Liberal ministers set to testify at committee on decision to release turbines caught in Russia sanctions

Liberals on the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international development agreed that Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson would take questions about a decision to exempt natural gas turbines from sanctions on Russia.

Foreign affairs, natural resources ministers to explain controversial move exempting turbines from sanctions

Pipes at the landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline in Lubmin, Germany, March 8, 2022. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

Opposition MPs demanded Friday that senior Liberal ministers show up at a special foreign affairs committee meeting next week to explain Canada's controversial decision to send repaired parts of a Russian natural gas pipeline back to Germany.

The Liberals, who are facing heavy criticism from Ukraine for exempting the turbines from sanctions against Russia, quickly agreed that Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson would take questions about the matter.

Ontario Liberal MP Robert Oliphant said there is "complete willingness" and "no hesitation" from the ministers.

The foreign affairs committee voted unanimously to request the presence of Joly and Wilkinson by July 22, subject to their availability and "noting the urgency of the situation."

WATCH | Fallout continues over Ottawa's release of turbines

Fallout continues over Ottawa's release of turbines

1 year ago
Duration 18:12
Ministers Mélanie Joly and Jonathan Wilkinson are set to testify in front of a special foreign affairs committee meeting next week, as the fallout over Canada’s decision to send turbines back to Germany, and exempt them from sanctions against Russia, continues.

The committee will also invite testimony from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the ambassadors of Ukraine, Germany and the European Union to Canada.

Conservatives on the committee also called for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to appear and alleged that the Liberals were trying to prevent her testimony because she might disagree with the export decision.

Their attempt to add her to the witness list was voted down, but committee members will have more opportunities to add names to the list and the issue could be discussed again.

Freeland is in Indonesia attending a G20 finance ministers' meeting and was not immediately available to respond.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks at a news conference in Ottawa, on Thursday, April 7, 2022. On Friday, Conservative members of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee pushed for Freeland to testify about the government's decision to return the gas turbines to Europe, but the motion was defeated. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The whole matter stems from a government decision in the past week to exempt six Siemens Energy turbines, which were serviced in Montreal, from the economic sanctions it levied against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian World Congress is petitioning the Federal Court to uphold the sanctions regime and stop the shipment, saying in a statement that "we cannot supply a terrorist state with the tools it needs to finance the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people."

Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom reduced gas deliveries from its Nord Stream 1 pipeline — which runs to northeastern Germany — by 60 per cent last month, citing turbine-related technical problems.

Decision draws support, condemnation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week the decision to return the turbines was made so that Canada could support European allies facing energy crises as Russia constricts access to its oil and gas supply.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomed the move, saying that the energy supply keeps Germany in a position to support Ukraine with humanitarian, financial and military aid.

And the U.S. State Department issued a statement supporting the decision, saying that it would help Europe increase its energy security and resiliency and counter "Russia's efforts to weaponize energy."

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the decision as "absolutely unacceptable" earlier this week in video and written statements.

"The decision on the exception to sanctions will be perceived in Moscow exclusively as a manifestation of weakness. This is their logic," he said. "And now there can be no doubt that Russia will try not just to limit as much as possible, but to completely shut down the supply of gas to Europe at the most acute moment."

In her motion to initiate the committee study, NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said she was "appalled" by the government's decision and said it implied that the Canadian sanctions regime is "basically meaningless" if exemptions can be made whenever officials get "uncomfortable."

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis called it "a slap in the face to the Ukrainian people" and said it smacked of "the logic of appeasement or compromise with a violent aggressor."