The House: A tale of the tape
A recording of a Dec. 19 phone call between then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick was released late Friday afternoon. In the call, Wernick stated the prime minister was 'firm' on securing a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC Lavalin, the Quebec engineering company.
Wilson-Raybould called the phone call and previous conversations on the matter with senior people in government "inappropriate" and said they constituted "political interference." The clerk was not aware the conversation was recorded.
Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt sat down with The House to discuss her reactions to the tape.
"I think Jody Wilson-Raybould's testimony has only been underscored and affirmed and supported by the testimony that she delivered to the justice committee Friday," she said. "But it's not different than what she said. The fact base that we had back when she gave her testimony is the same as it is now, but it has a bit more colour around it and it gives more detail and it gives more proof."
Raitt said she wasn't sympathetic to the clerk, despite his obvious discomfort during the phone call, since she believes he did not have to make that call to Wilson-Raybould.
"The big thing for me that I took away was from what the clerk was saying, very clearly to Jody Wilson-Raybould, that if you do not find a way to deliver the solution that the prime minister wants, then you have to be aware of the fact that something could happen," she said.
China, Canada and Canola
After Chinese authorities banned two major Canadian companies from shipping canola seed to China, producers say they're hoping for a quick resolution to the dispute — but are prepared to look to other markets.
Earlier this month, Chinese customs authorities revoked the licence of Winnipeg-based agricultural handler Richardson International, and then pulled a similar move on Regina-based Viterra Inc. on Tuesday.
China alleges Canadian canola has harmful pests in it, but the ban is widely seen as retaliation for Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, at the behest of the United States.
"It's certainly not about the quality of Canadian canola, in my mind," Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, told Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio's The House, in an interview airing Saturday.
Last week, the Canola Council of Canada announced orders from China had mysteriously dried up for a number of canola sellers other than Richardson and Viterra.
On Friday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr said the government is considering subsidizing farmers hit by China's ban on Canadian canola imports.
But Everson — who met with with the two ministers on Friday — said he is hoping China's market reopens soon.
"We've talked to [the ministers] quite a bit about the issues in terms of re-engaging and engaging China and restoring that market, and that's the first priority," Everson said, adding he hopes the government sends a delegation to China to address the issue.
Everson said producers are ready to look elsewhere to sell their canola, but added that it might be a difficult task, given that roughly 40 per cent of Canadian canola seed exports normally go to China.
"It is very difficult to very quickly diversify away from such an important market to other market opportunities," he said.
Six months from an election
Only six months remain before the federal election and the question remains how the SNC Lavalin scandal, trade tensions with China and the newly introduced federal budget will affect the results. The strategist panel — Suzanne Cowan, president of the Liberal Party, Hamish Marshall, chair of the Conservative campaign and Michael Belagus, campaign co-chair for the NDP — weighed in on each party's strategy this election year.
Cowan acknowledged the damage the SNC Lavalin scandal has done to the Liberal Party and the prime minister, but said its members remain focused.
"Obviously it's been a tough news cycle and it's been going on for quite some time," said Cowan. "This will likely continue to percolate for some time, but really where my team and I've been focused is ... on supporting the team, nominating candidates, supporting the prime minister and getting ready for what was always going to be a challenging campaign."
Belagus and Marshall both said they think the SNC Lavalin scandal will benefit the NDP and the Conservatives politically.
"There is a real sense of disappointment with the prime minister, a lot of people who came to us and said, 'Hey, look, I voted Conservative when you guys won a majority in 2011, but I was tired of Harper and I wanted a change," said Marshall.
"Trudeau seemed like change and, wow, was that a mistake. And we get that again and again and it's not just in, you know, seats we lost by a couple of points, so you'd expect we're hearing that in the core of Toronto and right across the country."
On foreign policy and the recent canola seed trade conflict with China, the panel agreed that how a party deals with those issues is going to be important to voters.
"Yeah, I would agree that foreign policy as it affects jobs, as it affects people's ability to earn a living, is the prism that, come election time, people look at it through," said Belagus. "But I would add one more layer. I think foreign policy is also an opportunity where voters can get a sense of a leader and a party's values."
Notwithstanding whether the federal government's newly announced budget will make an impact on the Liberal Party's prospects this year, Cowan said the government takes those budget commitments seriously.
"These were tangible plans to implement a national pharmacare program, which is a huge priority for Canadians and has been for this Liberal government," said Cowan. "We as the government are in a position to actually (produce) action and not just talk about it, and we are taking a responsible approach to that."