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Politics Politics Briefing: Committee meets to discuss ex-ambassadors’ story

Good morning,

The House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee is holding an emergency meeting this afternoon to discuss whether to study an issue first uncovered by The Globe and Mail last week: Two former Canadian ambassadors to China, David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques, say they were called by a senior bureaucrat who said that, on orders of the Prime Minister’s Office, it was requested that they speak with “one voice” when commenting on the government’s China policy.

“I am deeply concerned about the way foreign policy is being managed, and don’t wish to be silenced or co-opted,” Mr. Mulroney told The Globe last week.

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The Prime Minister’s Office did not deny that the calls took place, but said they were merely part of outreach with foreign-policy experts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his first public comments yesterday, denied that he or his staff ordered the calls to happen.

“We are a government, as many people know, that has engaged extensively with stakeholders," Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver. "We believe that an approach that involves expert third parties on a broad range of issues is the approach that is going to help Canadians best. But I can confirm the PMO did not direct that to happen.”

Of course, when The Globe broke the SNC-Lavalin scandal in February, Mr. Trudeau’s first comments then were quite similar: “As I’ve said, at no time did we direct the attorney-general, current or previous, to make any decision whatsoever in this matter.” And when former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould later testified at the justice committee, a very different picture emerged.

The meeting, held at the request of opposition members on the committee, begins at 1 p.m. ET in Ottawa. We will find out then if the Liberal majority on the committee is open to spending precious summer time on the issue – or whether they would like to go back to the barbecue circuit to warm up for this fall’s election.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

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The ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement has been in limbo since the U.S. Congress rose for its August recess last week without voting on the deal. The delay has come from the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, which doesn’t agree with everything that the Republican White House pushed for in the deal. But the House Democrats and Trump administration have continued to meet in recent months and may be nearing some kind of agreement of their own. Mexico has already ratified the deal. But Canada’s Liberal government has said they will not ratify the trade agreement without clear signs that the U.S. is also ratifying it, and the window is shrinking to recall Parliament for ratification before the fall federal election – leaving the USMCA as a possible campaign issue.

The government says it has the regulatory authority to impose a passenger bill of rights on airlines, federal lawyers are arguing in the Federal Court of Appeal. Some of the new rules went into effect earlier this month, while others begin in December. The regulations cover issues such as flight delays and compensation for lost or damaged luggage.

The federal government spent $17.7-million in the first quarter of the current fiscal year on advertising campaigns ahead of a mandatory blackout because of the fall election.

Rudy Turtle, chief of the Grassy Narrows First Nation is running for the federal New Democrats this fall in the riding of Kenora in Northern Ontario. The community has been beset by mercury poisoning for years, and the federal government has been slow to respond. “Grassy Narrows is the epitome of that broken promise – that track record of saying one thing but not delivering on what matters to people,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said.

Saskatchewan’s government is accusing the Liberals in Ottawa of holding up infrastructure funds for projects in the province, but the federal minister’s office says they only got the request for funds a few weeks ago and they’re working on it.

The Senate ethics committee says it is senators themselves who are responsible for many of the delays in the ethics report into former senator Don Meredith.

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The Canadian embassy in Havana, Cuba, is resuming some services after suspending operations earlier this year to deal with a mysterious illness that hit the embassy’s staff.

And a Federal Court judge says Canadian consumers have a constitutional right to accurate labels on products so that they can follow their conscience in purchasing decisions. The case involved two wines from the West Bank that were labelled as being “made in Israel.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on the cost of pharmaceuticals: “There is one reason that Canada’s drug prices are lower than those in the U.S.: Canada (like almost every developed country) regulates and caps prices, while the United States has a free market free-for-all that encourages price gouging. If Americans want lower drug prices, their politicians need to put on their big boy pants and regulate, not try to shamelessly raid and pillage the neighbour’s medicine cabinet.”

Globe and Mail editorial board on Via Rail’s proposal for high-frequency rail: “But the main reason the Montreal-Toronto corridor still doesn’t have high-speed rail, or even medium-speed rail, is because building it has always come with the need for a very large subsidy from taxpayers. Queen’s Park and Ottawa have made vague promises about supertrains before, often prior to elections, but the costly idea then gets shunted onto a siding, and with good reason.”

Andrew Leach (CBC) on the Green Party’s ideas to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: “The Green plan gives a sense of the order of magnitude of the transitions we’d need to see if we’re going to meet aggressive global goals. For that, they deserve credit. However, the plan leaves far too many loose ends, includes far too many inconsistencies, and off-hands near-impossible adoption rates for retrofits and renewable power. And, it doesn’t say a lot about how these actions will spur similar kinds of cuts globally so as to benefit from reduced impacts of climate change.”

Doug Cuthand (Saskatoon StarPhoenix) on diversity: “Today, Canadians pride themselves for living in a multicultural nation that is open to people from all over the world. While this is true subliminally, Canada is still seen as a white nation. Do you ever notice that people with a hyphenated classification are people of colour such Indo-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian and Aboriginal-Canadian? Nobody says European-Canadian.”

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David Oliver (The Globe and Mail) on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit: “Mr. Johnson, already the man most likely to see the break of Britain with an independent Scotland, might also unwittingly deliver the unification of Ireland at the same time if the Remain-voting North prefer the EU Single Market.”

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