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NDP MP Sylvain Chicoine accused of sexism in lawsuit

Written By doni icha on Sabtu, 08 November 2014 | 21.16

NDP deputy veterans affairs critic Sylvain Chicoine demonstrated a sexist and misogynist attitude toward former staffer Fabiola Ferro, failed to deal with harassment by another staffer, and fired her without cause, Ferro alleges in a lawsuit filed Friday in Ontario Superior Court.

The suit claims damages of $194,000 and alleges Chicoine reprimanded Ferro when she complained about the alleged harassing behaviour, tried to fire her when she took the issue to the union, and then denied her references.

The lawsuit claims Chicoine contributed to a poisoned, toxic and humiliating work environment, and alleges he acted like a tyrant.

Ferro says another Chicoine staffer, David Cimon, started harassing her, but Chicoine didn't deal with the harassment and showed favouritism toward Cimon, finally firing Ferro last month.

Ferro, 34, started working for Chicoine as a parliamentary assistant in September 2011, and Cimon started harassing her a few months later, the lawsuit alleges. 

Ferro says Cimon threatened her, unfairly criticized her work and gave her additional work without the authority to do so. She alleges Cimon increasingly isolated her and that he did all of this because she is a woman.

"We are alleging a number of things in our claim, but certainly the fact that we believe she was treated differentially on the basis of her sex, and that that is a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, is a large part of her claim," Ferro's lawyer, Andrew Lister, told CBC News.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

In a statement, Chicoine said he was Ferro's employer and received a harassment complaint "by another employee."

"I took these allegations seriously because I believe that harassment has no place in a healthy work environment," he said in the statement.

"According to provisions of the collective agreement, Mrs. Ferro's allegations were immediately subject to a formal investigation, which found them to be baseless. I am confident that the courts will reach the same conclusion."

Sexist and misogynist

Ferro says in the lawsuit that Chicoine demonstrated a sexist and misogynist attitude toward her, favouring Cimon because he's a man. She alleges Cimon was allowed to arrive late and take long holidays while she was questioned over every absence and late arrival.

Ferro further alleges that Chicoine used insulting language with her.

Ferro alleges Chicoine didn't address her repeated complaints and says she finally filed a grievance with the NDP union in April 2013. Cimon filed a counter-grievance, alleging Ferro harassed him and falsely accused him.

The lawsuit alleges Chicoine fired Ferro, but not Cimon, that month. 

A union committee, which included a spokesman for Chicoine, looked into the matter and put Ferro on leave until it could make its decision.

The committee wrote a report in May 2014 that rejected both complaints, Ferro alleges in the lawsuit.

Fired last month

Chicoine sent her a letter in September calling her to a meeting to discuss her return to work, she says in the lawsuit. She alleges he suggested in the letter that he'd consider any refusal to be a resignation.

Ferro met in early October with the NDP's director of operations, who offered her a data entry job with a 60-day trial period on the condition she drop the harassment complaint and renounce her right to sue Chicoine and the party, she alleges.

Ferro alleges Chicoine fired her on Oct. 21 through a letter from his lawyer to hers. Ferro's lawsuit says Chicoine alleged she'd abandoned her post, a claim she denies in the lawsuit.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the party's union has already dealt with the complaint, which he qualified as cross-allegations between two employees.

"Other recourses are being tried right now. I'll let the courts determine whether or not anything further is going to actually happen,​ but frankly as a lawyer I will tell you I have my doubts​," Mulcair said of the lawsuit.

"We'll let a judge determine whether or not the proper authority exists for the case to move forward through the civil litigation system," Lister said.
 


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F-35 purchase by Canada suggested in Pentagon briefing

A leaked Pentagon briefing says Canada has signalled to Washington that it wants to buy at least four F-35 stealth fighters, but a spokesman for Public Works Minister Diane Finley insisted Friday that no decision has been made.

The slide presentation, delivered to the secretary of the U.S. Air Force on Oct. 27, 2014, shows Canada has asked to swap places with the Americans and place the order in the current fiscal year, which means a possible delivery date of either 2016 or 2017.

The briefing indicates the Americans would make it up by taking four of the aircraft Canada had already planned to buy in 2019.

The U.S. said it would agree to the switch as long as the long-delayed development of the controversial fighters remains on track and that no other allies asked for a similar consideration.

"Canada needs to deliver Letter of Intent with updated beddown plan to F-35 (project engineering office) — (estimated completion date) mid-November," said the briefing, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.

The presentation by U.S. Lt.-Gen. Chris Bogdan — head of the F-35 program at the Pentagon — also said the U.S. project office has begun the process of notifying Congress.

The Conservative government put its plan on hold almost two years ago — they billed it as hitting the "reset button" — after the auditor general and the parliamentary budget officer criticized both the departments of National Defence as well as Public Works, saying the cost of the program had been understated and inadequately researched.

Then-defence minister Peter MacKay signalled the government's intention to buy the radar-evading jet in 2010, but a series of production delays and uncertainty over the price tag made the program a political lightning rod.

When it first proposed the program, the government intended to buy 65 jets. The briefing gives no hint at a timetable for potential follow-on purchases.

Marcel Poulin, a spokesman for Finley, insisted Friday that "no decision has been made on the replacement of Canada's CF-18 fleet."

He went on to note that the government has committed to extending the life of the current fighter fleet to keep them flying until through 2025.

Poulin, however, refused to address the specific issue of how to reconcile that long-standing position with the contents of the briefing.

After question period Friday, NDP defence critic Jack Harris called it "outrageous" that the government appeared to be going ahead with the F-35 in spite of all the controversy surrounding it.

"This is going on behind the backs of Canadians after the debacle that we've had with the F-35, keeping everybody in the dark about the price, sole sourcing it after they said they were going to have an open competition," he said.

"Canadians are ... just being deceived by this government taking action without the kind of transparency that's required, without the proper debate, without notifying Canadians, without notifying Parliament."

Since early summer, the federal cabinet has been studying a series of reports looking at alternatives to the F-35 and the expected industrial benefits. A decision had been expected earlier in the fall.

Alan Williams, a former official in charge of defence procurement, said it's hard to imagine the government only buying four aircraft and what the letter of intent will signal — if and when it is sent to the Pentagon— is de facto approval to proceed with the F-35.

"You can spin it any way you like," he said. "Once you've dipped your toe into the water, your foot will follow."

The government originally claimed the cost of buying and maintaining the fighters would be $16 billion over 20 years. Subsequent investigations by both the auditor and the PBO reached much higher totals.

An independent analysis commissioned by the Public Works secretariat overseeing the program said the cost would be around $44 billion once everything from fuel to pilot salaries and disposal was figured in.

In a statement, Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray expressed shock that word of the proposal was coming out of Washington, not Ottawa.

"Why is an American general informing us that Canada is set to order four F-35s in the next few weeks?" Murray asked.

"Pressing the 'reset' button on the CF-18 replacement clearly hasn't taught the Conservatives a single thing about conducting an open and transparent procurement process."

Canada signals it intends to buy at least four F-35s by 2017: Pentagon briefing by TheCanadianPress


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Liberal harassment allegations: NDP MPs angry with Trudeau's handling

What began with a non-partisan attempt to deal with serious allegations of personal misconduct against two Liberal MPs has descended into a nasty political dispute between the Liberals and the NDP.

CBC News has learned that the two NDP MPs who came forward with allegations against two Liberal MP are "angry" at the way Justin Trudeau publicly handled the situation.

"They are angry at Mr. Trudeau," NDP whip Nycole Turmel told CBC Radio's The House. "They are not angry that they spoke about it, but they are angry at Mr. Trudeau that they had to face that," she said.

Turmel added that she has spoken to both complainants and that they are both struggling to come to terms with the fact their stories are in the public domain, even if they haven't been named. 

On Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suspended MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti from his caucus pending an investigation into what he called serious allegations of personal misconduct. Hours later, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Trudeau did not warn the complainant he was going to go public with the situation — an action that said has "re-victimized" the two NDP MPs.

NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie told The House she believes the Liberal leader's approach will have even further damaging affects. She claimed his actions might discourage other women from speaking out about harassment.

"I don't think anyone's going to come forward anytime soon," Leslie told The House.

"I don't think it's safe to. I mean, it's not every workplace where you end up doing national media, because you came forward to say I want a safe workplace," she said.

"I think it's going to be cut off, that conversation is cut off, at least in the short term."

But Liberal Party whip Judy Foote maintains her leader had a responsibility to act once the allegations were brought to his attention.

"Certainly the MP that approached Mr. Trudeau had to know that, that he would have to act," Foote told The House. "You cannot sit on something like that."  


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Peter MacKay says he's seen no harassment in Parliament or his party

Justice Minister Peter MacKay says he's pleased to see a "mature discussion" on harassment, but that he's never seen anything like that in the Conservative Party or in Parliament.

Asked how the Conservative Party handles complaints similar to the one Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau says he received from two New Democrat MPs, MacKay suggested he wasn't aware of any.

Cyberbullying bill, C-13

Justice Minister Peter MacKay, seen with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, left, and Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, says he's never seen harassment in the Conservative Party or in Parliament. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"Well, to my knowledge, I haven't seen anything like this, quite frankly, within our party, let alone Parliament," MacKay responded Friday in Toronto.

"So it has been a tremendously eventful number of weeks to say the least, and it has kind of rocked Parliament off its moorings,

The justice minister noted there's no process on Parliament Hill for dealing with allegations of harassment levelled against MPs, but says there should be a "zero tolerance approach."

MacKay hasn't been immune from criticism on that front, however — in 2006, then Liberal MP Mark Holland alleged MacKay referred to MP Belinda Stronach as a dog. MacKay and Stronach had dated before she crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals.

MacKay denied he'd made the remark and said the Liberals were trying to distract "from their own inadequacies."

Being 'outed' doesn't help, Raitt says

Trudeau referred the complaints to House Speaker Andrew Scheer, who directed them to the Board of Internal Economy, a committee of MPs that meets in secret to discuss the administration of the House.

Scheer has offered the services of the House's chief human resources officer, and the House has promised confidentiality to the complainants, his spokeswoman said.

NDP whip Nycole Turmel met with Scheer on Thursday and was told the women needed to make formal complaints.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt tweeted a link Friday morning to the federal government's harassment resolution policy. The policy doesn't apply to MP offices.

"It can be difficult to find your voice and talk about a personal injustice — being 'outed' when you do doesn't help," Raitt wrote on the social networking site.

'I haven't seen anything like this, quite frankly, within our party, let alone Parliament.'—Justice Minister Peter MacKay

The NDP has complained that the MPs who spoke to the Liberals about their concerns didn't know Trudeau would react in so public a manner, and didn't warn them in advance.

The issue is complicated by the fact that one MP approached Trudeau and outed the other, who hadn't wanted to go public.

CBC News reported Thursday that both New Democrat MPs reported the incidents to NDP staff, with one complaint going to Turmel. Both MPs refused to go public or formalize complaint.

Lack confidence to come forward

Health Minister Rona Ambrose also referred to a workplace policy against sexual harassment. Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, she said few people know the facts of the complaints.

"I think we'll have to wait for those to emerge, but I've been involved in this issue my whole life, and what I tell people is to educate yourself," she said.

"I think people need to know what [sexual harassment] is, what it looks like, and that creates a confidence in not only the person that might experience it so they know how to come forward. A lot of young people do not have the confidence to come forward. There's a lot of vulnerable young women and men that are in many workplaces across the country that need to gain that confidence."


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Canada, China sign currency hub deal to boost trade

Canada and China have signed a reciprocal currency deal that's expected to dramatically boost exports.

The hub will foster far easier trade between the Canadian dollar and the Chinese yuan, also known as the renminbi. It makes Canada the first country in the Americas to have a deal to trade in the renminbi.

The signing of the deal was announced in Beijing today by Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is on his third official visit to China.

Authorized by China's central bank, it will allow direct business between the Canadian dollar and the Chinese yuan, cutting out the middle man — in most cases, the U.S. dollar.

China Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, is shown the way by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as they arrive for a welcome ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Canadian exporters forced to use the American currency to do business in China are faced with higher currency exchange costs and longer waits to close deals.

"It's something the prime minister has been talking about. He wants Canadian companies, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, doing more and more work in China, selling goods and services there," said CBC's Catherine Cullen, reporting from Beijing.

Jason Henderson, head of global banking for HSBC Canada, calls the deal great news for Canada, given that China is the second largest economy in the world after the U.S.

If Canada is to maintain the standard of living that it enjoys today, he adds, it needs to tap into the Chinese market. The currency deal is the first step on that path.

Earlier today, Canada and China also signed more than 20 commercial deals valued at more than $1 billion.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement the deals "are a testament to the significant growth taking place in the bilateral commercial relationship."

"Several sectors stand to benefit from these agreements, including sustainable technologies, aerospace, transportation, construction, mining, energy, infrastructure, agri-food, and information and communications technologies sectors," the statement said.

It said trade between Canada and China supports more than 470,000 jobs in Canada a year, which was about 2.67 per cent of total Canadian jobs in 2013.


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Parliament 'back in another decade' when it comes to harassment

Written By doni icha on Jumat, 07 November 2014 | 21.16

Parliament is in many ways living in another decade when it comes to how things work and how women are treated, NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie says.

Leslie spoke to CBC News about the culture around Parliament Hill, one day after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suspended two MPs for "personal misconduct." The candidacies of Newfoundland and Labrador MP Scott Andrews and Quebec MP Massimo Pacetti for the 2015 federal election are also suspended. The allegations of misconduct come from two female New Democrat MPs.

The culture on Parliament Hill is a combination of factors that make it a different workplace than Leslie had ever experienced, she told CBC News.

"I love a lot of the people here, so I'm being really careful with my comments because it's not a bad place all the time," Leslie said.

"It's a really special place. It's a glorious place sometimes. But sexual harassment and harassment in general is an issue. Is it worse here? I'll certainly say it's different here."

The power imbalance between elected officials and their staff is simply one of the factors that contribute to a different environment on Parliament Hill, Leslie said. Political staffers work directly for the MP who hires them, making each of the 308 MPs like a private employer with their own staff. Federal labour laws don't apply to them.

Leslie says MPs are told they're special when they're elected, they spend a lot of time away from their families, and much of the political social life involves alcohol.

The power imbalance extends to a tug-of-war between MPs and journalists, she added.

'Dusty and dried up'

The 2011 election brought a number of younger MPs to Parliament Hill, particularly in the NDP caucus. Many were in their 20s and 30s, with some as young as 22.

It was the first time a cadre of young, female MPs had hit the Hill at the same time. Usually those working on the Hill in their mid-20s are staffers.

Leslie describes seeing male MPs patting female MPs on the lower back or stroking their hair.

Megan Leslie 20140720

Parliament is in many ways living in another decade when it comes to how things work and how women are treated, NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie says. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"Well, you're not doing that to the minister of defence," she said. "It's not the end of the world. That is not violent sexual aggression, but ... I have the right to go through my day without being touched."

"I do think that we are back in another decade here. It is a strange place. It is a place that I love and respect, but it is pretty dusty and dried up," she said.

At the same time, it seems Parliament isn't that different from the rest of Canada in that the complainant MPs didn't want to go public with their allegations.

Scott Simms, a Liberal MP from Newfoundland and Labrador, told reporters Thursday that he's known about one of the two misconduct allegations since 2013.

"Some time ago, I made a commitment to a dear friend that I would not talk about this in public. So I'm going to honour that commitment, I'm sorry," Simms said on his way into question period.

Questions about going public

The NDP's insistence that the women didn't want to go public led to questions to the Liberal leadership, including whip Judy Foote, who wrote to House Speaker Andrew Scheer to request the House investigate the allegations.

"I'm not going to get into the politics of this," Foote said outside the House of Commons.

"We had no choice here. The leader [Trudeau], once told by an MP of another party that there were serious allegations against a caucus member in his party, he had to act and we did."

Leslie says it's a good thing that MPs and Canadians are now discussing harassment issues.

"I actually think there's been a real shift in discourse over the past few weeks about rape, about consent, about sexual harassment, sexualized conduct," she said.

"I think that a special something has opened up here where we actually get to talk about this here in the House of Commons and not be dismissed ... that is hopeful to me."


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MP harassment allegations fall through cracks of Hill's murky rules

Amid the shocked speculation swirling around Wednesday's incendiary revelation by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau that veteran MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti had been suspended from caucus based on harassment complaints lodged by two unnamed New Democrat MPs, one question kept coming up: How is it possible that there is no established process in place on Parliament Hill for dealing with such a situation?

As Trudeau himself put it to reporters after delivering his announcement: "Look folks, it's 2014.  It's time that this workplace, like other workplaces across the country, had a process whereby these issues can be aired and dealt with."

But is it entirely accurate to say that there are no mechanisms in place to deal with disputes between MPs, including allegations of harassment?

First, a quick reminder: Not only is Parliament a self-governing jurisdiction, exempt from virtually all federal and provincial laws, including the labour code, but MPs are — as the title makes clear — members of the House of Commons, not its employees.

While there are some avenues of appeal for Hill staffers and employees dealing with conflicts within the workplace, only the House has the authority to intervene in disputes between its members.

That was what led Liberal whip Judy Foote to initially approach her New Democrat counterpart, Nycole Turmel, in order to set up meetings with the two MPs.

'Clear process' needed: Liberals

Shortly after those meetings had taken place, however, Foote filed a formal request that House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer take over the investigation.

"I do not believe it is possible, nor indeed appropriate, to attempt to properly deal with these complaints any further at the level of the whips," she wrote.

"I believe a process that continues to deal with these allegations in a serious manner will require the involvement of a neutral third party trusted by all concerned."

Foote also urged him to take steps to ensure a "clear process … for possible future cases where members are alleging misconduct of other members," and noted that the Senate already has such a policy in place that covers both senators and employees.

"It is time the House of Commons did the same," she wrote.  

In a sense, though, it already does.

As retired parliamentary law clerk Rob Walsh pointed out in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics host Evan Solomon earlier this week, every MP has the right to bring such concerns to the attention of the Speaker — and the House as a whole — by rising on a point of privilege.

"That process that is available to all members, if they feel that the behaviour of a third party — including another member —  has impaired their ability to do their job," he noted.

Should the Speaker agree that a prima facie breach of privilege exists, the matter would be sent to the procedure and House affairs committee for further study — which could, in turn, result in a report recommending what, if any, sanctions should be considered.

"It stems from the fact that the House has the power to discipline its members," Walsh noted.

"if you actually want to take action, you have to go to the House — not the [Board of Internal Economy], by the way, and not the Speaker individually, but the House."

Confidentiality complications

Such an approach would, however, require the MPs making the allegations to do so in a very public way — which according to the New Democrats, was the exact opposite of how they wanted to deal with the situation.

Speaking to reporters the day after the story broke, New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair said the party's "number one concern" was to support the two MPs, which included respecting their wishes.

"Their wish was not to be revictimized, and to make sure that what they were telling us was confidential," he said.  "We respected that."

(Indeed, the New Democrats have been highly critical of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's decision to go public with the fact that such allegations had been made, if not any specific details thereof.)

So, given the desire of the complainant MPs to handle the situation behind closed doors, were there any official channels available to resolve the dispute in a more discreet manner than the name-and-shame of a point of privilege?

According to the Speaker's office, they could have taken the matter directly to House of Commons chief human resources officer Pierre Parent.

"Any individual who wants to bring forward allegations of harassment may request a confidential meeting with the chief human resources officer (CHRO) of the House of Commons," the Speaker's office spokeswoman Heather Bradley told CBC News.

At that point, the CHRO "will meet with the individual to determine appropriate next steps," she added.

"All meetings remain strictly confidential."

What's not clear, however, is whether the CHRO has any power to take action in response to such complaints when the parties involved are also sitting MPs.   

Jurisdiction issues

In fact, it's not even certain that the all-party Board of Internal Economy to which the allegations are expected to be referred is authorized to investigate — and, if necessary, sanction — the conduct of individual MPs.

"I don't think the board has any jurisdiction in this matter, because the board doesn't have power to discipline its members other than for breaches of the board's bylaws," Walsh told CBC's Power & Politics.

"There isn't, to my knowledge, a bylaw … regarding harassment between members."

The members' by-laws govern the use of parliamentary resources, including office budgets and salaries, but are silent on issues of conduct and behaviour.

Meanwhile, the party caucuses themselves have a free hand to manage internal complaints among their own members, but no readily available tools or mechanisms to handle disputes that involve non-caucus members.

That is, unless the leaders of the parties involved decide to work together.

"Mulcair and Trudeau should get together, and make an agreement to engage an independent third party to investigate and report back, and that report made public," Walsh told CBC News.

"Then the two might try to sort out what the remedy would be."

If unsuccessful, he says, the NDP could always rise on a point of privilege — although that, once again, would likely mean identifying the MPs behind the complaints.

Either way, Walsh believes that it will set a precedent "that will put all members on their best behaviour" even if nothing changes as far as the letter of the law.

"I don't think you need new rules — everyone knows sexual harassment, if that's what it is, is not appropriate," he noted.

"This process may show what remedies are available, and how it could become public, to the great detriment of many members."


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Government spent $121K on Canada-EU summit reception

The federal government spent $121,454 on a Toronto reception for leaders of the European Union in September — a reception which, in turn, led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to offer his guests a $338,000 ride home on a government Airbus.

The reception was a late add-on to a Sept. 26 summit in Ottawa where the leaders celebrated the end of negotiations towards a free trade agreement with Europe, known as CETA [the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement]. 

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, were flown with their staff to Toronto for the reception, causing them to miss a scheduled commercial flight home from Ottawa.

The trip was treated as a "royal visit" by orders of the prime minister's office and the reception, at the Fairmont Royal York, brought in business leaders to meet the visiting delegation.

The event meant flying in 17 government staff and renting a motorcade of vehicles to ferry staff and dignitaries to and from Pearson airport.

It didn't come cheap. Some of the costs are broken down in a summary obtained by NDP MP Don Davies under the access to information law:

  • $33,801 for the room and food.
  • $13,049 for drinks.
  • $8,101 for music (The Four Tenors and a military band).
  • $14,489 for staging and audio/visual services.
  • $19,323 for backdrops (saying "Canada-EU Summit").
  • $13,211 for airfare and hotels for 17 government staff.
  • $11,627 for vehicle rentals.

With the addition of flowers, linens, printing and photography, the total for the evening was $121,454.09.

After the reception, the European delegates were taken back to the airport and flown to Brussels on the A310 Airbus usually used by the prime minister. It costs $22,537 an hour to operate, according to 2012 figures. Assuming 15 hours' flight time to Brussels and back, the flight would have cost the government $338,055.

Added to the bill for the reception, that means the decision to add the Toronto event to the Ottawa summit cost a total of $459,509. 

"The Conservatives blew nearly half a million dollars on a party and a needless public relations exercise‎. This money would be much better spent helping Canadians, and Canadian businesses, benefit from trade opportunities," Davies said.

Other expenses, such as moving the delegation from Ottawa to Toronto, and the cost of hotels in Brussels for the flight crew, are not included.


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Prime Minister Stephen Harper stumps for Canadian exporters on China trip

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the pitch for Canadian exporters on Friday while also extolling Canada as an excellent place to do business during his third visit to China.

Harper attended a China-Canada business conference where he said that a half-million Canadian jobs depend upon Canadian-Chinese trade.

He added to chuckles from the crowd that while the number might not seem significant to the most populous country on the planet, it is to Canada.

Harper also announced that Canada will open new trade offices in Hangzhou, Xi'an, Xiamen and Tianjin — some of China's fastest growing areas.

The Prime Minister's Office said the locations were selected because their needs match Canadian strengths, particularly in the areas of information technology, electronics, automotive, aerospace, medicine, energy and finance sectors.

Following his brief remarks, Harper took a morning stroll through the bustling downtown shopping district, making his way to a traditional medicine museum.

Curious onlookers gathered on the colourful sidelines, waving at Harper and his wife, Laureen, and snapping photos on their smartphones.

Inside the museum, the prime minister held up some Canadian ginseng, declaring: "Canadian ginseng ... The most expensive here, the best ... That is why we're here."

He also travelled to the stately lakeside Zheijian state guest house, where he was greeted by Chinese officials, including the party secretary of the Zheijiang province.

Later Friday, he met with Jack Ma, the executive chairman of Alibaba Group, the world's largest mobile commerce company, to discuss how Canadian businesses can leverage e-commerce platforms like Alibaba to grow their businesses internationally.

Harper lauded Canada's low corporate tax rate and debt levels during a question-and-answer session at Alibaba, portraying Canada as an exceedingly attractive place to do business for Chinese investors.

"We have a pretty important relationship here and pretty important opportunities," Harper said.

Alibaba sells Canadian goods on its site, ranging from Atlantic lobsters to Roots apparel and Niagara ice wines. Chairman Jack Ma says 100 million people are online shopping on Alibaba at any given moment, adding that his company wants to help Canadian small- and medium-sized companies get established.

He added Alibaba might set up a Canadian operation.

Harper travels to Beijing on Saturday, where he'll meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has called for a more open form of government since taking office in 2012.

Harper has been urged by human rights activists to bring up China's human rights record while in the country. The PMO says human rights will indeed be on Harper's agenda.

The prime minister's latest visit to China was almost scrubbed entirely due to tense relations between the two countries in recent months.

Harper accused China of cyber espionage over the summer, while China accused a Canadian couple living in China of being spies.

Some Conservative cabinet ministers, including Jason Kenney, are uneasy about forging closer ties to China, in part due to human rights concerns.

But with China's middle class exploding, business groups have urged the government to strengthen the relationship.

Harper is leading a delegation of Canadian business representatives during his China trip. Industry Minister James Moore and International Trade Minister Ed Fast are also along for the visit.

"When we look to China, which will soon be the biggest economy in the world, we look at the most populous country in the world, and I have to ask Canadian businesses: Why not China? Why aren't we doing business in China?" Fast said.

Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, moderated the session at Alibaba.


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Canada adds 43,000 jobs in October, jobless rate down to 6.5%

The Canadian economy added 43,000 jobs in October, pushing the jobless rate down to its lowest level since November 2008.

Statistics Canada said Friday that Canada has now produced 182,000 jobs in the past year. But two-thirds of those jobs have come in the past two months.

The strong monthly figure is much better than what most economists had been expecting — a slight pullback after a strong September figure. Instead, it was the first time there have been back-to-back monthly gains since the end of 2012.

"Throughout this year, we've been trapped in an oscillating pattern of gains one month only to be followed by losses the very next month," Scotiabank said in a research note ahead of the release of the data.

Provincially, employment rose in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, while it declined in New Brunswick. Everywhere else, it was basically flat.

Private-sector workers and the ranks of the self-employed swelled, while there was a slight decline in the number of public-sector workers, the data agency said.

There were job gains in manufacturing, where 33,200 more people found work during the month. The survey said the natural resources sector shed 22,200 jobs in October.

"Given the volatility that we've seen in recent releases, we caution against drawing too many conclusions at this point," Scotiabank said after the numbers came out.

While the overall unemployment rate dropped to an almost six-year low, young workers are still disproportionately unemployed. The jobless rate for those aged 15-24 declined to 12.6 per cent because more young workers stopped looking. But the figure is still almost twice as high as overall jobless rate.


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