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Russian ship played key role in Canada's recent Franklin discovery

Written By doni icha on Senin, 29 September 2014 | 21.17

A Russian-flagged vessel played a key role in Canada's recent discovery of a sunken ship from the missing Franklin expedition, a scenario that faced a regulatory challenge and gave senior Conservative officials pause.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has billed the Franklin search as an expression of Canadian sovereignty in the North — particularly in light of the "imperial ambitions" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The mapping and surveying activities that are part of the search are also considered a sign of domestic prowess in the Arctic.

A Russian-owned ship became part of the multi-partner Victoria Strait Expedition after it became apparent that the Canadian alternative, a former coast guard icebreaker, couldn't carry the private financial donors underwriting part of the search.

B.C.-based One Ocean operated ship

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov, crewed by the Russian Academy of Sciences, was chartered and operated by British Columbia-based One Ocean Expeditions. The firm regularly uses Russian-flagged ships to run its tours into the Arctic.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society helped put together a team that included One Ocean and other corporate sponsors to partner with the federal government in its search for the Franklin ships, lost in the Arctic around 1845. The Akademik Sergey Vavilov was to serve as a platform for the federal government's state-of-the-art underwater survey vehicle.

By offering donors a chance to ride along, the non-profit geographical society was able to help pay for the expensive charter and also fund a range of educational work across the country.

But when the details of the search partnership emerged, not everyone celebrated the arrangement.

Calgary-based GX Technology, which owns the ship Polar Prince, objected to the use of the Russian-flagged vessel and to the fact that the Canadian Transportation Agency had certified the temporary importation of the foreign ship.

Ray Pierce, an arctic operations expert with GX and formerly of the Canadian Coast Guard, was critical of how the expedition itself was put together.

In the context of a multi-million search for the sunken Franklin ships, using the Polar Prince would not have made a significant budgetary difference, he argued. The Polar Prince is not certified to bring tourist-type passengers.

"We would have appreciated if there had been more openness in the early planning stages to permit that kind of dialogue and possible participation," said Pierce, also former commanding officer of the Polar Prince.

"At the end of the day, even though we weren't taking part in it, we were very glad that such research projects are taking place and that work is being done in the Canadian North."

Russian ownership underplayed

At the time, Harper was amping up his rhetoric and sanctions against Putin and his government, specifically with regard to Russia's annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine.

The use of the ship was also scrutinized at senior levels of the Conservative government. The prime minister's website describes the ship by its Canadian alias "One Ocean Explorer" and makes no reference to its Russian ownership.

Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney, on the advice of the transportation agency, accepted the argument that using a vessel other than the passenger-certified Akademik Sergey Vavilov could jeopardize the funding.

Ted Laking, a spokesman for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, said the geographical society enlisted the help of other partners so its work would be "of no cost to the government."

"Neither Parks Canada or any government entities involved in this project rented or purchased any Russian equipment," Laking noted in an email.

When the Franklin ship was discovered earlier this month by coast guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov was 17 km away helping facilitate the government's sonar work. In addition to housing a federal underwater sonar vehicle, it also helped transport another survey boat to the Laurier.

Russia has extensive experience in polar regions

The provenance of such vessels doesn't raise any concerns with those who work in the world of research, accustomed to the different flags that pass through.

Aaron Lawton, operations director of Ocean One Expeditions, said there were more Canadian crew members on board the Russian-flagged ship than the Polar Prince was proposing to begin with.

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov has been carrying tourists around Antarctica and in Canadian waters for 20 years.

'I sleep well at night knowing the passengers are on a ship that is held to a standard that has expertise in the Arctic'-Aaron Lawton, Ocean One Expeditions

"If we can't use Canadian-flagged vessels, the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping has a huge amount of expertise in the polar region; Russia has a massive Arctic coastline just like Canada does," Lawton said.

"I sleep well at night knowing the passengers are on a ship that is held to a standard that has expertise in the Arctic."

John Geiger, chief executive officer of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, said the federal government had nothing to do with the choice of ship. The society plans to furnish educational material on the expedition and Arctic history to 11,000 teachers across Canada.

"We set out to find a way to make it work, and the logical approach was to find a ship that would give us that capacity, that would both serve some research purposes … and then also we would have an ability to raise the money we needed for the educational plan," Geiger said.

Donors to the geographical society included Shell Canada and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation. 


21.17 | 0 komentar | Read More

Cy Tokmakjian's 15-year sentence 'outrageous,' Peter Kent says

A Canadian businessman sentenced in Cuba to 15 years in prison on corruption-related charges should be sent back home, said a Toronto-area MP who called the conviction a "travesty of justice."

Cy Tokmakjian, who owns of the Ontario-based automotive company Tokmakjian Group, could be expelled from the Caribbean country or transferred to a Canadian facility instead of serving out his sentence there, Peter Kent said Sunday.

"It's obvious an appeal is a waste of time given the Cuban justice system," Kent said.

But "it's not over yet," he stressed.

The company said its lawyers were notified Friday that Tokmakjian, 74, was convicted and sentenced on a variety of charges that Cuban officials call part of a widespread campaign against graft.

He was held for more than two years before being tried in June.

'We want to get him home'

Kent, whose Thornhill riding includes the company's headquarters, said the sentence is "outrageous," but not entirely unexpected.

Cy Tokmakjian

Cy Tokmakjian, president of Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group, was sentenced to a 15-year prison term by a Cuban court. (Family photo/CBC)

Tokmakjian's family "hasn't given up hope" but worries because he is in poor health, said the MP, who has known them for years.

"We want to get him home as soon as possible," he said.

Kent said the case is "a very strong reminder that international investors should beware" when dealing with Cuba.

Foreign Affairs says consular services are being provided and officials are in contact with authorities in Havana.

The company issued a statement earlier this year saying Tokmakjian did nothing wrong and suggested he didn't get a fair trial.

The company's Cuban offices were raided in 2011 as Cuba launched an anti-graft drive that has swept up foreign business executives from at least five nations as well as government officials and dozens of Cuban employees at key state-run companies.

Castro's anti-graft drive

Foreign business people have long considered payoffs ranging from a free meal to cash deposits in overseas accounts to be an unavoidable cost of doing business in Cuba. President Raul Castro has said that rooting out rampant corruption is one of the country's most important challenges.

More than 150 foreign business people and dozens of small South American and European companies have been kicked out of the country under the anti-graft drive. Several dozen defendants have ended up in jail, including a few foreigners and high government officials accused of influence-peddling and taking bribes.

Such cases, and questions about their fairness, have chilled many current and potential investors in Cuba, which is trying to attract foreign capital to jumpstart the stagnant economy.

Cuba's judicial system is known for speedy proceedings behind closed doors with little or no media access. Cuban officials have said little about the Tokmakjian case beyond announcing last year that the Tokmakjian Group's operating license had been rescinded due to unspecified actions.

Tokmakjian managers Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche got 12- and 8-year sentences, respectively, company vice-president Lee Hacker told The Associated Press.

'He's a survivor'

The company's website lists its head office in Concord, Ont.

The website says it provides both transportation services and engine repairs.

Tokmakjian has family living in Canada, including children and grandchildren.

In a telephone interview, his sister Sonia Tokmakjian told Radio-Canada that her brother is tough.

"He's a strong person, you know. He never shows weakness. He's a survivor," she said.

"That's what my brother is — he's a hard-worker, he's a survivor, he's an achiever ... he's a very honest person."

She said that her brother has done business in many places.

"He lived here in Toronto, but he travelled a lot. He did business all over the world, not just in Cuba," she said.


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Mulcair's dilemma: Canadians like him, but will they vote for him?

Liking a political leader and wanting to vote for him or her can be two very different things.

Take the example of Canada's three federal leaders.

Justin Trudeau's approval ratings are high and he tops the polls on who would make the best prime minister. But his chief rival on that latter question is not Thomas Mulcair, who boasts similarly impressive approval ratings, but rather Stephen Harper, who has ratings no incumbent leader should envy.

Harper's approval ratings have been relatively consistent for some time. A simple average of polls conducted since mid-May gives the prime minister an approval rating of just 34 per cent, compared to a disapproval rating of 58 per cent.

While that is an improvement on his average numbers from earlier in the year, when his approval rating was around 31 per cent, it is lower than the 37 per cent Harper was able to manage in the latter half of 2012.

It is also considerably lower than the approval ratings of his two main opponents on the other side of the House of Commons. Over the same period of recent polling, Mulcair has averaged an approval rating of 43 per cent and Trudeau 45 per cent. Their disapproval ratings, at 32 and 39 per cent respectively, are also superior.

Yet Mulcair is not as competitive on the question of who would make the best prime minister. An average of recent polls suggests about 17 per cent of Canadians would select the NDP leader, compared to 28 per cent for Harper and 31 per cent for Trudeau. And Mulcair's numbers have been worsening — he was polling at around 20 per cent earlier in the year.

That trend is somewhat contrary to Mulcair's improving approval ratings. Before the Senate scandal re-ignited last fall, the NDP leader's approval rating averaged about 34 per cent, with equal proportions disapproving or having no opinion. After the scandal broke, and Mulcair received rave reviews for his performances during question period, the number of Canadians saying they had no opinion of the NDP leader dropped by about 10 points.

Virtually all of those people who finally formed an opinion of Mulcair liked what they saw.

But that has not translated into higher support, as Mulcair continues to lag on leadership polling and his party remains stuck in third place.

Trudeau, on the other hand, has remained ahead on both measures despite his growing disapproval rating. His approval rating has been generally consistent since he became leader of the Liberal Party. However, in the first three months of his leadership his disapproval rating averaged 27 per cent, with 29 per cent undecided. For the remainder of 2013, those undecideds fell by about 10 points.

But the number of Canadians who said they disapproved of the Liberal leader also increased by about 10 points. Nevertheless, this has yet to hurt his party in the polls.

One factor holding Mulcair back may be the lack of familiarity Canadians have with him. A poll by Abacus Data, conducted Aug.15-18 and interviewing 1,614 online panelists, found 51 per cent of respondents either had a neutral impression of the NDP leader or did not know what kind of impression they had of him. This compared to just 34 per cent for Trudeau and 28 per cent for Harper.

The challenge for Mulcair, then, would seem to be to get more Canadians to get to know him. The polls suggest that in the past this has worked well for the Official Opposition leader, at least on a personal level. This may explain the recent NDP campaign to roll out policy proposals and to contrast Mulcair's experience with that of Trudeau.

But it may not work. The same Abacus Data poll asked respondents if Trudeau was "in over his head," borrowing an attack-ad line from the Conservatives. The survey found that a majority of Canadians said that he wasn't, or that if he was he could "learn on the job."

It would appear that Canadians are giving Trudeau the benefit of the doubt, while Harper retains a solid base of support. Unless Mulcair can turn sympathy into votes, it leaves him and his respectable approval ratings in the lurch on the question that matters most.

The Abacus Data poll asked the following questions: "Do you think Justin Trudeau 'is in over his head', as Conservatives have been saying?" and "Do you have a positive or negative impression of the following people? Prime Minister Stephen Harper / NDP Leader Tom Mulcair / Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau". As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.

This article reviews trends in national public opinion surveys. Methodology, sample size, and margin of error if one can be stated vary from survey to survey.


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Stephen Harper gives pricey free ride home to European leaders

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave visiting European delegates a free flight home to Brussels last week, after adding a Toronto reception to their schedule, CBC News has learned.

That reception made it impossible for the visitors to make a planned commercial flight from Ottawa, and thereby get to a Saturday meeting in Brussels. The cost of the Airbus flight is estimated at more than $300,000.

The prime minister's spokesman, Jason MacDonald, described the free flight as "a courtesy" to ensure the summit would not be "cut short."

But the summit was held in Ottawa and the only event on the schedule in Toronto was a reception attended by Harper, the EU dignitaries and several hundred representatives of the business community.

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, were in Ottawa Friday to sign a free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.

They were greeted with a ceremonial military guard on Parliament Hill. The two European leaders normally fly commercial and arrived in Ottawa on an Air Canada flight from the United Nations meeting in New York.

However, just four days before the summit, the Harper government added a reception for the Toronto business community to the itinerary — meaning the visiting delegation would miss their flight to Brussels. For that reason, Harper offered them the Canadian Forces Airbus he normally uses himself on foreign trips.

Like a 'British royal tour'

The last-minute change of plan caused officials to scramble to provide extra motorcades and security for the two visiting leaders, beyond the level that they would normally get as so-called "Level 3s" for protocol and security purposes. The two are not ranked as high as heads of states or prime ministers.

But according to an e-mail sent to the RCMP's Protective Policing branch and obtained by CBC News, there was "an expectation of a complete package" from the Prime Minister's Office for the visitors.

Stephen Harper with EU leaders on Parliament Hill

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he stands with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, right, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on Parliament Hill Friday in Ottawa. The leaders heralded a Canada-EU free-trade agreement, although the deal must still be ratified. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"It is a 'British royal tour/visit equivalence' from the Centre's perspective," the memo says.

"The Centre" is how bureaucrats refer to the Prime Minister's Office.

The memo goes on, "The significance of this particular summit due to CETA [the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] is paramount. The prime minister has offered the CF [Canadian Forces] Airbus to return the leaders to Brussels for example. With only four working days to plan this, we would be grateful if we could count on your support — these visits being designated as two level 3s makes it difficult if not impossible to do what we need."

That suggests the two European leaders were upgraded to receive the royal treatment requested.

The modified Airbus A310 costs $22,537 an hour to operate, according to official figures in 2012. The price has likely risen since then, but, at that rate, and assuming 15 hours' flight time from Toronto to Brussels and back, the trip would have cost $338,055.

That doesn't include the cost of the reception, where Canadian quartet The Tenors and a military jazz band entertained Toronto's business elite. (On the trip from Ottawa, the European delegation travelled on the Airbus with the prime minister and his staff.)

A high-priced 'victory lap'

Among the invited guests at the Royal York Hotel event in Toronto was Greg Thomas, director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation — a supporter of free trade but not of lavish spending. Thomas said his organization would send a cheque to the government for the cost of his attendance, and added that the Airbus freebie was a waste of taxpayers' money.

"Victory lap or not, there's no excuse on blowing 300 grand on short notice for what amounts to a political show."

"Many Canadians," Thomas added, "can stomach the expense of hosting the royal family when they come to Canada." But, he said, "having royal treatment afforded to European bureaucrats is not something that's going to go down, I think, in any part of the country.... They could have done this in Ottawa. They could have saved $300,000 and it would have had the same effect."

The NDP's Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway, agreed.

"This is a last-minute attempt by the Harper government to use these officials as props in their continued staging for Canadians' use. And that's what makes this, I think, an inappropriate use of taxpayers' dollars."

MacDonald, Harper's spokesman, told CBC News, "The Airbus was offered as a courtesy to our European Union guests and helped ensure that no elements of Friday's summit were cut short."

Watch Terry MIlewski's full report Sunday night on The National, on CBC Television, CBC News Network and CBCnews.ca.


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Trudeau Liberals woo high-profile aboriginal candidates ahead of 2015

A rejected aboriginal education act, a controversial financial transparency act, persistent calls for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, court challenges to major energy projects and rumblings of more Idle No More protests.

Those are just some of the conflicts that threaten to further hobble an already fractured relationship between the federal government and Canada's aboriginal people.

With the next federal election campaign less than a year away, the Liberals are moving to position themselves as the party that can repair that relationship and give aboriginals a voice in Parliament.

At least three high-profile aboriginal candidates have decided to run for Justin Trudeau's Liberals in 2015, says Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett, who has been working with aboriginal members of the party to recruit candidates.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, a regional chief with the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, will run in Vancouver Granville. Daniol Coles, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, will run in the newly formed riding of Edmonton Griesbach. And Michèle Audette, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, has received the green light to seek the nomination in the Quebec riding of Manicouagan.

In separate interviews, all three candidates say Trudeau has not made them any promises.

"I think the most important thing we can offer them is a voice," Bennett said.

The governing Conservatives, in fact, count four aboriginal MPs among their ranks, including two cabinet ministers: Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, Rod Bruinooge and Rob Clarke.

Labrador's Yvonne Jones, elected in a by-election last year, is the Liberals' only aboriginal MP, while the NDP have two aboriginal MPs.

Education act future uncertain

Wilson-Raybould worked with Shawn Atleo, former national chief for the Assembly of First Nations, until his abrupt resignation last May amid criticism from First Nations leaders over his support of the government's aboriginal education bill.

Jody Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould, the B.C. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, is running for the Liberals. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

As a chief who represents 203 First Nations in B.C., Wilson-Raybould was touted for a run for the leadership of the AFN, but chose instead to run for the Liberals.

"The voices of aboriginal people, the voices of Canadians, in my view, aren't being heard and it's being reflected in legislation that isn't working or will substantively have to be revisited," Wilson-Raybould said in an interview with CBC News.

The government has said its prized bill will remain on hold until it receives the AFN's support. But its future remains uncertain in the face of a judicial review launched by the AFN in Quebec and Labrador under the leadership of Ghislain Picard, who is now running to replace Atleo.

Eric Cardinal, a one-time adviser to the AFNQL and now a senior consultant specializing in aboriginal affairs for public relations firm National, said the only way to break the impasse is for the government to consult with each First Nation across the country — not just the AFN.

"I know it's huge, but that's what you need to do."

Sometimes, Cardinal said, First Nations raise objections to projects or legislation not because they are against it, "but because they didn't have a chance to really be a part of the process."

And that applies to the aboriginal education bill.

"The irony is that [with consultations] they would probably, at the end, come back with the same bill, but with the support of First Nations leaders," he said.

Liberals say sorry

Coles, a young Métis from Alberta, is preoccupied with the amount of time the government has spent fighting First Nations instead of working with them.

Coles said the Liberals vowed, at their biennial convention in Montreal in February, not to repeat "the mistakes of the past and strive for meaningful consultation when considering legislation and policy that impact the right of indigenous peoples."

That included a resolution formally rejecting Pierre Elliott Trudeau's infamous 1969 white paper that proposed an end to the Indian Act and calling it "a serious mistake."

According to Coles, who chaired the Liberal Party's Aboriginal Peoples' Commission for two years, the apology set the younger Trudeau apart from his father in the eyes of aboriginal chiefs. And in Alberta, where the memory of Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program still stings, saying sorry is not insignificant.

"It was groundbreaking," Coles said.

Action plan but no inquiry

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own historic apology in 2008 on behalf of Canada for the residential schools was seen for a time as a turning point in relations with First Nations.

Saganash 20140919

Quebec NDP MP Romeo Saganash got a standing ovation from his NDP caucus after his emotional appeal for a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. Saganash, a former NDP leadership candidate, is one of two aboriginal NDP MPs. (CBC News)

Six years on, however, aboriginal leaders say the government has not done enough to close the gap between aboriginal people and other Canadians. The government's refusal to call a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is just the most recent irritant.

Audette, a well-known Innu activist from Quebec, has been one of the voices calling for an inquiry, which both opposition leaders support.

When MPs returned to Ottawa two weeks ago, the Conservatives tabled a $25-million action plan to deal with violence against aboriginal women and girls. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch have said they are open to taking part in a roundtable with aboriginal leaders and premiers to discuss the issue.

But despite a long list of justice and public safety initiatives, nothing the Conservatives have done to date has appeased those calling for an inquiry.

New Democrats, led by MP Romeo Saganash, scored a victory on the issue by forcing an impromptu debate in the Commons earlier this month. Saganash is one of two aboriginal NDP MPs elected in Quebec during the so-called Orange Wave of 2011.

If Audette clinches the Liberal nomination in Manicouagan, she will be challenging the NDP's other aboriginal MP, Jonathan Genest-Jourdain.


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Canada sets lowest standard at World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

Written By doni icha on Minggu, 28 September 2014 | 21.16

Matthew Coon Come is the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the chairperson of the Cree Regional Authority.

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), an historic two-day meeting, began on Sept. 22 at the UN General Assembly in New York.

I and other indigenous leaders attended the meeting with heads of government, ambassadors and ministers. We went there to witness and contribute to a new chapter of our history. We went to celebrate indigenous peoples' human rights and new and renewed commitments by UN members states in international law.

Matthew Coon Come

Matthew Coon Come is the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the chairperson of the Cree Regional Authority. (CBC)

Unfortunately, Canada's prime minister did not attend. Nor did any minister from Stephen Harper's government. Since its election in 2006, the government has refused to acknowledge within Canada that indigenous peoples' collective rights are human rights.

The idea for WCIP arose in 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria. However, it was indigenous leader Evo Morales who worked to achieve the WCIP.  Upon his election as president of Bolivia in 2006, he pledged that he would propose a WCIP.  It was the impetus of Morales that resulted in the UN General Assembly officially agreeing to hold a WCIP in 2014.

The highlight of this conference was the General Assembly's adoption by consensus of an outcome document, which includes the commitments of UN  member states on a wide range of issues. Key matters are addressed such as indigenous youth, health, language and culture, access to justice, and violence and discrimination against indigenous peoples and individuals, in particular women.

Only Canada questioned 'free, prior and informed consent'

The centrepiece of the document is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In his opening remarks, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared,"I am proud that the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during my first year in office … that set minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples. … And we are joining forces with indigenous peoples to reach our common goals."

Regretfully, Canada was the only state in the world that chose to request an explanation of vote. In regard to the outcome document, Canada claimed it cannot accept the two paragraphs on "free, prior and informed consent," which is widely accepted in international law.

Canada implied consent may constitute some kind of absolute "veto," but never explained what the term means. Canada also objected to the commitment "to uphold the principles of the declaration," since it was somehow incompatible with Canada's constitution.

Arguments 'contradict own endorsement of UN declaration'

These arguments are false. They contradict Canada's own endorsement of the UN declaration in 2010, which concluded: "We are now confident that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the declaration in a manner that is consistent with our constitution and legal framework."

Canada failed to disclose this conclusion to the General Assembly. In so doing, Canada has misled the General Assembly, member states and indigenous peoples globally. Canada has failed to uphold the honour of the Crown.

'This repeated failure to consult violates Canada's duty under Canadian constitutional and international law.'- Matthew Coon Come

Such actions against the human rights of indigenous peoples betray Canada's constitution. Good governance is not possible without respect and protection for indigenous peoples' human rights. Harmonious and cooperative relations — which is also highlighted in the UN declaration — require no less.

For years, the Harper government has refused to consult indigenous rights-holders on crucial issues, especially when it involves international forums. This repeated failure to consult violates Canada's duty under Canadian constitutional and international law.

In his opening remarks, Ban declared to indigenous peoples from all regions of the world, "You will always have a home at the United Nations." Yet in our own home in Canada, the federal government refuses to respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

For thirty years, the James Bay Crees have always defended and advanced indigenous peoples' rights at the UN and other international forums. And we will continue to achieve success.

Canada's low standards have not and cannot prevent the increasing influence of the UN declaration in Canada and worldwide.


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Canada 'joins the big leagues' with EU trade deal, Harper says

After months of leaks and speculation, the final text of Canada's new trade deal with the European Union has been released.

"It will not only change the game for Canadian businesses," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "it will create an entirely new game."

"Now we will be playing in the big leagues," he said at a press conference, adding that Canada will have one of the greatest trading networks in the world when this deal is added to Canada's existing free trade agreements.

Harper hosted Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, for wide-ranging talks on Parliament Hill earlier Friday and at joint news conference Friday evening in Toronto. 

He thanked both men for their "unshakable friendship," and said the "agreement opens the way to vastly increased trade, greater prosperity and deeper friendships" between Canada and EU members.

"The goal has been, of course, to broaden our trade beyond the U.S. and the most critical goal we have in four decades in that regard has been to secure greater trade with Europe."

Von Rompuy said that the new trade deal and a strategic partnership agreement that accompanies it add "new levels of depth of understanding" to the Canada-EU relationship, and are the "embodiment of a much larger bond."

Barroso pointed out that Canada is the first G7 country to sign a trade deal with the EU. Four members of the G7 are member states of the EU, but the United States and Japan do not have their own deals yet.

Barroso called the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) "the most advanced agreement in the world today when it comes to market integration."

"It has not always been easy. Let me tell you that Canadian negotiators are extremely able and strong and determined," he said.

"That's the price we have to pay for an unprecedented agreement between two highly developed economies. I think we can say that it was worth waiting for."

Ratification not guaranteed

The final text of the agreement, which runs over 1,600 pages, was posted on the Canadian government's website on Friday morning.

Harper called it "deeper in substance and broader in scope" than any other agreement in Canadian history.

Talks that began more than five years ago concluded in August, but the final agreement was not made public because officials said it needed to be translated and checked by lawyers.

Barroso's presidency ends within days, and Harper told him Friday night that "this deal is your crowning achievement."

This trade agreement is the EU's second under his leadership. (The first, with South Korea in 2011, is still being ratified in parliaments across Europe.)

A "joint declaration which highlights the strength of the relationship between Canada and the European Union" was signed by the three leaders on Friday. 

A release from the EU confirmed that the trade deal will now be sent to the European Council for authorization for signature.

The next step, the release says, will be the consent vote in the European Parliament, and "if necessary the approval of the parliaments of the member states."

The European Commission under Barroso's leadership has said that such member state votes were not necessary. But the incoming president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has a different view. 

Barroso, Harper confident

Opponents say there is significant opposition in Germany as well as France, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Barroso commented on reports that Germany would not sign by saying that "Germany would benefit the most" from the deal.

"It's quite obvious," he said, while adding that he respects that not everyone likes it.

"We are used to having different opinions," he said, adding that he had "no doubt" that it would be endorsed by all member states.

Harper said he expected that some people would want some "small things" changed or would "want more money," but that the agreement has the support of all the member countries of Europe and all the provinces in Canada.

A tight vote is expected at the European Parliament.

Despite potential backlash at home, Harper urged business leaders gathered in Toronto to use the agreement to their full benefit. 

"It isn't just a matter of passing it and implementing it, it's also about getting results."

NDP to decide next week

In Canada, the agreement will be voted on in the House of Commons and Quebec's National Assembly, with other provincial cabinets also signing off.

It's expected to pass easily in the House of Commons, thanks to the Conservative majority Harper enjoys.

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said Friday his party would be taking the weekend to read the text and would decide after the caucus meeting next Wednesday whether to vote in favour.

Harper alluded to possible domestic opposition Friday night, saying "ìt's important that we not give up the fight."

"In something as complicated as this, there is always possible roadbumps, possible misinformation and federal and provincial wrangling."

New Democrats have sometimes opposed trade deals, but were open to supporting this one providing certain concerns were addressed, such as:

  • Protection for Canadians in municipal procurement provisions.
  • Measures to control higher drug costs following changes in patent protection.
  • A fair investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.
  • Compensation for dairy producers adversely affected by an influx of European cheese and new labelling rules

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mulcair said he shared concerns expressed in Germany about the investor-state provisions. He also thought Canada would be bound for too long by the terms of the deal.

"We're very reticent," Mulcair said.

Liberal trade critic Chrystia Freeland told CBC News her party wanted more time to fully digest the deal before confirming its support. 

"We keep on having photo ops with this deal, we keep on having moments where we say 'mission accomplished,'" she said, "but this is not a done deal. That's what the Germans are telling us."

Freeland said Canada lost 30 per cent of its market share in South Korea when other major trading partners were faster to finalize their free trade deals.

After a working lunch in Ottawa, the leaders moved on to an event in Toronto to promote the trade deal with business leaders from Canadian and European companies.


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Penitent Calandra again takes blame for non-answers in exclusive CBC interview

Conservative MP Paul Calandra choked back tears while apologizing Friday for responding to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's questions on Canada's mission in Iraq this week with an attack on the NDP position on Israel.

But CBC News has learned that Calandra was put up to the responses by a senior staffer in the Prime Minister's Office. Several Conservative MPs also told CBC they were furious as they listened to Calandra's answers in the House.

A teary Calandra rose after question period Friday to "unconditionally, unreservedly apologize to the House" for his glib non-answers earlier this week.

"Clearly, I allowed the passion and anger at something I read to get in the way of appropriately answering the question to leader of the Opposition," Calandra told the mostly empty Commons chamber.

"For that, I apologize to you and to this entire House, and to my constituents," he said.

Paul Calandra 20131203

Parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra was visibly teary as he rose to apologize for his comments to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair earlier this week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

He also went out of his way to exonerate the so-called "kids in short pants" — the catch-all derogatory term opposition members use to refer to senior political staff, particularly within the Prime Minister's Office — for his actions.

"I take full responsibility, and I apologize to the leader of the Opposition, and to all of my colleagues."

But sources tell CBC News that Calandra was handed material by Alykhan Velshi, director of issues management in the PMO, during the Conservatives' daily preparation for question period and was told to use it in his answer no matter what question was asked in the House.

Many Conservative MPs were upset when they heard Calandra give his answers in the House. At least one wrote an angry email to the PMO saying it was wrong and had to stop.

In an exclusive interview with CBC Radio's The House airing Saturday, a penitent Calandra again took the blame and repeated his assertion that the answers were his. Asked by host Evan Solomon about Velshi's role in the answers, Calandra denied that version of events and said he wasn't given anything to say.

In his apology Friday, Calandra, who serves as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary, did not promise that it won't happen again.

"I'm fairly certain there will be other opportunities in this House where I will be answering questions that you don't appreciate," he said. "I don't think this will be the last time that I get up and answer a question that doesn't effectively respond."

But in The House interview, Calandra told Solomon he didn't mean his words to come out that way, and he would clarify his remarks in the Commons.

Calandra's non-sequitur replies sparked sharp criticism from across the media and political spectrum. His conduct was roundly rebuked by CBC's At Issue panel on Thursday night.‎

On Friday, the Globe and Mail published an editorial lamenting the lack of respect for Parliament both Calandra's comments, and the approving response from his Conservative colleagues, had revealed.

"To call Mr. Calandra a clown is to do a disservice to the ancient profession of painted-face buffoonery," the Globe editorial writer wrote.

Meanwhile, Calandra's unapologetic appearance on CBC News Network's Power & Politics on the day he made his initial remarks became an international viral sensation due to the remarkable response it elicited from NDP MP Paul Dewar, whose "face palm" was quickly immortalized in clip and animated gif format.

Shortly after Calandra expressed his regrets in the House, Dewar made a point of acknowledging the apology before returning to regular parliamentary business.

Outside the House, Mulcair told CBC News he accepted Calandra's apology, and noted his party intends to put forward an opposition day motion on Monday that would change House rules to explicitly authorize the Speaker to crack down on irrelevant or repetitive answers.

"I hope that Mr. Calandra and all his colleagues will be voting for the NDP motion to allow the Speaker to do that," he said.

If passed, that motion would take effect immediately.


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Canada urged to give as much as it can in fight against ISIS

The world is going to have to give more and do more to fight ISIS, according to the U.S. ambassador to Canada.

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Ambassador Bruce Heyman told Evan Solomon that the message from the United States to all of its coalition partners, including Canada, is "we're going to need more at this point to defeat ISIL."

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) goes by several names, including the Islamic State and ISIL. All names refer to the militants who have taken over large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper revealed in New York City this week that Canada has been asked and is considering whether to contribute more support to the U.S.-led coalition. 

Canada will 'do our part'

On Friday in Ottawa, Harper would not go into details about what is being considered, but he said "We do not stand on the sidelines and watch. We do our part."

"That's always how this country has handled its international responsibilities, and as long as I'm prime minister that's what we will continue to do," he said.

CBC News has learned that cabinet next week is going to discuss sending CF-18s to join in the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq and Syria. 

Canada has sent 69 special forces personnel who will serve as military advisers to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. That 30-day mission will be reassessed by Oct. 5. 

The government has also given $28 million in humanitarian aid in the fight against ISIS.

Military support for U.S.-led coalition

Belgium, Britain and Denmark all signed on to join the military coalition against ISIS on Friday, committing fighter jets and other military support only to the Iraq part of the military campaign. The operation in Syria is being left at this point to the United States and the five Arab nations that began conducting airstrikes this week.

But according to Heyman, more military support is just one viable option.

"We'd like as much more (support) as Canada is willing to contribute. Whether it's through humanitarian aid, whether it's militarily, at every level," he said.

The Americans have been running a full court press this week, trying to build support around their mission to destroy and degrade ISIS.

This week at the United Nations U.S. President Barack Obama reached out to the world.

Cracking down on foreign fighters

"Promises on paper cannot keep us safe. Lofty rhetoric and good intentions will not stop a single terrorist attack. The words spoken here today must be matched and translated into action," Obama told the UN Security Council after it passed a binding resolution aimed at cracking down on foreign fighters. The resolution will require member nations to enact laws to prevent citizens from travelling to foreign countries to join terrorist organizations.

Heyman reiterated Obama's urgency. "This is something we have to deal with now. If we don't deal with it now, it will be a greater problem and will be much more difficult for us to contain later....the reality is we have no choice, we have to go now."

CBC Radio's The House airs Saturdays on CBC Radio One at 9 a.m. and on SiriusXM Ch. 169.


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Mulcair's dilemma: Canadians like him, but will they vote for him?

Liking a political leader and wanting to vote for him or her can be two very different things.

Take the example of Canada's three federal leaders.

Justin Trudeau's approval ratings are high and he tops the polls on who would make the best prime minister. But his chief rival on that latter question is not Thomas Mulcair, who boasts similarly impressive approval ratings, but rather Stephen Harper, who has ratings no incumbent leader should envy.

Harper's approval ratings have been relatively consistent for some time. A simple average of polls conducted since mid-May gives the prime minister an approval rating of just 34 per cent, compared to a disapproval rating of 58 per cent.

While that is an improvement on his average numbers from earlier in the year, when his approval rating was around 31 per cent, it is lower than the 37 per cent Harper was able to manage in the latter half of 2012.

It is also considerably lower than the approval ratings of his two main opponents on the other side of the House of Commons. Over the same period of recent polling, Mulcair has averaged an approval rating of 43 per cent and Trudeau 45 per cent. Their disapproval ratings, at 32 and 39 per cent respectively, are also superior.

Yet Mulcair is not as competitive on the question of who would make the best prime minister. An average of recent polls suggests about 17 per cent of Canadians would select the NDP leader, compared to 28 per cent for Harper and 31 per cent for Trudeau. And Mulcair's numbers have been worsening — he was polling at around 20 per cent earlier in the year.

That trend is somewhat contrary to Mulcair's improving approval ratings. Before the Senate scandal re-ignited last fall, the NDP leader's approval rating averaged about 34 per cent, with equal proportions disapproving or having no opinion. After the scandal broke, and Mulcair received rave reviews for his performances during question period, the number of Canadians saying they had no opinion of the NDP leader dropped by about 10 points.

Virtually all of those people who finally formed an opinion of Mulcair liked what they saw.

But that has not translated into higher support, as Mulcair continues to lag on leadership polling and his party remains stuck in third place.

Trudeau, on the other hand, has remained ahead on both measures despite his growing disapproval rating. His approval rating has been generally consistent since he became leader of the Liberal Party. However, in the first three months of his leadership his disapproval rating averaged 27 per cent, with 29 per cent undecided. For the remainder of 2013, those undecideds fell by about 10 points.

But the number of Canadians who said they disapproved of the Liberal leader also increased by about 10 points. Nevertheless, this has yet to hurt his party in the polls.

One factor holding Mulcair back may be the lack of familiarity Canadians have with him. A poll by Abacus Data, conducted Aug.15-18 and interviewing 1,614 online panelists, found 51 per cent of respondents either had a neutral impression of the NDP leader or did not know what kind of impression they had of him. This compared to just 34 per cent for Trudeau and 28 per cent for Harper.

The challenge for Mulcair, then, would seem to be to get more Canadians to get to know him. The polls suggest that in the past this has worked well for the Official Opposition leader, at least on a personal level. This may explain the recent NDP campaign to roll out policy proposals and to contrast Mulcair's experience with that of Trudeau.

But it may not work. The same Abacus Data poll asked respondents if Trudeau was "in over his head," borrowing an attack-ad line from the Conservatives. The survey found that a majority of Canadians said that he wasn't, or that if he was he could "learn on the job."

It would appear that Canadians are giving Trudeau the benefit of the doubt, while Harper retains a solid base of support. Unless Mulcair can turn sympathy into votes, it leaves him and his respectable approval ratings in the lurch on the question that matters most.

The Abacus Data poll asked the following questions: "Do you think Justin Trudeau 'is in over his head', as Conservatives have been saying?" and "Do you have a positive or negative impression of the following people? Prime Minister Stephen Harper / NDP Leader Tom Mulcair / Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau". As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.

This article reviews trends in national public opinion surveys. Methodology, sample size, and margin of error if one can be stated vary from survey to survey.


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