Canada? Still back. Omar Khadr? He'll get back to you: Liveblogging Lawrence Cannon at Foreign Affairs

Okay, so I know I promised I’d atone for missing the committee debut of Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner this morning – although really, I’d suggest that sitting through that Finance committee, not to mention Government Ops was more than penance enough for any liveblogger – but I realized that I should probably at least try to cover as many ministerial appearances as possible without chopping myself into infinite berrywielding bits, Sorcerer’s Apprentice-style.

As a result, I will be heading over to West Block to watch Lawrence Cannon in all his practically-deputy-prime-ministerial glory, where I suspect he will be answering many, many questions about Omar Khadr. (And now you know why, out of all the ministers up for grabs this afternoon, I settled on him.)

3:17:45 PM
Wow, looks like I got here just in time as far as getting a seat – the spectator section is pretty much full, and there are only two chairs reserved for the media, of which I am currently occupying one.

I think these supplementary estimates hearings are probably a bigger deal for departmental officials than for the ministers, really; that’s why there are so many tensely scrunched faces in the audience today.

Don’t worry, bureaucrats. I’m sure he’ll do fine. Your binders and decks won’t have been meticulously assembled in vain.

3:26:06 PM
And here we go! The chair – Kevin Sorenson – greets his colleagues and introduces the minister and his officials, Bruce Hirst and Len Edwards. He thanks the minister for making so many appearances during the last Parliament – not the last session, which we no longer speak of – and hands the floor over to Lawrence Cannon.

3:28:19 PM
The minister gets started with the obligatory acknowledgement of the Global Economic Crisis, and — wait, is that exactly the same introductory paragraph we heard from the Justice Minister last night? I think it is. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyway, like everything else, Canada’s foreign policy is currently focused on the GEC, and he believes that the arrival of a new administration in Washington will “reenergize” the relationship between our two countries.

3:31:29 PM
Iran, North Korea, Pakistan: quit destablizing stuff. You’re not helping. Also, Canada is working towards a comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union and other countries, and aren’t these more under the International Trade portfolio, which is Stockwell Day’s bailiwick? No hogging other minister’s files, Minister!

3:35:01 PM
Cannon discusses some of Canada’s major aid and development initiatives – Haiti, particularly – before moving on to Afghanistan, where Canada’s engagement will continue to focus on security while preparing for the end of the military mission in 2011. So that’s still on, apparently.

3:37:09 PM
Canada is an “Arctic power”, Cannon tells the committee – he’s going to be visiting other Arctic Council member countries in the near future, to discuss Arctic issues, and Arctic Arctic Arctic. Finally, on various other issues: Global Economic Crisis: We’re on it. Israel’s right to exist? Check – and aid money for Palestinian development. Canada has the toughest sanctions in the world against the Burmese regime, which I *did not know*, and is campaigning for one of those rotating seat thingies on the Security Council.

3:39:42 PM
And – questions! First up, Bob Rae, who starts with Afghanistan: On the efforts to enhance the Aghanistan-Pakistan dialogue, what exactly does that involve? Bringing the parties together to discuss border issues, it turns out – it is a challenge, the minister admits. But they’re searching for the “correct venue” to foster the discussion.

Rae wonders whether it might be a good idea to appoint a special representative, as the US President recently did with Richard Holbrooke, and there is a bit of tension-breaking chuckling when Rae assures the minister that he’s not lobbying for the job. “You just took my punchline,” notes Cannon in mock sorrow. He’s all about being more open and having a “frank and honest discussion”, but government policy is determined by that vote in the House of Commons – the Afghanistan Accord.

3:44:33 PM
Moving on, Rae notes that Africa is not listed as one of the major priorities, yet there is considerable CIDA money being spent in Africa, including in regions where there are “governance problems”. Why isn’t Africa a priority for this government, he wonders. The US, the markets, the Arctic, Afghanistan – but no mention of Africa. Cannon notes that Canada is meeting its commitments, and works in partnership with “reform-minded governments” towards education, health and more democracy.

There is “exemplary cooperation” between his department and CIDA.

3:47:48 PM
Cannon has not, in fact, had any discussions with the Sri Lankan foreign minister since last week’s call for a cease fire, Cannon confirms.

It’s fun to look around the room to try to guess which officials are connected to what departments and programs; usually, you can match them up by watching when they seem to be listening particularly intently.

3:51:24 PM
Paul Crete starts out by asking for more information on the battle for the non-permanent seat, as well as – finally, Omar Khadr. “That file attracts a lot of media attention,” Cannon acknowedges, but the government has made its position clear; just to get it on the record, he delivers the official Khadr talking point — serious crimes, presidential orders, experts appointed to come up with process, let the system work — but Crete wants to know if Cannon believes Omar Khadr is a child soldier. The minister reminds him that this individual – that’s how he always refers to him; not by name, not as a man or a boy or a youth or anything other than “individual.”

3:55:44 PM
Crete tries to press the question – child soldier, yes or no – and Cannon gets cranky; he’s not here to debate the question. Let President Obama’s process work. Crete keeps at him – he’s not afraid to call Khadr a “young person” – and Cannon insists that his government is “closely watching” the action of the American government, and will react “in due course.” So the US decides Canadian foreign policy, Crete wonders. More hurumphing from Cannon and needling from Crete, eventually, the chair steps in and Crete moves onto Colombia, and whether the proposed free trade deal will perpetuate human rights abuses.

4:00:49 PM
And now, a brief word from the government side of the table, courtesy of Lois Brown, who wants to know more about the Arctic strategy. Meanwhile, her colleague Jim Abbott is slouched down so far in his chair that I didn’t even notice he was here until just now; he’s not a small man, either. Arctic sovereignty: it’s a good thing. Lois Brown wonders about the Northwest Passage, and Cannon notes that the ‘disagreement’ with the US is over the legal status of the waters, not sovereignty. Yes, apparently there is a difference.

4:04:42 PM
Jim Abbott rouses himself long enough to take over the round from Lois Brown; he throws the minister an open-ended question on Afghanistan, which Cannon cheerfully accepts. What is important, the minister says, is to recall the ultimate goal in Afghanistan, which is to leave it to the Afghans. There are also six “signature” projects – a dam, schools, polio eradication — all priorities, as is civil engagement, and working towards next August’s election.

4:08:45 PM
Abbott asks about civilian involvement, and Cannon is darned happy to be able to tell him there are lots and lots of public servants over there, although he seems to include the RCMP and Corrections Canada in that general set, but never mind — it’s all very inspiring, Abbott says – rather like the inspirational enthusiasm of the troops over there.

4:10:15 PM
The NDP’s Paul Dewar follows up on the Bloc’s questions on Omar Khadr; the time is fast approaching, he tells the minister, when a decision will have to be made. Has the department looked into repatriating Omar Khadr? No, apparently. Has anyone in the department looked at the *legal case*? The answer appears to be no, which is, frankly, stunning; Cannon notes that they have looked at the situation, as far as the American administration, and the process, and — wait, is William Keubler here? Dewar just suggested he was “in the room”, but maybe he means he’s been there in the past.

Anyway, he and the minister bicker back and forth about whether the department should at least investigate the what-ifs, and honestly, I’m not sure if that’s a defensible position – to have done *nothing* in terms of getting legal advice, that is. You don’t have to take it, but you should at least have some idea of the parameters.

4:15:37 PM
Dewar moves onto Afghanistan, and the recent statements by the Defence Minister that seemed to confirm that Canadian troops are now involved in drug eradication; he’s wondering if there is a line item for that in the estimates.

Hirst notes that thus far, the department has spent $130 million, including $102 million this year, and I love those moments when we all realize we can’t actually do math. Turns out that Dewar’s point is fairly simple – the budget over at Defence is increasing at a substantial rate, but not the budget for the departments responsible for development and diplomacy. Len Edwards – the deputy – wants to make it clear that these are departmental funds that have been allocated, and suggests that some of the defence expenses are, in fact, going towards development.

Oh, and as for the counternarcotic action, it doesn’t bother Cannon at all, he assures Dewar.

4:20:43 PM
Peter Goldring gets the baton, and shifts the focus to the progress that his government has made in its relationship with the Americas, and the efforts that Canada has made towards development in Haiti, which is a symbol of that progress. Cannon confirms that Canada has made a “long term commitment” to Haiti – which means expending considerable resources – our single largest investment in the Americas, in fact. He goes on, basically restating the Haiti section of his presentation, with added accolades for the new secretary of state for the region, Peter Kent.

4:25:27 PM
Wait, is this still the first round of questions? I’m losing track, but I could have sworn the Liberals, at least, should have gotten one more slot before the government took a second one.

4:27:07 PM
Okay, Bernard Patry is up with – what, two minutes? I do not get this new order of questions *at all*. Anyway, he wonders about our renewed commitment to foreign aid, and points to Hilary Clinton’s statement to the US Foreign Affairs committee on “smart power”. Cannon – who has about a minute to answer – takes advantage of the clock to cherrypick the question he wants to handle, which has to do with Stephen Fletcher, who is now in charge of the whole democracy thing, as well as other fine organizations and agency that empower citizens, which he calls “so very Canadian.” They’re keen, is the upshot.

As for “smart power”, he, too, found Clinton’s comments to be interesting, and he looks forward to working with her in future; he’s quite happy with the current policy on Afghanistan, and if there are any changes needed, that will be for Parliament to decide.

4:33:24 PM
And that’s it for the minister; the chair thanks him, and suspends the meeting for a few minutes to empty out the room before they go in camera to talk serious committee business. ITQ, meanwhile, is headed back to Centre Block to find out what else she’s missed.