Keep Doors Open at all levels

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‘Very unusual’ for White House to try using Trudeau to influence Trump, say observers, but ‘expect more’

Marie-Danielle Smith | May 9, 2017 7:16 PM ET=-

OTTAWA — It is a matter of course for officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the White House to keep lines of communication open between them, but observers say it was “very unusual” that Trump administration staff last month encouraged Justin Trudeau to try to influence their boss.

In late April, it appeared President Donald Trump was giving serious consideration to scrapping NAFTA, the trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that he has repeatedly called the “worst ever.” (It remains unclear whether he was seriously considering it or whether it was a bluff.)

Canadian government sources told the National Post Monday that a White House official took it upon themself to call Trudeau’s office amid Trump’s pondering, asking PMO staff to have Trudeau give Trump a call, so the pro-trade prime minister could talk the president out of withdrawing from NAFTA.

The Canadian Press then reported it had been Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump and a key White House adviser, who had called Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford.

The Associated Press confirmed that Kushner had been on the Washington end of the line, but cited an unnamed White House official who claimed the Canadians had instigated the call after news of the preparation of a draft executive order that would dismantle the trade agreement was leaked to news outlets.Regardless of who dialled first, what the reports have in common is a seeming attempt by Kushner to influence Trump, without his knowledge, via a foreign head of government — and close co-operation between the camps to facilitate a call that Trump would later cite as a reason for choosing to renegotiate, rather than kill, NAFTA.While calling on a foreign government to influence the president is “unusual,” it probably doesn’t break any formal rules or laws, according to one legal expert.

“I don’t think there’s a crime here,” said Carlton Lawson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis. The U.S. has a law called the Logan Act, which prohibits citizens “without authority of the United States” from trying to influence foreign governments in “disputes or controversies” involving the U.S. It was passed in 1799 after a Philadelphia state legislator, Dr. George Logan, tried to negotiate directly with French officials to undermine the foreign policy of the party that controlled Congress and the White House. But, Lawson said, the act is ambiguously worded, and not once in its 218 years on the books has it been used to prosecute somebody.

Besides, Lawson said, “the optics would look terrible” for Trump to indict a member of staff, and he wouldn’t fire Kushner, though he “might yell at him.”

Steve Saideman, the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University, said it’s “very unusual” that “staffers are using media and other countries to win policy battles.”

“I think it is dangerous because outsiders are being asked to manipulate the president,” he said, noting Kushner must have had “high comfort with Canada” to feel he could set it up.

Saideman said Trudeau should be careful and remain neutral as often as possible — it might not always be in Canada’s interest to poke at Trump when the White House requests it. “Expect four more years of this,” he added.

Eddie Goldenberg, who served as a senior adviser and then chief of staff to prime minister Jean Chrétien from 1993 to 2003, said “there is nothing normal about this White House” and the Trump White House is acting “in a way that nobody has ever before.”

In the past, he said, calls between the American president and the Canadian prime minister would be jointly organized by their national security advisers. It wasn’t “call me in five minutes,” he said. “It was always organized in advance. Usually they knew to a certain extent what they were going to be talking about.”

It’s not clear, he said, to what extent the White House thinks it can use Trudeau to influence Trump. “But there’s no question in my mind, if the president of the United States wants to talk to the prime minister of Canada, the prime minister should respond. … You make the call.”

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who served in the U.S. and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said “smart” Canadian administrations have historically established close ties with American counterparts.

Gary Clement/National Post

Gary Clement/National Post

Robertson said under past administrations, it was “fairly normal” for officials to contact each other ahead of time to set up calls between their bosses, and “not uncommon” for staffers to have conversations that weren’t known to the president and prime minister — “the principals don’t need to be informed.”

Being able to have a “frank conversation back and forth” is especially important with an unpredictable president south of the border.

When troubling news leaks, staffers should be comfortable enough with each other that they can “phone across” with such clarifications as, “hey, … don’t get spooked by this, or don’t get angry about this, let me put this in context,” said Robertson.

“You keep as many doors open as you can.”

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Canada US Relations in wake of Trump victory

Americans fleeing Trump presidency could boost Canada’s pot industry, immigration lawyers say

Susana Mas, Postmedia News | November 16, 2016 9:27 AM ET
More from Postmedia News

Lyle Aspinall/ Postmedia NetworkAmericans wishing to flee a Donald Trump presidency could work in Canada’s soon-to-be-legalized pot industry, say two immigration lawyers who dedicated a how-to podcast for our neighbours to the south.

Canada is the first G7 country that has committed to legalizing marijuana, announcing at the United Nations earlier this year that it would introduce new legislation by the spring of 2017, even though doing so would breach three international treaties signed by previous Canadian governments.

A federal task force led by Canada’s former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan is expected to report back by the end of November with recommendations on how to move forward.

Many startup companies will be seeking the expertise required to get their businesses off the ground as Canada inches closer to legalizing marijuana, immigration lawyers Betsy Kane and Mark Holthe said.

According to Kane, who is with the firm Capelle Kane in Ottawa, Canadian companies could easily tap into U.S. talent in a variety of occupations found under NAFTA

Pharmacists, biologists, chemists, biochemists, horticulturalists, plant breeders and even soil scientists will soon find themselves in “huge demand,” Kane said.

“These type of professionals should be seeking out opportunities immediately and in the next year because I think there is a lot of demand and these people will get immediate work permits with a simple offer from many of these startup marijuana companies.”


PostmediaA trimmer working for a cannabis grower from the Kootenay region

However, Holthe, a former immigration officer turned partner at the firm of Holthe Tilleman in Calgary, cautioned that not every pot enthusiast would qualify for a three-year work permit.

“Just because you have a private grow-up in your backyard doesn’t mean you’re going to qualify as a professional under NAFTA,” Holthe said.

Kane, who has some experience bringing in marijuana professionals, said she recently helped a client apply for a work permit under the plant breeder occupation under NAFTA.

“I was feeling a little nervous,” Kane said, but it was a “slam dunk — no different than a professor.”

Ed Kaiser / Postmedia

Ed Kaiser / PostmediaCanadian Cannabis Clinics in Edmonton

In other words, Democrats who want to bide their time in Canada until the next U.S. presidential election in 2020, could find themselves at the forefront of a multibillion-dollar industry.

Canada’s move toward legalizing marijuana was bolstered last week when Americans in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted in favour of legalizing it for recreational use.

Their votes brought to nine the number of states that have given the nod to pot, besides Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington.

With the right credentials, Americans in those states could lend their skills to Canadian companies and move back at the end of their work permit.

Gavin Young / Postmedia

Gavin Young / PostmediaMarijuana plants grow inside one of the ten grow rooms at Aurora Cannabis’ production facility near Cremona, Alberta

“The beauty of NAFTA,” according to Holthe, “is there is no requirement on the Canadian company to show that there is no Canadian available for the job.”

This is unlike Canada’s express entry immigration system where employers need a document known as a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) before they can hire a foreign worker over a Canadian one.

“You find a company that is willing to hire you and bang, you’re in,” Holthe said.

All of this is assuming that Trump doesn’t tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, as he vowed to do during the U.S. presidential campaign. Canada has already signalled that it is prepared to renegotiate NAFTA.

You find a company that is willing to hire you and bang, you’re in

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the business case speaks for itself.

Canada and the U.S. exchange approximately $1.6 million in goods and services every minute, according to the federal government, with nearly nine million U.S. jobs depending on trade and investment with Canada.

Matthew Staver / Bloomberg

Matthew Staver / BloombergA customer shops for recreational marijuana inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014

“For most of the states that voted for Trump, their principle export market is Canada,” Robertson said.

Reopening NAFTA could be an opportunity for Canada to bring the agreement into the 21st century.

“There are lots of good things about NAFTA but I wouldn’t be opposed to modernizing the occupations list,” Kane said.

Some of the occupations under NAFTA are rarely used and don’t really reflect the technology skills of today’s professionals.

“There’s a whole series of professions that we didn’t think of, that didn’t exist in 1994 when NAFTA came into effect,” said Robertson.


Take a look inside Alberta’s only licensed medical… 2:41

As for Canadian employers luring U.S. talent, there’s no doubt Canada could stand to benefit from a Trump exodus, however small.

American celebrities who vowed to move to Canada if Trump won — such as Bryan Cranston who is also in favour of legalizing marijuana — could also find some work in British Columbia where the film and TV industry continues to thrive largely due to generous tax credits.

“Even if one per cent of those who said they were thinking of coming here did, it would not be insignificant,” Robertson said.

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Canada and Iran

Release of jailed Canadian a sign Liberals making progress in relations with Iran

Marie-Danielle Smith | September 26, 2016 9:02 PM ET

OTTAWA — While Montreal Professor Homa Hoodfar was still imprisoned in Iran, Canadian and Iranian officials held several meetings this summer to negotiate the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, according to a source close to the Foreign Ministry.

Though impasses remain, some experts say Hoodfar’s release on Monday is a sign the Liberal government is making progress on a promise to reopen channels cut off when the previous Conservative government severed ties with Iran in 2012.

In the meetings, officials discussed irritants that could hinder progress. Iranians highlighted the Conservative-era Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which allows “victims of terrorism” to sue foreign governments labelled as state sponsors of terrorism — an issue that proved a “show-stopper” in negotiations, the source said.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, who said earlier this year he has no intention of taking Iran off that list, met his Iranian counterpart for the first time at UN General Assembly meetings last week.

At the meeting, Dion brought up the cases of the imprisoned Iranian-Canadian professor and the children of Alison Azer, who were taken to Iran by their father more than a year ago.

Oman News Agency via AP

Oman News Agency via APRetired Iranian-Canadian professor Homa Hoodfar, left, speaks to the media in Muscat airport, Oman, after being released by Iranian authorities, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016While Azer’s plight continues, Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA reported Monday that the 65-year-old professor had been freed on humanitarian grounds and flown out of the country.

Margie Mendell, a Concordia professor and close friend, said Hoodfar’s niece, Amanda Ghahremani, met her in Oman, the first stop on her journey home.

“She’s very frail, she looks extremely thin … and very worn,” Mendell said of a report she received. “I suspect that she’s not in good health, but she’s free, she’s free and she’s out of Iran and she will get medical care and her medication.”

Hoodfar suffers from a serious neurological condition and her family had said requests for a check-up by an independent specialist doctor while jailed were ignored.

She was arrested and sent to Tehran’s Evin prison on June 6. The exact reasons for her detention were never made public but her family and colleagues have indicated she ran afoul of Iranian authorities due to her research on homosexuality and women’s sexuality in the context of Muslim countries.

Nader Hashemi, a Canadian professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Denver, said he thinks the timing of her release is not a coincidence.

Jacques Boissinot/CP

Jacques Boissinot/CPForeign Minister Stéphane Dion

“I suspect that now the prospects of diplomatic relations are much better today than they were yesterday,” Hashemi said Monday. “This was, I think, a condition that Ottawa placed before Iran.”

A statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government had been “actively and constructively engaged at the highest levels” in Hoodfar’s case. The statement confirmed Canada worked with officials from countries with embassies in Tehran, including Oman, Italy and Switzerland.

“The government of Canada is committed to a step-by-step re-engagement with Iran. Engagement is a tougher path but a necessary one to deal more effectively with Middle East security issues and to hold Iran to account on human rights,” said Kristine Racicot, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada.

Not all are convinced that this is a step in the right direction.

The Iranians still have “a great deal of explaining to do” with regards to Hoodfar’s imprisonment, said Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent.

“I don’t want to speculate, but my gut tells me it has more to do with them not wanting to have yet another death that they can’t explain on their hands,” he said, a theory Hashemi also mentioned since recent reports indicated Hoodfar’s health was deteriorating.

“We are highly skeptical of any talks that may be going on at the moment,” he said, adding that based on Iran’s behaviour, “we believe that any discussions with the regime are of no value.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said for Canadian consular cases, “it’s better to be there.”

“We’ve got a lot of Canadians who would be considered dual nationals, and if you’re not there, you can’t protect their interests,” he said of putting Canadian officials in Tehran.

“This government has put a priority on people, and that would probably be something that was underlined in the feelers that were probably put out — that before we can move forward, we’ve got to see evidence of better behaviour.”

Still, this is going to be “more of a waltz rather than a quick tango,” Robertson said.

Peter Jones, associate professor at the University of Ottawa, noted that while the Iranian foreign ministry is “keen to re-establish relations” with Canada, its intelligence services and the Revolutionary Guard are much less eager.

A cautious step forward could be to accredit ambassadors in neighbouring countries, Jones said, who’d be able to visit Iran and work on Canadians’ consular cases without having to open an embassy.

Even that would be a boon for Alison Azer, whose four children were kidnapped to Iran by their father more than a year ago.

“One of the problems with Alison’s case is there is no diplomatic representation in Tehran to pursue the grievances and the problems that Canadian citizens have,” Hashemi said. “Up until now she’s had the door frozen shut.”

In a statement to the National Post Monday, Azer said she was happy to learn of Hoodfar’s release. “This demonstrates what diplomacy from the highest levels of government can accomplish,” she said.

“Today’s news gives me cautious optimism I will be reunited with my four beautiful children soon.”

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Counterfeit Goods and Perimeter Security

John Ivison: Canada will do whatever it takes to ensure security of U.S. — if it doesn’t cost too much

John Ivison | May 5, 2014 8:02 PM ET

A freighter passes by the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit on the right and Windsor, Canada on the left. Bill C-8, which is at an advanced stage in the House, cracks down on copyright infringement but makes the explicit point of exempting its provisions for goods that are in transshipment.

ROMAIN BLANQUART/ Detroit Free PressA freighter passes by the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit on the right and Windsor, Canada on the left. Bill C-8, which is at an advanced stage in the House, cracks down on copyright infringement but makes the explicit point of exempting its provisions for goods that are in transshipment.

When Stephen Harper and Barack Obama unveiled the Beyond the Border initiative, the Prime Minister said that what threatens the security and well-being of the United States threatens the security and well-being of Canada.

Three years on, the reality is that Canada will do whatever it takes to ensure the security and well-being of the United States — as long as it doesn’t cost too much.

The most recent threat to progress on “thinning” the border is a clause in a bill currently before the House of Commons that removes the requirement for Canadian customs agents to search for counterfeit goods in transshipment — for example, arriving in Vancouver from China and bound for the U.S.

Bruce Heyman, the new U.S. Ambassador in Ottawa, raised the issue of bill C8, the Counterfeit Products Act, in a speech to the Canada-America Border Trade Alliance Monday.

The bill, which is at an advanced stage in the House, cracks down on copyright infringement but makes the explicit point of exempting its provisions for goods that are in transshipment. In his speech, Mr. Heyman said the problem is easily solved – simply remove the exemption clause. “In an integrated supply chain, the clause opens both American and Canadian consumers to risk,” said Steve Pike, spokesman at the U.S. embassy.

Sources suggest that the reason for the exemption is money: Industry Canada, which is taking the lead because it is viewed as an intellectual property (rather than a border security) file, does not want to commit to paying overtime to customs officials. No one from the departments of Industry or Public Safety returned calls or emails seeking comment.

It’s the perfect example of government by silo. It may save the Canada Border Security Agency’s overtime bill but how much is it going to cost the Canadian economy? One senior American official called the exemption sub-section, “the border thickening clause.”

Beyond the Border was launched to great fanfare. High hopes were expressed for a pilot project in Prince Rupert, B.C., where goods that landed were checked and loaded at the port, before being shipped by rail to Chicago, without being re-inspected in Minnesota. The idea was that this initiative would be rolled out to include the ports of Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal.

That will simply not happen if the transshipment exemption remains in place. For the Americans, this is a public safety issue — they’re not worried about fake watches, rather it’s things like counterfeit airbags that may or may not work.

“This is just us being stupid — penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who now writes on trade issues. “It doesn’t make any sense and flies in the face of us trying to create a secure perimeter.”

He pointed out that there has been considerable public investment in building the gateway policy to give the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert a competitive advantage in the transshipment business. “We don’t want to lose this over security concerns. This allowance for non-inspection is short-sighted and contrary to our commitment to the perimeter.”

Eric Miller, vice president at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said that the pilot project in Prince Rupert has achieved good results, with re-inspections in Minnesota much reduced. “The bottom line is the Americans are doing what they said they would do,” he said.

The impact of the counterfeit bill passing as drafted could be that, “You’re not going to get the same degree of expedited clearance at the border as the Americans say ‘We’re going to have to add inspections,’” he said. “It’s potentially destructive.”

The whole idea behind the Beyond the Border initiative was to reduce congestion, particularly for just-in-time delivery manufacturers on both sides of the 49th parallel such as in the auto industry.

To bring in legislation that actively works counter to that goal must be preposterous for anyone who hasn’t read Milton Friedman. The rest of us are already resigned to the fact that if government were put in charge of the Sahara Desert, within five years they would be a shortage of sand.

National Post

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