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Liberals reject NDP motion to increase scrutiny of arms exports

Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Pamela Goldsmith-Jones says creating a Common committee to examine arms exports would add extra ‘burdens’ to an already regulated industry.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Trudeau Liberals voted down a motion to give MPs a key role in scrutinizing foreign exports of Canadian military goods, saying this level of parliamentary oversight was unnecessary.

The motion was in reaction to a deal to sell $15-billion in weaponized armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a country known for human rights abuses.

The opposition NDP had set up a vote Tuesday on their proposal to establish a new Commons committee dedicated to reviewing defence and security exports – similar to what British parliamentarians have – with the justification that "Canadian arms exports have nearly doubled over the past decade and ... Canadians expect a high standard from their government when it comes to protecting human rights abroad."

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Read more: NDP bringing motion to have MPs screen arms exports

Read more: Saudi Arabian officials say arms deal with Canada an act of friendship

Read more: The inside story of Canada's $15-billion Saudi arms deal

The Liberals, however, said they don't want to weigh down Canada's defence industry with more red tape.

What the "committee suggested is unnecessary and would merely create additional excessive burdens on an already highly regulated and monitored industry," Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, parliamentary secretary to foreign affairs, argued during a recent debate on the motion.

The Liberal parliamentarian took a shot at NDP MP Hélène Laverdière, the sponsor of the motion, for raising concerns about the growth of arms sales to foreigners and the Saudi deal that the Liberals approved for export.

"Is the defence industry really something we wish to cut back on?" she asked in the Commons.

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"While we welcome the member's concerns for human rights, transparent processes and strong arms controls, we are disappointed by the disregard for tens of thousands of Canadians' livelihoods."

Ms. Laverdière told reporters she was very disappointed by the Liberal behaviour on this vote. "It goes against everything – the Liberal government rhetoric – that promises more transparency, more open government."

As recently as July, in a Nanos Research poll, a strong majority of Canadians objected to this country's sales of military goods to Saudi Arabia, China and Algeria, three countries with poor human rights records that currently rank among the top 10 buyers of defence and security gear from Canada.

As much as 60 per cent of the Canadian defence industry's output is exported and the sector employs about 70,000 people. "These are high-paying, highly skilled, middle-class jobs spread across more than 700 firms located in every province and territory of the country. These jobs pay salaries that are on average 60 per cent above the average Canadian industrial wage," Ms. Goldsmith-Jones said.

She defended the sale of weaponized armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, saying Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner "in preventing ... chaos, lawlessness, atrocities and terrorist attacks"

The Saudi ambassador to Canada, however, told The Globe and Mail last week that the $15-billion purchase should primarily be seen as a goodwill gesture by the Islamic kingdom to cement its friendship with Canada.

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"This contract has been given to Canada to improve the relations and enhance the relations," Ambassador Naif Bin Bandar al-Sudairi told The Globe.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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