NAFTA uncertainty overshadows Liberal priorities

This week on The House, Justin Trudeau and his cabinet returned to work this week amid growing uncertainty surrounding the future of NAFTA. We ask International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne about Canada's strategy. Then, we ask Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale about his priorities for the new year. Finally, former Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson looks back on the controversial end of her tenure.
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - HP1EDAB1GE683 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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Trying to keep up with Donald Trump's NAFTA musings is rarely easy. This week was no exception.

After reports that the U.S. president could soon give the official warning that he intends to pull the United States out of the trade agreement, Trump spoke to The Wall Street Journal about the negotiation, saying: "We're moving along nicely," "There's no rush," "I'm leaving it a little flexible," "We have a chance of making a reasonable deal," "We've made a lot of headway."

He also said the benefits of a new NAFTA would pay for his proposed border wall with Mexico, while expressing understanding that it's tough for Mexico to negotiate during its upcoming election campaign.

Trump still repeated his threat to cancel the agreement if he can't get a better deal. But Canadian officials, including International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, say they are seeing positive signals from the White House.

"To the extent that we hear positive comments and feedback that the United States wants to engage and be in solution mode, that's good news," Champagne told The House.

"What matters is to get a good deal for Canada, and how we do that, and at the speed that the other parties are ready to do it, I will respect it," he said.

With louder rumblings that Donald Trump might be about to official give notice that he intends to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, we ask International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne what Canada's strategy will be going forward. 11:39

Former ethics watchdog still hopes MPs will enact stricter rules

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson appears before the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Mary Dawson's time as ethics commissioner may be over, but she's still hoping MPs will follow up on her past recommendations to tighten the rules.

In conversation with The House, Dawson said despite improving the MPs' ethical code, federal politicians have yet to touch the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act.

"They choose what they want to deal with and maybe you're trying to make me say it's because they don't want to make the rules more stringent for themselves. Who knows? You know it's not just at the top of their priority list to date but I suspect it may be now," she said.

The now former ethics watchdog faced a committee of MPs this week to answer questions about her recent report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's vacation to the Aga Khan's private Bahamian island.

For two hours Mary Dawson resisted attempts by the opposition to go beyond the scope of her investigation, which found Trudeau violated four sections of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act by accepting such a gift from a man who heads a charitable organization that lobbies the federal government for money. 

She did though, repeat and expand her thoughts on toughening up the legislation and closing loopholes. 

And in light of comments from her successor, Mario Dion that Parliament should consider more stringent penalties for those who violate the Act, Dawson did not waver from her belief that there's no need for that.

"That's not my bent. But I quite recognize it may be somebody else's bent, and if that's the case,that's fine. But I'm just not an advocate of heavy penalties. I think ethics is something that is a little bit different from criminal offences," she said.

The Liberal government has been plagued with ethics problems for months. At the centre of it all was the now former Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson. She joins us. 11:39

North Korean meeting partly aimed at White House, ambassador says

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a New Year's Day speech in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on January 1, 2018. (KCNA/Reuters)

The ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Canada says one of the goals of next week's meeting on the North Korean crisis co-hosted by Canada and the United States is the convince the White House that a diplomatic solution is preferable to a military option.

"It is the main purpose of this meeting," Shin Maeng-ho told The House.

"I think diplomacy is the only option left to us. War on the Korean peninsula means death of millions of people. I heard that U.K. Prime Minister Churchill said that jaw jaw is always better than world war. I think diplomacy is the art of possibility. All foreign ministers in Vancouver will seek all the ways and means for a diplomatic solution."

The meeting was organized to show international solidarity in the face of the North Korean threat and discuss ways to find diplomatic solutions to the crisis.

It will take place after North and South Korea held on Tuesday their first official dialogue in more than two years, and agreed on negotiations to resolve problems and avert accidental conflict.

"This inter-Korean talk is a major breakthrough considering last year's very heightened tension over North Korea's missile and nuclear tests," ambassador Shin said.

"But, we should not drink champagne too early. It is, I think, significant step forward but at the same time I'd like to say that just the first small step has been taken. We have a long way to go because our target goal is denuclearization of North Korea."

But the meeting will take place without a key player.

China will not only be absent, but the country's leadership has also been critical of the gathering.

The Chinese foreign affairs said this week it would set back — rather than advance — peace efforts by creating divisions in the international community, an assessment Shin disagrees with.

Shin Maeng-ho joins us to discuss next week's meeting on the North Korean crisis. 5:16

In House: Trudeau returns to work by hitting the road

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a Town Hall event at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario on January 10, 2018. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Justin Trudeau's return to work included the first three in a series of town halls that will continue next week.

The prime minister has been asked about a wide range of issues, including his controversial vacation to the Aga Khan's private island, returning ISIS fighters, and the government's payment to Omar Khadr.

We asked our In House panelists to analyze Trudeau's performance.

Susan Delacourt, senior political writer for the Toronto Star and iPolitics: "There's two parts to a town hall. There's the part that we get out of it by watching the prime ministers' performance, and there's what he gets out of it. You know, did he learn anything while he was out here? Is it a different experience than he would get in the House of Commons or talking to lowly reporters like us?

So, on all of those counts I think it was probably a net gain for him. I think that he saw that not everyone thinks that he's wonderful, which is always a good thing for a politician to see. And we saw him having to manage himself, and the way he dealt with the dissenters was interesting. I think he probably, on balance, came out better for it."

Joël-Denis Bellavance, parliamentary bureau chief for La Presse: "I think, for the prime minister, it's a way to reconnect with what the people are thinking. Get out of the Ottawa bubble, get into the Canadian bigger bubble, and talk to ordinary Canadians. I think he realized that some of the issues that he faced in the House of Commons are still big issues outside of Ottawa. So that's a way for him to connect with the Canadian reality.

I don't think the Liberal Party could afford the kind of publicity the prime minister is getting out of this tour, and I think it's a pretty astute move on his part to continue what is becoming a tradition for the prime minister - to tour Canada in January."

Susan Delacourt and JD Bellavance join us to discuss the first few stops of the prime minister's town hall tour. 7:31