While the tributes to Rona Ambrose carried on in the House of Commons, international trade minister François-Philippe Champagne was down the hall in the Senate Chamber, taking questions on his portfolio. Senator Smith led off, wondering about the state of the NAFTA discussion, and whether we were facing a “tweak” or a massive change. Champagne noted that he was supporting the minister of Foreign Affairs as part of a whole-of-government approach, and he would be meeting the new US Trade Representative this Friday at an APEC meeting. Smith asked about tax competitiveness with the Americans, with proposed US tax cuts, but Champagne said that they were looking to diversify, becoming a bridge between Pacific and Atlantic economies, discussions with India regarding a FIPA, and exploratory trade talks with China. Champagne also noted that NAFTA has been tweaked eleven times to date.
@journo_dale 2 Senate committees are traveling and Legal committee is sitting now too.
— Senator Linda Frum (@LindaFrum) May 16, 2017
Senator Andreychuk noted the CETA implementation bill and issues that were raised by the Senate committee, before pivoting to her questions as to whether they are looking at TPP-minus America as part of their incremental approach to the Asia Pacific. Champagne first thanked her for the committee work on the CETA bill, before assuring her that the government does have a plan with regard to the Asia Pacific, talking about his meetings in Chile, talks with Vietnam, and exploring the possibility of a trade bloc in South America.
Senator Massicotte asked about specific objectives that the government planned to pursue with other TPP partners, or whether they preferred bilateral agreements with countries like Japan. Champagne said that the key work was diversification of markets, such as softwood lumber to China, and noted that the was going to Japan, Korea and Singapore after his trip to Vietnam before he joined the PM in Italy next week. He also said there would be a campaign to explain the benefits of trade, particularly with the EU.
Senator Saint-Germain asked about international privacy protections with software markets. Champagne noted that much of our trade is moving to services instead of goods, and relayed a story about how Canada is not only exporting softwood to China, but also construction and environmental solutions.
Senator Wallin asked about the Chinese plans for new road and beltway talks with a new “silk road” to places like Pakistan, and what impact that would have post-TPP. Champagne said that there were multi-faceted initiatives in the region, and that he has tasked his officials to come up with a set of options and present them at an upcoming meeting so that various delegations can see what options are on the table.
Senator Carignan asked about changing Treasury Board rules around travel and hospitality that were included in the budget bill. Champagne noted that competition for investment is ferocious, and he wanted to ensure that they wanted to ensure after-market service (and he went into recruiting a CEO for an organisation, but I was lost by then).
Senator Lang asked about reprofiled military spending, funding shortfalls, and why they were buying shares in the Asian Development Bank when that money should be investing in our military. Champagne mentioned conversations he had with military personnel during the floods and he didn’t hear those same concerns, and that investing in multilateral organisations like that Bank would put Canada where it matters.
Senator Eggleton first regaled some memories about his own time as trade minister, and asked about plans to implement trade agreements, which can be the hardest part. Champagne noted that it was a challenge, and went on some tangent about selling lobster in Europe and opportunities for SMEs and women entrepreneurs.
Champagne likes to go on tangents. It's hard to follow the thread on many of them. #SenQP
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) May 16, 2017
Senator Ringuette asked about the precarious situation of Atlantic Canada, and the how there should be Atlantic seats on an agency board (and I’m sorry but I wasn’t sure which one she was referring to). Champagne talked about the openness to investment and that Canada is a beacon of stability and diversity.
Overall, the longer that Senate QP went on, the harder it got to follow the plot. There were references to appointments to some kind of board or agency that cropped up and I confess that I wasn’t able to determine just which one they were talking about (not for lack of trying), which didn’t help today. As for Champagne’s performance, the longer that QP lasted, the more he meandered about his answers, and I found it hard to track where he was going and what he was talking about, especially when he started going on about lobsters and SMEs and women entrepreneurs on a question about how to best implement trade agreements. I will rate his performance as one of the less impressive ones to date.
Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator David Wells for a tailored black suit with a light blue shirt and red tie, and to Senator Raynell Andreychuk for a black suit with a popped collar and a cream top with a long grey scarf. Style citations go out to Senator Rosa Gálvez for a busy floral jacket with a cream coloured top, and to Senator Larry Smith for an unfortunate dull pink shirt with a boxy dark grey suit and brown spotted tie. Special mention goes out to Senator Diane Bellemare for a red leather skirt with a black checked jacket.