The House

Is it too late to fix the MMIWG inquiry?

This week on The House, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, discusses the future of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls amid a storm of criticism. Then, we check in with new British Columbia Premier John Horgan after his first official visits to Ottawa and Washington, D.C.
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett looks on as AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks at the Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting in Regina, Sask., Tuesday July 25, 2017. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs says she agrees with the Assembly of First Nations' calls to tweak the plagued National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

During an emotional week, chiefs at the AFN passed a resolution calling on the organization's leadership to demand changes at the inquiry, but voted against a proposal calling for the resignation of the inquiry's commissioners.

"In the reset that the AFN called for are things that we agree with. That the communication has to improve, the relationship with the families has to improve," Carolyn Bennett told CBC Radio's The House.

"This call and cry for a reset means the commission is now changing its ways to have much better communication."

The approved motion asks for the inquiry to be more transparent and make sure its public hearing process is less "legalistic."

It also says families need to have more input into how it operates.

The resolution also calls on government to provide more funding and resources to the commission so it can better carry out its mandate — which should also be extended beyond its current two years.

Bennett said she and her cabinet colleagues will look into providing more healing support to families.

"We as a government know that we've got to do a better job with healing, with support. The family liaison offices that were set up as part of this commission to help families navigate the justice system, I understand, are extremely strong in some places, not as strong in other places," she said.

Manitoba Grand Chief Sheila North-Wilson openly called on the remaining MMIWG commissioners to resign. (CBC)

Manitoba Grand Chief Sheila North-Wilson, who had called on the remaining inquiry commissioners to resign, said Friday that it's time for the federal government to step in.

"They have a hand in it. They are trying to remain at arm's length and they don't want to, you know, intervene, but I think they do because they are part of the problem and part of the solution. They have the authority to step in and ask for this," said the Keewatinowi Okimakanak grand chief.

"We need to see a hard reset that signifies to the families that this government is listening. That yes there's been mistakes made. Acknowledge them and let's move on and appoint a commissioner based on who the families' have a say in.

Pipelines and softwood, John Horgan's first visits to Ottawa and Washington

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Premier of British Columbia John Horgan in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 25, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The likelihood of reaching a deal between Canada and the U.S. on softwood lumber depends on how eager negotiators south of the border are to wrap up the reccuring trade irritant before NAFTA negotiations get underway next month, says British Columbia premier John Horgan.

"You don't want to have the spectre of softwood hanging over those negotiations," he said.

"It's not helpful for anyone and so I think [United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer] is rooting for Secretary Ross to get this done and so are we."

Horgan went down to Washington, D.C., this week for two days of meetings with trade officials from President Donald Trump's administration, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Canada's ambassador to the U.S.

"At the end of the day, I think the quality of the product and the need to create homes for people in the United States will win out," he said. 

The U.S. Lumber Coalition, which represents American lumber producers, filed a petition last November asking the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission to limit Canadian lumber shipments. The group claimed Canada unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry, harming U.S. workers who are experiencing mounting unemployment.

Canada's red line for NAFTA: dispute resolution mechanism

Representing the Clinton campaign, former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard speaks to the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee in Washington, Saturday, May 31, 2008. The committee met to determine how to count the primary votes for Michigan and Florida. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)

U.S. Donald Trump is injecting words like "terminate" back into his speech when talking about NAFTA, but former United States Ambassador to Canada, James Blanchard, said that's likely just red meat for his base.

"You've got the world of Twitter and off the cuff remarks and then you have reality. We're seeing a real difference in everything that goes on in Washington. It's really crazy, I've never seen anything like it," said the former Michigan governor.

Despite the unpredictability of the president, Blanchard —  who was in Ottawa when NAFTA was finalized under Bill Clinton — said John Melle, Americans' top NAFTA negotiator, is the person to watch.

"A man of great experience, great experience with Canada. A career professional. A man of integrity and quite a bit of ability," he said.

"I have a lot of confidence things will be well managed on our side. No idea what the president will say or do."

The 18-page summary released by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer earlier this month said the U.S. hopes to eliminate NAFTA's Chapter 19 dispute resolution panels, which Canada uses to appeal duties on softwood lumber and other goods.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he won't negotiate in public, but made it clear where Canada stands when it comes to settling binational disputes.

"A fair dispute resolution mechanism system is essential for any trade deal that Canada signs on to," the prime minister said. "And we expect that will continue to have that in any renegotiated NAFTA."

Blanchard says Canada has a lot of leverage here,

"Litigation is our national pastime, that's an issue. I think that part will work out."

A rejigged NAFTA will require a sign-off from a Congress, which is proving to be a thorn in Trump's side.

"Monday seems like an eternity ago because it's been such a wervey, swervy, tervy kind of week here in Washington," said NPR's White House correspondent Tamra Keith.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) looks on during a press conference about his resistance to the so-called "Skinny Repeal" of the Affordable Care Act. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The week capped off with Trump ousting Reince Priebus, his chief of staff. But it started off with Trump questioning the loyalty of his Attorney General Jeff Session, his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner testifying about Russia, Anthony Scaramucci's phone call to a New Yorker reporter, and the surprise vote in the Senate stopping the Republican Party's crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"Whether they can bring it back to life, whether Republicans can make another go of it isn't clear. Some say they want to, others are saying it  is time to move on," Keith said.

"There are ways that it could be improved. Whether Republicans and Democrats can agree on the definition of impriovement, well, that's a big if."

In a statement Arizona Senator John McCain, who shocked many by voting no to his own party's propsal, sent a message to his party members on the perils of partisanship.

"His message was, 'Hey Republicans we're about to do the very same thing we said Democrats did wrong," said Keith.

In House

No matter what the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls comes up with in its final report, it will always be a tarnished exercise to some critics, says the In House panel.

"This is a very emotional, sensitive issue," said Althia Raj, Ottawa bureau chief for HuffPost Canada.

"And I think because the expectations are incredibly high, even if the commission did its work as well as the government would like it to do, there would still be people who at the end of the day are disappointed by the process, who feel that they have been excluded, who feel they have not gotten the resolution they wanted."

Josh Wingrove, a parliamentary reporter for Bloomberg, said part of the problem is that the Liberals set the bar so high.

"The Liberals will say this is a start, but Justin Trudeau really set the bar high among indigenous peoples in this country and I think they've got a lot of work to clear that bar."