee meets again next week and will consider the possibility of expanding the witness list, but Liberal MPs — who have a majority on the committee — voted 5-4 to support a motion by Liberal Randy Boissonault, to shift the debate away from Wilson-Raybould’s as-yet untold version of events.

Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt isn’t holding out any hope that the committee will hear from additional witnesses.

The Conservatives are piling pressure on five Liberal MPs who will determine today whether a House of Commons committee will investigate an allegation that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution. (The Canadian Press)

During a protracted afternoon meeting that was testy at times, Liberals pushed back on the Opposition’s desire to broaden the inquiry’s scope into allegations that are already the subject of an investigation by the federal ethics commissioner.

At the committee meeting, the Liberals sought to downplay the controversy. Mississauga MP Iqra Khalid accused the opposition of “political posturing” and making hay “out of nothing.”

B.C. MP Ron McKinnon justified his vote opposing a broader investigation, saying, “we don’t have any real evidence of wrongdoing.”

The Liberals used their majority on the justice committee Wednesday to shut down a bid by Conservatives and New Democrats to summon Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau aides Gerald Butts, left, and Mathieu Bouchard, right, to testify.
The Liberals used their majority on the justice committee Wednesday to shut down a bid by Conservatives and New Democrats to summon Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau aides Gerald Butts, left, and Mathieu Bouchard, right, to testify.  (The Canadian Press file photo/Office of the Prime Minister)

Boissonault, MP for Edmonton Centre, accused Conservative MPs of trying to conduct a “fishing expedition” and a “witch hunt” into the SNC-Lavalin affair as the prime minister insisted publicly his government had broken no rules in its dealings with Wilson-Raybould.

As three-hour drama at committee was unfolding, the prime minister was on the defensive in Sudbury, where he again insisted his office had done no wrong.

Trudeau said his officials followed all the “norms and the principles of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law” in discussions with Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin’s fate.

Trudeau indicated the topic — which he cast as discussions about ways “to create jobs and economic growth” — was a pressing concern, saying “this is a constant conversation in cabinet.”

“And all those conversations…have always been carried out based on well-established rules,” said the prime minister.

Trudeau again blamed Wilson-Raybould for failing to come forward with any concerns about improper influence before her sudden resignation Tuesday. He pointed to her acceptance of another cabinet post just last month as evidence she had no real concerns.

“If anyone, any minister, including the former attorney general, felt that there was — that we were not living up to that standard — it was her responsibility to come and speak to me directly about that. She did not do that in the fall, and she accepted another position in this government when I made the cabinet shuffle.”

But at committee, Conservative Pierre Poilievre lashed into Trudeau’s reasoning, saying Wilson-Raybould is unable to respond to the prime minister’s “attack” because she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

“He directly attacked her, saying it was her job to stop wrongdoing from happening in his office,” Poilievre said.

“But what is most despicable and cowardly about this attack is that he was attacking someone who is legally incapable of defending herself. She can’t fight back. She can’t speak,” he said.

“It’s time that we let her speak,” he said.

After the meeting, Boissonault said there’s nothing preventing Wilson-Raybould from speaking out now, even as he acknowledged she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

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“I think it’s important for Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak to Canadians on her own terms. It’s not something we need to do here at the justice committee,” he said.

But the Conservatives and the NDP say others needed to be called including the director of public prosecutions Kathleen Roussel; chief of staff to the prime minister Katie Telford; senior PMO advisers Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques who were lobbied by SNC-Lavalin, and Wilson-Raybould’s former chief of staff Jessica Prince.

The Liberal MP denounced Opposition suggestions that SNC-Lavalin had gotten the Liberal government to change the law to allow deferred prosecutions for companies like the Quebec engineering giant facing fraud charges.

In the closest thing to an explanation anyone on the government benches has offered for the change since the scandal broke last week, Boissonault said Canada adopted the legal change to allow deferred prosecutions for companies facing fraud charges to align with its trading allies and called Opposition allegations of political favouritism “specious.”

Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau’s director of communications, said in an interview the prime minister spoke with Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin once last fall, on Sept. 17, some three weeks before the public prosecutor’s office declined, on Oct. 9, SNC-Lavalin’s pleas to negotiate a deal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau again blamed Jody Wilson-Raybould for failing to come forward with any concerns about improper influence before her sudden resignation Tuesday. He pointed to her acceptance of another cabinet post just last month as evidence she had no real concerns.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau again blamed Jody Wilson-Raybould for failing to come forward with any concerns about improper influence before her sudden resignation Tuesday. He pointed to her acceptance of another cabinet post just last month as evidence she had no real concerns.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian PRess file photo)

Ahmad said Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould discussed “a variety of things including this issue” but declined to provide further details, saying only what Trudeau told reporters: that the government had conducted itself appropriately. Ahmad said that goes for all the prime minister’s team.

Ahmad said Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford had no conversations with Wilson-Raybould about the matter.

The government had previously confirmed that Butts also met with the former justice minister on Dec. 5, that she had raised SNC-Lavalin, and he told her to speak to Wernick about it.

The lobby registry shows SNC-Lavalin lobbied Trudeau’s office 18 times on the subject of “justice and law enforcement” since February 2016, with 15 of the 18 contacts involving Bouchard. Two of SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying contacts were with senior adviser Elder Marques. Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts and former senior adviser Cyrus Reporter were each lobbied once by the company, the registry shows.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not rule out referring it to the RCMP saying “all options are on the table” and again called on Trudeau to waive “whatever privilege he thinks he may have.”

With files from Alex Ballingall

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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Elections Canada chief warns political parties are vulnerable to cyberattacks – National

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OTTAWA – Canada’s chief electoral officer is “pretty confident” that Elections Canada has good safeguards to prevent cyberattacks from robbing Canadians of their right to vote in this year’s federal election.

But Stephane Perrault is worried that political parties aren’t so well equipped.

“They don’t have access to the resources we have access to,” Perrault said in an interview Monday, noting that “securing (computer) systems is quite expensive… Even the larger parties have nowhere near our resources and you’ve got much smaller parties with very little resources.”

READ MORE: Feds unveil plan to fight foreign interference in 2019 federal election

Moreover, with thousands of volunteers involved in campaigns, he said it’s difficult to ensure no one falls prey to “fairly basic cyber tricks,” like phishing, that could inadvertently give hackers access to a party’s databases.

“You can spend a lot of money on those (security) systems and if the human (fails), that’s the weak link.”

Elections Canada has been training its own staff to resist such tricks and, along with Canada’s cyberspying agency, the Communications Security Establishment, will be meeting with party officials again next week to reinforce the need to train their volunteers.

Perrault said he was “really disappointed” that omnibus legislation to reform Canada’s election laws, passed just before Christmas, did not include measures to impose privacy rules on parties, which have amassed huge databases of personal information on voters. At the very least, he said, Canadians should be able to find out what information a party has collected on them and demand that it be revised or removed.

WATCH: ‘Naive’ to assume Canada not a target for election interference







The legislation requires only that parties publish a policy for protecting personal information. There is no requirement to report a breach and no oversight by the privacy commissioner.

Should a party’s computer system be hacked and the information used to embarrass the party, as occurred to the Democrats during the 2016 U.S. presidential contest, Perrault said Elections Canada would have no role in investigating the matter.

That would be up to security authorities and the party involved. Under a “critical election incident protocol” announced last week, five senior bureaucrats would be empowered to decide when an incident is serious enough to warrant publicly disclosing it in the midst of a campaign.

Elections Canada would only be involved if a hacker used the information gleaned from a party’s databases to interfere with Canadians’ right to vote – for instance, by spreading disinformation about how, where and when they should vote.

READ MORE: Liberals introduce bill to deter foreign meddling in elections. Critics say it’s not strong enough

“The important thing is that Canadians are not prevented from voting. From my perspective, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Perrault said.

In its own operations, Perrault said Elections Canada has done everything it can to prevent cyberattacks.

“Overall, I think we’re pretty confident we are where we need to be at this point.”

But he added: “It’s certainly uncharted territory for us. We’ve seen the Americans go through this and Brexit and France and Germany, so we have a sense of the potential out there. But we’ve never had to prepare for an election like this.”

WATCH: Stopping cyberattacks and foreign meddling in elections







Since the 2015 election, Perrault said Elections Canada has rebuilt its information-technology infrastructure with sophisticated security improvements, based on advice from the Communications Security Establishment, which now monitors those systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“No system is 100-per-cent proof but they’re much more concerned about the parties than about Elections Canada,” Perrault said.

In addition, he said the agency has set up a team to monitor social media and to quickly counter any disinformation about the right to vote. As well, it will have a repository on its website of every public communication from Elections Canada so that individuals can verify the legitimacy of information they see on social media or elsewhere that purports to be from the agency.

“We really want to be the trusted source of information on the electoral process.”

READ MORE: New Canadian cybersecurity centre to look at election interference threats

The recently passed legislation included a number of measures aimed at preventing foreign interference and deliberate disinformation campaigns in Canadian elections, including giving the commissioner of elections greater powers to investigate and compel testimony, prohibiting the use of foreign money and requiring social-media giants to keep a registry of all political ads posted on their platforms.

But arguably the best hedge against cyberattacks is the fact that Canada still relies on paper ballots that are counted by hand.

“You can’t hack that,” Perrault said.

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Ottawa drops appeal in political activity case, ending charities’ 7-year audit nightmare

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The Liberal government has withdrawn its appeal of a stunning 2018 court ruling that quashed a section of the Income Tax Act limiting the political activities of charities.

The landmark case was launched a tiny Ottawa charity, Canada Without Poverty, which argued that the section violates the Charter of Rights guarantee of freedom of expression.

Justice Edward Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court of Canada agreed in his July 16 ruling, declaring that the section no longer had any « force and effect. »

Canada Without Poverty had been under threat of losing its charitable status after auditors at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) determined that 98.5 per cent its activities were political. Charity law, as it was written at the time, had limited political activities to no more than 10 per cent of an organization’s resources, though critics have said the law’s definition of ‘political’ was too fuzzy.

Leilani Farha, head of the tiny Ottawa charity Canada Without Poverty, helped launch the court challenge of the political-activity limits in charity law, saying it restricted freedom of expression. An Ontario court agreed. (Idil Mussa/CBC News)

After losing the case, the Liberal government eventually agreed to rewrite the Income Tax Act to accommodate Justice Morgan’s ruling – but paradoxically announced Aug. 15 it was appealing the case because of an alleged error of law in the judgment.

Anne Ellefsen-Gauthier, spokesperson for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier, told CBC News the government still believes Morgan made an error in law by applying a test for religious freedom rather than for freedom of expression.

But after consulting with the charity sector last fall and reviewing higher court rulings, the government has decided not to fight the Ontario case because little would be gained by the effort.

« Higher courts have already been pretty clear on the different test that needs to be applied to freedom of expression, » said Ellefsen-Gauthier. « We’re dropping the appeal. »

The law amended

The Liberal government has since amended the Income Tax Act, under Bill C-86, to remove all reference to political activities for charities. The omnibus bill, one of two implementing last year’s budget measures, received royal assent on Dec. 13, 2018.

The department also recently published a guidance document to inform the charity sector on how the new regime — which still includes a strict prohibition on partisan activities — will be applied. Notably, the term « political activities » has been replaced by the phrase « public policy dialogue and development activities. »

But charities still cannot endorse or support political parties or candidates for office, something the sector has always accepted.

Ottawa’s decision Thursday appears finally to end a long nightmare for some charities targeted by a special CRA auditing program launched in 2012 by the former Conservative government to review the political activities of charities. More than $13 million was earmarked for audits of 60 charities over four years.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper launched a four-year program to audit the political activities of charities beginning in 2012. Some $13 million was budgeted for the program, which targeted 60 charities. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

In its first year, the controversial program targeted environmental charities, most of which were critics of the government’s energy and pipelines policies. It was later expanded to include religious and human rights charities, among others. The targeted charities said the audits drained precious resources and in some cases led to an « advocacy chill » as groups self-censored so as not to aggravate the government.

The Liberals campaigned in the 2015 federal election on ending the « political harassment » of charities but did not halt the audit program immediately, winding it down only in stages and letting some audits continue. The program has since been cancelled.

« The decision to let Justice Morgan’s decision stand is a huge victory for democracy in Canada, » said Leilana Farha, head of Canada Without Poverty.

« The government has done the right thing twice. First they made the legislative changes recommended by the government’s appointed panel and ordered by Judge Morgan, and now they have properly decided to withdraw their appeal … »

« This decision puts Canada in the lead among common law countries and will have a positive effect not only in Canada, but worldwide. »

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

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John McCallum’s political skills failed both him and Trudeau

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John McCallum got the job as Canada’s ambassador to China because of his political background. The clear signal to the Chinese was that the former cabinet minister could pick up the phone and speak directly to the prime minister.

In the end McCallum’s political skills failed both him and the man who sent him to Beijing.

His last call with the PM wasn’t initiated by him — it was Justin Trudeau firing him from the post.

Virtually every analyst says McCallum had to go for telling the media, not once but twice this week, that it would be better for Canada if Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou isn’t extradited to the United States.

One slip-up could be forgiven. The second could not.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who’s now vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said McCallum’s firing was unavoidable.

« In private discussions with the Chinese he might be able to say those things, » Robertson told CBC News on Sunday. « To say those things publicly is completely counter to what the prime minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have been saying — that this is a judicial process based on the rule of law. »

McCallum’s comments suggested just the opposite, lending credence to what Chinese had insisted all along — Meng’s arrest was political.

It’s a devastating setback for Canadian diplomacy with China.

When Justin Trudeau first met President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Turkey back in November 2015, Xi made a point of praising his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for what he called his « historic engagement » with China in 1970.

« China will always remember that, » Xi said. 

Better left unsaid

In sending McCallum to China in 2017, Trudeau was choosing a long-time cabinet member who had overseen the process of re-settling nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees.

Yes, there were risks in appointing a politician who was never loath to speak his mind to the sensitive world of diplomacy where, as the American politician Lincoln Chafee once said, « some things are better left unsaid. » That just wasn’t McCallum’s style. He was a frequent guest on political talk shows. He was never one to duck a question. Unlike most diplomats, he never bought into the notion of talking without saying anything.

But whatever those risks, Trudeau wanted the value of appointing a highly visible cabinet minister to Beijing. In doing so he elevated China to a status that had been reserved, previously, for the most important and high-profile diplomatic posts in Washington, London and Paris.

Trudeau wanted closer ties with the world’s second-largest economy. McCallum’s job was to help make that happen.

McCallum leaves a federal cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke, Que., on Wednesday, Jan. 16. He was a frequent guest on political talk shows and was never one to duck a question. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

News reports of his appointment noted McCallum’s wife is Chinese. His old riding in Markham, Ont., is home to many people of Chinese descent.

« I need my top people to be out there engaging at the highest levels around the world, » Trudeau said at the time.

The marching order, as McCallum himself set it out, was more of everything: trade, investment, tourism, cultural ties.

Those gains really never fully materialized.

Canada did secure a tourism deal with China that made it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Canada.

But the desire to commence formal free trade talks fizzled, despite the prime minister’s own visit to China in December 2017. A year later, Meng’s arrest on behalf of the United States as she stepped off a flight in Vancouver sent relations spiralling to new lows.

Choosing the next ambassador will be a delicate process 

The consequences of McCallum’s departure now are serious.

Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, remain in custody in China, accused of endangering national security, both arrested shortly after Meng was detained in Canada.

A third Canadian, convicted in China of drug smuggling, had his 15-year jail term overturned and now faces a death sentence.

McCallum’s predecessor in Beijing, Guy Saint-Jacques, said finding the right person now to represent Canada is critical.

« In my view, this crisis is the worst we have seen with China since we established diplomatic relations back in 1970. »

And whoever Trudeau chooses, it has to be soon. The lives of those three detained Canadians are in the balance. A successful resolution to that crisis, and to the Meng extradition, is paramount.

Normalizing relations with a powerful nation such as China comes next. That job will include communicating to China what role, if any, Huawei will have in Canada’s 5G mobile network.

The question now is where Trudeau will turn for his next ambassador.

Saint-Jacques, for one, believes the next ambassador has to have a deep knowledge of China. Others add that McCallum’s successor needs to be fluent in Mandarin, which McCallum wasn’t, and should come from the senior ranks of the foreign service, rather than the front lines of the political world.

Still others say the next ambassador must continue to have the ear of the prime minister.

It all adds up to this. The next call between Trudeau and Canada’s ambassador to China will be initiated by the prime minister again. And it will be just as important as his last.

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Canada shouldn’t use teenage Saudi refugee as a ‘political football’: ex-ambassador – National

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Canada did the right thing by granting asylum to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun but should take steps to ensure that the case doesn’t cause irreversible damage to relations with Saudi Arabia, says Canada’s former ambassador to Riyadh.

Dennis Horak has first-hand knowledge of the two countries’ testy relationship, having been expelled from Saudi Arabia in August in the wake of Canada’s criticism of the kingdom’s detention of women’s rights activists.

That relationship faces renewed challenges following Canada’s decision to grant asylum to Al-Qunun, the daughter of a Saudi governor, who fled Saudi Arabia and accused her father and other male relatives of abuse.

The 18-year-old arrived in Toronto on Saturday after resisting her family’s attempts to have her returned to Saudi Arabia from Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a Twitter campaign to plead for asylum.

READ MORE: ‘A very brave new Canadian’  Saudi woman who fled family arrives in Toronto

“I think [granting her asylum] was the right thing to do but it’s going to have an impact in Saudi Arabia in terms of their views towards Canada. They’ll see this as yet another example of our ‘interference’ in their internal affairs,” Horak told Global News.

“If we make her a political football to use this case to bash the Saudis to make our point on Saudi human rights, I think that would exacerbate the situation even further. And it wouldn’t do her any good either.”

Horak said that while it’s inevitable that the Al-Qunun case will worsen tensions in the short term, Canada could mitigate the damage by maintaining an open line of communication with Saudi Arabia.

“I think at this point, it’s time to let her settle in and then work and talk with the Saudis and explain to them why we did what we did, and perhaps that can mitigate some of the damage that may occur,” said Horak.

WATCH: Saudi teen fleeing family granted asylum in Canada







The case has also sparked concerns about possible Saudi retaliation against the 20,000 Canadians who live in the Arab world’s richest country.

Last month, two Canadian men were arrested in China amid tensions between Ottawa and Beijing over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor remain in Chinese custody after being arrested on suspicion of spying and endangering national security.

READ MORE: Chinese ambassador pens op-ed on Canadian detainees, slams ‘Western egotism and white supremacy’

Horak said it’s unlikely that Saudi Arabia would resort to similar tactics, although he stated that Canadian expats in the kingdom might encounter other difficulties.

“In my view, a lot of the Canadians that are there are doing valuable work, so I don’t think I would see them being arrested for example as we’ve seen in China,” he said.

“They may encounter — and I think some have already since the summertime — difficulty with things like visa renewals or contract renewals… or if they’re looking for new jobs with other companies, Canadians may not be the preferred citizenship for prospective employers.

“But I wouldn’t be overly concerned about arrests and things.”

WATCH: Ottawa delegation in China as two Canadians remain detained







Horak said it’s vital that diplomatic relations don’t become strained to the point that Canada and Saudi Arabia shutter their embassies in each other’s territories.

“That would certainly not be in Canada’s interests and I don’t think that’ll happen,” he said, although he cautioned that “overreaction cannot be ruled out” on the part of the Saudis.

“It’s important that Canada be there, it’s important that Canada have an embassy there to offer protections, normal consular services and consular protections that are best delivered when there’s an embassy on the ground,” he said.

A man stands outside the Canadian embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Aug. 7, 2018.

Nasser Al-Harbi/AFP/Getty Images

Concerns of diplomatic tensions aside, Horak credited Al-Qunun’s case for shining a spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws which curtail women’s freedom.

“When I was there, Saudi women talked to me a lot about the guardianship laws. The West was talking all about driving and they said, ‘no that’s fine, I’m driving, that’s fine’ but the real issue for them is the guardianship laws,” he said.

It’s possible that Al-Qunun’s case will spur a renewed examination of guardianship laws, Horak said, although he warned it could also spark a conservative backlash, with families further tightening restrictions on daughters.

As far as Al-Qunun’s future goes, Horak said it’s important to let her take her time to settle into Canadian life rather than force her to become a mouthpiece against Saudi human rights abuses.

“I think she needs to have time to settle in and if she decides down the road that she wants to be an activist and be very vocal on this, that’s great,” he said.

“But that should be up to her and not something that we push her into.”

— With files from Grant MacDonald

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Kevin Vickers seen as national hero, but considered an outsider as he considers political bid: pundits

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Kevin Vickers has been described as a national hero for his role in stopping a gunman’s attack on Parliament Hill in 2014, but New Brunswick pundits say he’s largely seen as an outsider as he considers a political bid in his home province.

Vickers, who has served as Canada’s ambassador to Ireland for the past four years, announced this week he may be interested in seeking the leadership of New Brunswick’s Liberal party.


READ MORE:
Hero of 2014 Parliament Hill attack says he’s considering a run for New Brunswick Liberal leadership

The out-of-the-blue statement came days after former premier Brian Gallant confirmed he would be stepping down as Liberal leader sooner than expected.

“It was a surprise,” said J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, adding there were no previous indications Vickers had partisan leanings.

Though Vickers could be considered “almost a historic figure,” he doesn’t have a much of a presence in the province, Lewis said in an interview.

“For most people, he’s a public figure from one moment in time. That’s it.”

On Oct. 22, 2014, Vickers was serving as sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons when he fired the shots that killed a man armed with a .30-30 rifle. Michael Zihaf Bibeau had barged into Centre Block on Parliament Hill after killing honour guard reservist Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.

Vickers was appointed ambassador to Ireland by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in January 2015.

On Monday, Vickers told The Canadian Press he’s a “long ways from making a decision” about contesting the Liberal leadership, noting that he’s been in public service for nearly 43 years.

Born and raised in Newcastle, N.B., which is now part of the City of Miramichi, Vickers worked as an RCMP officer for 29 years before joining security staff at the House of Commons in 2005.

“It’s a long haul,” he said in an interview Monday from Trout Brook, N.B.

WATCH: Former sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers awarded Star of Courage for actions taken during Ottawa shooting






Vickers has deep roots in New Brunswick. His father, Bill, helped establish the Northumberland co-op dairy in the province decades ago.

However, Vickers has spent many years working outside New Brunswick.

“He has largely been away for so long he is an outsider,” Mario Levesque, a politics professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., said in an email.

“At best, he has drawn some media attention to the Liberal party … They now have a ‘star’ candidate media-wise, but thin on the politics side.”

Still, Levesque said Vickers’ outsider status may not diminish his political capital.

“It is acceptable to move away and come back if you are a Maritimer,” said Levesque. “After all, people are our No. 1 export.”

Other political observers say Vickers’ absence from New Brunswick’s political scene could be his greatest strength.

“On the plus side, he is an unknown political quantity and perhaps the Liberal party wants a shakeup with some new people and fresh ideas,” Jamie Gillies, a political science professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said in an email.

Roger Ouellette, a public studies professor at the Universite de Moncton, suggested the Liberals would be wise to seek a leader from outside the political establishment and, preferably, a bilingual anglophone.

“He will fit the bill,” Ouellette said, noting the party is keenly aware that it has lost much of its support in largely English-speaking areas of the province.

“Maybe it’s a good thing to have a fresh face, and a fresh way to look at the issues.”


READ MORE:
Kevin Vickers talks about his emotions after Parliament Hill shooting

Lewis agreed, saying Vickers’ experience stands in contrast to that of Gallant, who was widely considered a career politician by the time many voters turned their backs on the province’s entrenched two-party system in last September’s provincial election.

Last week, Gallant said the party needed to move on after winning just 21 seats – one fewer than the Tories. The Liberals relinquished their hold on power in November after losing a confidence vote in the legislature.

Like Vickers, Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs is considered a political outsider, having worked at Irving Oil for 33 years before turning to politics four months after he retired in 2010.

“Maybe someone like Vickers, an outsider, is a good match to Higgs,” said Lewis. “That’s what the Liberals need to challenge Higgs in the next election.”

No candidates have entered the Liberal leadership race, though several names are circulating.

Vickers has already met with at least two members of the Liberal caucus – former seniors minister Lisa Harris and former health minister Benoit Bourque.

Bourque said Vickers would bring a “wealth of experience” to the party.

He said Vickers was not actively recruited as a candidate.

“I wouldn’t say anybody went after anybody. It kind of just organically happened.”

Higgs’ minority government is relying on support from a third party – the right-leaning People’s Alliance, led by Kris Austin. But that arrangement is set to expire in less than 18 months.

That means an election could be less than two years away.

“We are very mindful that we are in a peculiar minority government situation,” Bourque said. “Our leadership situation tends to be a bit more pressing … The ball is in Mr. Vickers’ court.”

According to federal rules, Vickers must get permission from the Public Service Commission if he plans to be a candidate in an election. However, the commission says seeking the leadership of a party is considered a “non-candidacy political activity,” which does not require permission.

However, the commission says all diplomats must carry out their public duties in a politically impartial manner and “should not carry out political activities if they would cast doubt on the integrity or impartiality of their office.”

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Ottawa offers $1.6B backstop for energy sector as political tensions with Alberta fester

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The federal government is promising more than $1.6 billion — most of it in commercial loans —  to support the ailing energy sector, as political tensions in the Ottawa-Alberta relationship simmer.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr made the announcement in Edmonton this morning.

The bulk of the money, $1 billion in commercial support, comes from Export Development Canada’s coffers, the national export credit agency. It’s meant for oil and gas exporters who want to invest in new technologies and diversify their markets.

The funding package also includes $500 million over three years from the Business Development Bank of Canada, a Crown corporation, to help smaller companies increase operational and environmental efficiency, buy new technology and equipment or expand into new markets.

The government first made an official request to the EDC and BDC about making targeted money available this fall, said a senior government source.

An additional $150 million is pegged for clean growth and infrastructure projects — $50 million of it coming from Natural Resources Canada’s current Clean Growth Program, a $155 million investment fund for clean technology research and development.

Sohi said the money will be available immediately.

Concerned oil field workers watch as Canada’s Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr, left, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, centre and Randy Boissonnault, Edmonton M.P. speak during press conference to announce support for Canada’s oil and gas sector, in Edmonton on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The price for Alberta’s crude tumbled to $11 a barrel in late November, inciting panic among industry players and politicians.

« When Alberta hurts, so does Canada, » said Sohi. 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who was not on hand for today’s announcement, has called on Ottawa to help the province buy new rail cars to ship two additional tanker trains full of Alberta crude out of the province every day.

Today’s funding announcement didn’t mention rail cars.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney called the investment « too little, too late. » In a news release, Alberta’s opposition leader said if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was serious about helping Alberta energy workers, it would nix Bill C-69 — legislation overhauling Canada’s energy project assessment system — and Bill C-48, which would ban oil tankers from the northern B.C. coast.

« Alberta’s NDP government made a critical mistake in putting all their faith in their alliance with the Trudeau Liberal government, and today Albertans are facing the consequences, » said Kenney.

Watch Sohi speak about aid for the energy industry

Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi spoke to reporters in Edmonton on Tuesday 2:55

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