The House

The Brexit brink and a Green '19

This week on The House, Britain's High Commissioner looks ahead to Tuesday's critical Brexit vote and what a no-deal Brexit would mean for Canada. Then, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May joins Chris Hall to talk Green Party strategy as she hopes to capitalize on provincial momentum in this fall's federal election. Plus, the In House panel discusses January 'House cleaning' as Trudeau prepares for a cabinet shuffle.
A pro-Brexit protester argues with anti-Brexit protesters during a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster earlier this month in London, England. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Listen to the full episode49:59

The United Kingdom's high commissioner to Canada says informal talks that could lead to a U.K.-Canada free trade deal in as little as a year are underway — which could ease the economic uncertainty surrounding her country's fraught debate over when and how it will exit the European Union.

A key vote on Brexit will be held in the British Parliament on Tuesday. High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, the U.K.'s chief diplomat in Canada, said London wants to keep the disruption in its trading partnerships to a minimum.

"We can formally start negotiating a free trade deal on the day we leave the European Union," she said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.

The U.K.'s exit from the EU is set for March 29.

Behind the scenes, informal trade talks are already happening, d'Allegeershecque said.

"These informal talks underline the importance of this relationship in a trade and economic sense," she said, citing the fact that 40 per cent of Canada's exports to the European Union go to the U.K.

"I think we're both acutely aware of the potential negative impact of a cliff-edge and nothing being in place to allow that [relationship] to continue."

Canada's no-deal Brexit safety net

A trade deal between Canada and the U.K. would only come into effect in a year's time if Parliament votes against British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan — a vote that is scheduled for Jan. 15 — and goes ahead with a no-deal Brexit.

A no-deal Brexit would mean the U.K. cutting ties with the European Union overnight, without a transition period.

Great Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union at the end of March, and this New Year's Day was filled with mixed emotions as the tumultuous Brexit situation is set to continue during the new calendar year. 2:11

If May's deal is accepted, however, the U.K. would enter a two-year implementation period on March 29 during which the country would be free to negotiate new bilateral trade deals.

The lack of clarity on the Brexit path can be frustrating for Canadians with business interests in the U.K., d'Allegeershecque acknowledged.

"It's not easy," she said. "When people ask me what's going on, at the moment, it's very difficult to predict what's going to happen.

"The difficulty, of course, is that many Canadian businesses use the U.K. as a way into the rest of the European Union, and it's that uncertainty that is very difficult for companies to deal with."

Although Prime Minister May has said that a no-deal Brexit would be "the worst outcome," the government is preparing for that possibility, d'Allegeershecque said.

"We're working very hard with the Canadian government and ministries to put in place a sort of safety net in the event of a no-deal Brexit, so that business can continue unaffected."

That safety net would cover things such as air travel between Canada and the U.K. and the transition of CETA, the trade deal between Canada and the EU that will remain in place for the U.K. while it negotiates Brexit, she said.

Co-operating on China

While Canada's future trading relationship with the U.K. is still up in the air, d'Allegeershecque offered clarity on one issue: the U.K.'s support for Canada in its current dispute with China over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

"Our support for Canada and our concerns about the reciprocal action in China is pinned on the principle of upholding the rule of law," she told the CBC's Chris Hall.

"Obviously there are consequences to that, but the U.K. has never held back from calling out unacceptable behaviour."

In December, the U.K. joined the U.S. in condemning China for an alleged series of cyberattacks the country's Foreign Office described as a "widespread and significant" campaign targeting intellectual property and sensitive commercial data.

D'Allegeershecque said the U.K. chose to speak out "despite the possible negative implications" for the country's relationship with China.

Michael Kovrig, A Canadian diplomat on leave to work in China as an adviser with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-governmental organization, was detained in China last month. (The Associated Press)

"We've seen what China has done to Canadian citizens. There's always a risk that any government that feels slighted or badly treated will act in a way that's detrimental to the interests of the other country. And we have ... all sorts of links that are potentially on the table if a country wanted to retaliate. But I think it shouldn't stop us doing the right thing."

China's ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, suggested this week in an op-ed in the Hill Times that Canada and its Western allies — Britain included — are demonstrating "Western egotism and white supremacy" in their approaches to China.

"What they have been doing is not showing respect for the rule of law, but mocking and trampling the rule of law," Lu wrote.

D'Allegeershecque said she doesn't agree with the Chinese envoy.

"I think the rule of law was very clearly applied in Canada," she said.

The United Kingdom's high commissioner to Canada says informal talks that could lead to a U.K.-Canada free trade deal in as little as a year are underway - which could ease the economic uncertainty surrounding her country's fraught debate over when and how it will exit the European Union. 9:24

Elizabeth May: 'If your one issue is survival, that's kind of a good issue'

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says the political landscape in Canada is lining up nicely for her party as it prepares to fight the 2019 federal election. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Elizabeth May is feeling good about 2019 so far.

With nine provincial colleagues representing the Green Party in four different provinces, the grass is certainly looking green from her side of the fence.

And in her opinion, the party's provincial successes can be duplicated federally in this year's election.

"We've had very strong support in the past, but voter intention to vote Green, particularly in 2015, really evaporated in the last week," she said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House.

"What it was, was panic and fear-based voting, with people told by other parties that if you vote Green, you're going to get Stephen Harper elected."

May said this time around is different for one main reason — a shake-up in party leadership.

"Andrew Scheer doesn't provoke the kind of deep emotions that are polarizing, like Stephen Harper did," she said. "And we have an, as yet, unquantifiable split in Conservative voters with Maxime Bernier starting the People's Party, and the generally accepted reduction of support in the New Democrats."

"It really creates a scenario where voters who want to vote Green don't have anything to be afraid of."

As for challenging the stereotype that the Greens are a one-issue party focused on climate change, May expressed frustration.

"We've never been a one-issue party, but if your one issue is survival, that's kind of a good issue," she said. "The climate issue is no longer an environmental issue, we're talking about a fundamental security threat."

May said climate change is going to be a major focus of her party's campaign, and predicted it will be a key ballot box issue for voters in October.

"The Conservatives and Liberals, for their own reasons, have decided that a slug fest over carbon taxing is what they want," she said. 

May also discussed the Greens' strategy for gaining new supporters in ridings that could see a crowded field between the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and People's Party.

"The thing that distinguishes a Green victory isn't this notion so much of taking votes from other people," she said. "It's inspiring people to vote who otherwise wouldn't have done."

Elizabeth May is feeling good about 2019 so far. With nine provincial colleagues representing the Green Party in four different provinces, the grass is certainly looking green from her side of the fence. But what is the strategy leading up to October? 9:17

Canada's climate change ambassador says ambition will increase with time

Protesters are pictured during a march for the climate on sidelines of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) summit in December in Katowice, Poland. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

A new report says the Earth's oceans are warming 40 per cent faster than a UN panel predicted five years ago. 

The study, published this week in the journal Science, looks at the consequences of warming oceans, such as rainfall intensity, rising sea levels, rising cost in food production and declines in ice sheets, sea ice and glaciers in the Arctic. 

It's the latest sobering report on climate change, but whether it will spur greater action by governments to increase climate targets remains unknown. 

Canada's first ambassador of climate change, Patricia Fuller, is optimistic that with time, it will be easier for countries to step up action.

"I think over time, we will be in a position to be more ambitious," she said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House.

"Economic models aren't very good at predicting the impact of technology. We are seeing huge technology shifts. What will happen, if we think about how the price of wind and solar energy has fallen, as the transition gets more and more underway it will be easier to increase our ambition."

The annual UN emissions gap report recently found Canada is currently failing to meet its climate goals and that gap is expected to widen even further by 2030, which is the deadline by which Canada pledged to have reduced emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels. 

U.S. withdrawal from Paris deal not a factor

At the COP24 climate conference in Poland in December, nearly 200 countries agreed on a rule book to implement the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. 

Participants leave before the end of the final session of the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, Poland, last month. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)

"Very important progress was made in Poland," said Fuller, who was in attendance as Canada's representative on the file. "The rule book tells countries what they need to do to meet their commitments under the Paris agreement."

The big question heading into the global climate meeting was how the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris deal would impact its success.

But Fuller said it ended up being a non-issue at the conference.

"It was frankly hardly talked about in Poland, because it was clear the momentum behind the [2015] agreement is there," she said. "There was a question whether the agreement around the rule book would be possible with the U.S. as a strong negotiator around the table. It was.

"Is the Paris agreement moving forward without the U.S.? Clearly it is."

Fuller, who started her job as climate change ambassador in June, said her favourite part of the job is promoting clean growth opportunities in Canada. 

"The countries that will be most successful economically will be the ones who are moving forward the fastest in developing their clean growth and clean technology sectors," she said. "And in Canada we have huge potential."

But is that potential being maximized? 

"Absolutely," Fuller said, pointing to small and medium enterprises she said are "doing very interesting things and finding very important global markets" such as alternative fuel school buses made by Lion Electric Co. in Quebec. 

"I think we're really seeing the business community really paying attention to the huge opportunities available, as well as the risks of not taking climate action," she said.

Canada's first ambassador of climate change, Patricia Fuller, is optimistic that with time, it will be easier for countries to step up action on the environment. 9:58

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