Politics

Trudeau says help for canola farmers coming 'in a few days'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says help for canola farmers caught in the middle of a diplomatic dispute between Canada and China will be announced this week.

China has blocked access to Canadian shipments, claiming contamination of product

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government will announce help for canola farmers 'in a few days.' (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says help for canola farmers caught in the middle of a diplomatic dispute between Canada and China is on the way.

Calling the issue a "scientific-based disagreement," Trudeau said his government has been working diligently on the file, reaching out to producers, stakeholders and premiers while also working diplomatic channels.

"We are absolutely going to be doing more on the canola file. We'll have an announcement coming out in a few days," he said during an event Monday in Cambridge, Ont.

"Canadians know, of course, as do people around the world, that Canadian food inspection and the quality of Canadian agriculture and produce is world-class, and the processes we have cannot be beaten anywhere in the world."

Trudeau did not offer any details on the promised announcement.

China has blocked Canadian canola from Richardson International and Viterra, two of Canada's biggest exporters, saying that shipments were contaminated with pests. Canadian politicians have insisted there is no basis for that claim.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains what his government has been doing to address the ongoing Canola dispute with China. 1:06

China's trade action seems to be spreading beyond canola; Canadian exporters of peas and soybeans are reporting they're facing new trade obstacles in the Chinese market.

Asked if Canada could be facing a broader Chinese boycott, Trudeau attributed the current tensions to a ripple effect generated by trade conflicts between China and the U.S. and said that China's actions toward Canada are "not right."

"We are in the process of resolving this. It is not an easy situation, but it is one that we have taken very seriously and will continue to work very hard on," he said.

Earlier today, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer held a news conference to urge the government to take swift steps to resolve the ongoing canola crisis.

Scheer blamed the lingering spat on Trudeau's "weak leadership and poor judgment" and said the prime minister must move quickly to repair ties with China and help farmers hurt by China's canola ban.

Scheer said the first thing Trudeau must do to calm bilateral tensions is appoint an ambassador to China — a position left vacant since John McCallum was fired in January.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer calls on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take three actions to address the ongoing Canola dispute with China. 1:03

"Canada is seriously under-represented in one of the world's most important capital cities, and Mr. Trudeau should fix this," Scheer said. 

McCallum was turfed as the top envoy in Beijing after he spoke publicly about the United States's request for the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, using lines that were inconsistent with the Liberal government's position. The deputy head of mission, Jim Nickel, has been acting as Canada's point man in Beijing in the interim.

Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the government is taking a careful approach to picking McCallum's successor.

"The decision to appoint a new ambassador to China is an important one, and we need to get it right. In the meantime, we are well served by Jim Nickel, an experienced diplomat with a wealth of knowledge about the Canada-China relationship," he said.

Bilateral tensions have been running high since China detained two Canadians — actions widely seen as a response to Canada's detention of Meng at the request of the U.S. Trudeau has raised concerns about China's detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, insisting that Beijing's decision to arrest the two Canadians was arbitrary.

Scheer also urged Trudeau to increase emergency financial aid for canola farmers, boosting the maximum loan under the advanced payment program to $1 million from $400,000 and temporarily suspending interest payments.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is also pressuring the federal government to do more. Last week he wrote a letter to Trudeau insisting that farmers "need an answer" on cash advances.

China is blocking imports of canola seed from key Canadian producers, claiming the product carries pests. (Shutterstock)

Moe said that while he'd been impressed initially that the federal government appeared ready to act quickly, he now sees the government offering "no concrete support" for canola producers.

Scheer said Canada also should launch a formal trade complaint against China through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"These steps I've outlined this morning would give Canadian canola farmers much-needed relief and would send a message to China that Canada will not back down," he said.

Pull $256M investment in China: Scheer

Scheer also said that if he becomes prime minister, he'll pull Canada's $256-million contribution to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, said the industry is facing unprecedented uncertainty because of China's decision to block Canadian imports. He called on the government to take steps similar to what Scheer suggested: appointing a new ambassador without delay, launching a WTO complaint and boosting emergency aid to producers.

"Each day this issue with China drags on means more uncertainty and lost income," Everson said in a statement. "The Canadian government must engage with China to resume trade in canola, Canada's single largest export to China."

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