The biggest politics headlines of the summer so far

OTTAWA – Have you been dock-side or tied up with your family over the last few summer months, or just taking a hiatus from political news? With the fall federal election call just weeks away—here’s’s recap of the biggest political headlines of the summer so far.

PM Trudeau broke ethics act in relation to SNC-Lavalin

On Aug. 14, federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion released his bombshell report on his months-long SNC-Lavalin probe, and found that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke the federal Conflict of Interest Act in relation to the SNC-Lavalin scandal, by seeking to influence Jody Wilson-Raybould in “many ways.”

The commissioner found that Trudeau acted improperly when using his position of authority over Wilson-Raybould, the then-justice minister and attorney general, in an effort to have her overrule the director of public prosecution’s decision not to negotiate a deal with Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin that would see the company avoid a criminal prosecution over charges of corruption and fraud stemming from an RCMP investigation.

He said the evidence showed that Trudeau both directly and indirectly, through his staff, sought to exert influence over Wilson-Raybould’s decision on the matter, after months of government officials and the prime minister denying that was the case.

These findings have renewed opposition outrage and calls for accountability. The prime minister has not apologized, as he did the first time he was found in contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act. While accepting responsibility, Trudeau has maintained that the actions of he and his staff were solely about protecting jobs.

Canada’s getting a new ambassador to the U.S.

On Aug. 8, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, announced he would be resigning at the end of August to pursue a career in the private sector.

In accepting his resignation, the prime minister said that MacNaughton “remains a trusted advisor, friend, and counselor,” and thanked him for his “tireless” and “critical” work. Sources have told CTV News that MacNaughton will be willing to help out with the Liberals’ reelection campaign if asked.

It was then announced days later that he will be heading up the Canadian operations of Palantir Technologies, the Silicon Valley-based data integration and analytics software giant. The company has recently faced criticism over its work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has been enforcing U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Kirsten Hillman will become Canada’s acting ambassador to the U.S. upon MacNaughton’s departure. Hillman has been Canada’s deputy ambassador since 2017 and prior to that was the assistant deputy minister of the trade agreements and negotiations branch at Global Affairs Canada. An official replacement is not expected to be named until after the election, by whomever forms government.

Contention over alleged ‘pressure’ on ex-China diplomats

On July 30, a special summer meeting was forced by the opposition Conservative and NDP members, to discuss allegations that a high-level civil servant put pressure on former diplomats to align their public comments about China with the government’s message.

This meeting was prompted by reports that two former diplomats who had been commenting publicly about the ongoing Canada-China tensions—David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques—were asked to speak with one voice on the matter.

Accusations of politicizing the troubled Canada-China relationship flew across the meeting room floor, with the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs claiming that the Conservatives were simply attempting to score points.

The opposition desire to study the matter was ultimately shut down, after the government defended the outreach, citing the lives of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and the livelihoods of the farmers that China’s trade actions have jeopardized.

Parliament’s not going to be recalled to ratify NAFTA

On July 29, Trudeau declared that Canada’s ratification of the new NAFTA deal won’t happen until the fall, given the U.S. House of Representatives had wrapped up its summer session without signing off on the agreement.

Since the deal was reached, the Liberals have said they intended to move in tandem with the Americans when it comes to ratification of the new North American Free Trade Agreement.

The House of Commons adjourned on June 20, leaving the bill in limbo , and Trudeau’s remark chilled the prospect of a summer recall of Parliament to pass the renegotiated trilateral trade pact.

“We of course benefit right now from the existing NAFTA that ensures that Canadians are well-served with good and reliable access to the North American market,” Trudeau said at the time. “But we also look forward to ratification of the new NAFTA, but we will do that in line with the American process when it picks up again this fall.”

Fighter jet procurement launched

On July 23, the federal government announced the official request for proposals for Canada’s 88 new fighter jets to replace the aging CF-18 fleet and upgrade the Air Force’s capabilities.

The requests for proposals have been sent to the four suppliers in the running for the $19-billion competition: Sweden’s Saab Aeronautics, U.K.’s Airbus, and American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Bidders will have two opportunities to show they can meet the security and interoperability requirements, and will be receiving feedback from the government about any compliance issues. The security aspect of the pitches is due in fall 2019, with final proposals submitted by March 2020. Bidders will have to provide a plan for economic benefits to Canada that are equal to the value of their proposed contract.

The estimated budget for this “once in a generation” procurement does not include the cost for sustainment, after bringing these aircraft into service.

The Food Guide got political

On July 17, while speaking at the Dairy Farmers of Canada annual meeting in Saskatoon, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he would give the new Food Guide a new look because he thinks it is “not based on sound science.” He also went on to say at the industry gathering that he believes chocolate milk “saved” his son’s life, as a picky eater.

The Food Guide was updated in January, for the first time in over a decade after various rounds of consultations. The latest version puts a decreased emphasis on the consumption of dairy and meat, recommends that water be the “beverage of choice,” and suggests that plant-based proteins should be consumed more often.

Scheer’s comments were largely rebutted by health experts and dieticians, saying that Scheer’s position is the one not based in evidence. Some said that Scheer’s remarks were made in an attempt to secure the support of the supply-managed dairy sector, which has been credited with helping Scheer secure his positon in a closely-fought Conservative leadership bid.

In less time than it takes to open a carton of milk, the Liberals pounced on Scheer’s remarks, accusing him of “declaring war” on the Canada Food Guide and spreading “misinformation”.

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