Senate QP: Freeland digresses

Senate ministerial Question Period this week hosted special guest star Chrystia Freeland, the foreign affairs minister, and there would be no shortage of questions for her to field. Senator Carignan led off, asking about international treaty obligations with regard to the question of legalizing marijuana. Freeland first gave effusive thanks to the chamber for their invitation and their work on CETA before turning to the question at hand, saying that they were considering it in consultation with partners, given that several US States have legalized marijuana, and some countries like Uruguay were also considering the issue.

Senator Ataullahjan asked about attacks against the Rohinga minority in Myanmar, leading to internal displacement and refugees, and noted that Aung San Suu Kyi, the current Burmese leader, was an honorary Canadian and wondered what the government was doing to engage her on it. Freeland said that she has been seized of the file, reaching out to a local professor and that the new ambassador to the country has visited the region and demonstrated support.

Senator Day asked about the Canada-China relationship, and asked what particular model of trade agreement the country wants to pursue in the Asia-Pacific region. Freeland prefaced her response with the fact that this was now François-Philippe Champagne’s domain, before giving some stats on the resumption of canola trade with China, the problems with ratifying TPP without the United States, the upcoming meeting in Chile regarding post-TPP configurations, and that Canada would be at that table.

Senator Wallin asked about safe third country agreement with the United States and closing the loophole for in-county asylum claims. Freeland noted it was principally a question for the minister of immigration, praised his competence, and reiterated Hussen’s points for QP yesterday that the UNHCR still considers the US a safe country for refugees, and they would abide by their judgment. She also gave some context around the “loophole” in the law and how it applies to the Agreement.

Senator McPhedran asked about the national action plan on women, peace and security, which has lapsed. Freeland spoke about the need for a feminist foreign policy and the structured discussions they have had around it, spoke about her always having meeting with women’s groups when she travelled, and praised McPhedran’s call to engage women from more diverse backgrounds in Canada to tap the potential of diaspora communities.

Senator Enverga asked about NAFTA and what kinds of “tweaks” the Trumpocalypse was expecting. Freeland spoke about the strong “Team Canada” approach that included not only the provinces but also the official opposition, but the US trade representative still hasn’t been confirmed, so she hasn’t been able to engage with them just yet, and that there is also a 90-day notice period that exists in American law around the agreement that has not been triggered yet, so things were still a little ways out. She also invited senators to engage with their American counterparts to help them understand the importance of their trading relationship.

Senator Dawson asked about tapping the parliamentary friendship associations in the chamber to help with the country’s bid for a UN Security Council seat. Freeland noted her meeting with the UN ambassador last week, and noted his detailed plan for engagement around the campaign for the seat, and she praised Dawson’s idea and promised to bring it up with the Ambassador.

Senator Patterson asked about an issue with a remote sensing facility in the Arctic, and outdated agreements causing frustrations for the industry. Freeland said that she was very much aware with the issue and while she wouldn’t comment on specific licensing applications, she was looking to cut the red tape burden for those companies.

Overall, while Freeland was performing much better than she does in the Commons, not relying on notes or talking points, she did however have a tendency to digress and ramble, which was unfortunate because it meant far fewer questions this week than we’ve seen from some other ministers. I’m beginning to suspect that her reliance on those notes in Commons QP is to keep her on track and not to begin telling anecdotes in advance of her answer.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Denise Batters for a well-tailored black wrap dress, and to Senator David Wells for a nicely tailored dark grey suit with a crisp white shirt with French cuffs and light grey striped tie. Style citations go out to Senator Percy Mockler for a dark grey suit with a burgundy shirt and brown striped tie, and to Senator Pierrette Ringuette for a white dress with red and black diagonal patterns.