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A Cringeworthy ‘Hinge’

Credit: Canadian Press

The second edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization is available now on Amazon worldwide.

A few years ago, historian and former war correspondent Erik Durschmeid wrote a book called “The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History”. I bought the book at the time based on the provocative premise. It was a good read – and it was thought provoking.

I believe that years from now we will see a Commonwealth Trade Network that reorients and reforms the global economy – that saves globalization from its own missteps and oversights. I also believe that the much discussed CANZUK grouping will be the first step on that path.

That first step requires four enthusiastic partners.

We know from extensive polling that a clear majority in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK support it. We also know that political leaders in Australia and New Zealand are enthusiastic, and that British politicians scoping out a post-Brexit world have prioritized these partnerships.

That leaves Canada.

Of course, many will point out that the opposition Conservative Party voted to include the negotiation of a CANZUK Treaty in its 2019 election manifesto, and that a number of its prominent members – including party leader Andrew Scheer and Shadow Foreign Minister Erin O’Toole have been vocal on it.

The reality, however, has been that the governing Liberals have not been as enthusiastic. In fact, the only positive word from them has been acknowledgment of seeking to grandfather the terms of CETA into a new Canada-UK deal post-Brexit. When you consider that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that the ground work can come after Brexit, meaning that a deal would not be in place for Day 1, you get a sense of the priorities at play.

Like his father, this Prime Minister Trudeau has not demonstrated any great interest in the Commonwealth. While Canada does not have a ‘Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs’, it does have a ‘Secretary of State for la Francophonie’ – and has had one since the 1970’s. In fact, the only significant action of any federal government in this direction was when then Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Senator Hugh Segal as a ‘Special Envoy to the Commonwealth.’

To be blunt, a Liberal win in the upcoming election in October equals continued neglect of the Commonwealth, and of CANZUK. Up to about two weeks ago, the prospects of another Liberal majority win were very strong.

In the space of a fortnight, however, polls that showed a five-point lead for the Liberals over the Tories now show a seven-point Conservative lead, and it could go even higher. If the trend holds, the Tories could win a comfortable majority, and the newly elected federal government would be putting an emphasis on the Commonwealth – particularly CANZUK – not seen since the days of John Diefenbaker in the late 1950’s

Like Durschmeid’s work, it all comes down to a hinge factor – SNC Lavalin.

The company, one of the largest construction and engineering firms in the world, has significant legal troubles, from bribery to fraud. In one instance, it has been alleged that executives paid $30,000 to supply the visiting son of former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi with Montreal ‘escorts.’

The office in charge of federal prosecutions was adamant with proceeding with action, and the former Minister of Justice (and Attorney General) Jody Wilson-Raybould concurred.

What transpired was a vigorous lobbying effort from staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office – and the Prime Minister himself – to get Wilson-Raybould to exercise her discretion to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to allow a ‘deferred prosecution agreement’ that would allow SNC Lavalin relief from the worst of what it faced. Bear in mind that such deferred agreements were not even possible in the Canadian system until the passage of the last federal budget – a clause buried in the reams of paper required to take account of the nation’s finances.

Some UK commentators have begun to pick up on this issue, but they have yet to talk about what may prove to be an even worse situation. Even if the government recovers from this specific hit, it may not recover from the pending Norman trial.

It involves the government’s procurement of supply ship capabilities for the Royal Canadian Navy, the unexplained shift in contract from one shipyard to another, and the government’s decision to pin the ensuing leak of details on one individual – Vice-Chief of the Armed Forces, Admiral Mark Norman. Despite there being over 70 people in the know on this file, the government deemed Norman to be the leak. In fact, the RCMP’s investigation seemed to focus on him and him alone.

Norman was temporarily removed as the nation’s Vice-Chief of Defence Staff in January of 2017, was criminally charged with breach of trust in March of 2018, and permanently removed from his post in June of that year. Norman’s defence lawyer, Marie Henein, is no lightweight and is acknowledged to be one of the toughest defence lawyers in the country. In recent years, she defended former CBC Radio personality Jian Ghomeshi against multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. While the media was fixated on the departure of Trudeau’s advisor Gerald Butts and the upcoming testimony of Wilson-Raybould’s testimony to the House Justice Committee, Henein had subpoenas served on the Prime Minister, his chief of staff Katie Telford, Butts and a number of others.

This case is timed to start in August – two months before Canadians go to the polls. As cases of this nature generally do not wrap up in a day or two, the odds are that Canadians will be watching news reports of the Norman trial on election day. They will no doubt hear the defence’s allegations about political interference from then-Treasury Board Secretary Scott Brison, who recently resigned his seat to spend more time with his husband and kids in rural Nova Scotia, and still finding time among all the parent-teacher conferences and yard work to agree to become Vice Chairman of BMO Financial Group, not in rural Nova Scotia. They may also ask about James Cudmore, the CBC reporter who broke the story, and then gave it up, only to start a new job as a communications advisor in the office of the Minister of Defence.

Canada’s passivity regarding Brexit, and the potential of CANZUK, is a reflection of the government of the day. The current occupants of the PMO and the government benches might have interest insofar as it provides a convenient soundbite or some positive script about multilateralism and Canada’s foreign policy, but it is highly unlikely that any expenditure of effort will happen under their sinecure. A change in government would guarantee a 180 degree turn on this issue.

As passionately as many of us feel about CANZUK, it must be admitted that the next Canadian federal election will not hinge on that issue. On the other hand, it may become a major step closer to reality thanks to the events playing out in Ottawa as we speak.

In true ‘hinge factor’ fashion, the prospects of a quadrilateral trade network may inevitably rest on the bungled efforts of Ottawa politicos to nudge a Cabinet Minister and sideline a military commander for political gain.

About Brent Cameron

Profile photo of Brent Cameron
A writer and commentator on Commonwealth trade issues, Brent Cameron is the author of 'The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade' (2004, 2018) and numerous essays and articles. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Commonwealth Exchange, a London, UK-based research group. Cameron worked as Telecommunications Coordinator for the Federal Ministry of Labour in Ottawa, Canada before joining SES Canada Research (now Nanos Research) as a Research Associate. He also worked as an assistant to former Ontario MPP Harry Danford, Member for Hastings-Peterborough and Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Cameron was a member of the Advance Team for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the 1988 Canadian federal general election. During the 2007 Ontario Referendum on Electoral Reform, he acted as Coordinator for the 'No MMP' campaign for eastern Ontario (excluding Ottawa). Cameron has also served as a member and contributing columnist on the Community Editorial Board of the Kingston (ON) Whig-Standard newspaper. He holds an honours degree in politics from Queen's University and a Certificate in Municipal Administration from St. Lawrence College (Kingston, ON). In 2014, Brent Cameron was elected to the municipal council for the Township of Central Frontenac, in southeastern Ontario, Canada, and serving as Deputy Mayor in 2017.

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