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This article was published 7/3/2019 (521 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With a federal election on the horizon, cabinet ministers are likely to be spotted around these parts more often than usual.
To have them on the road during the current controversy in Ottawa over whether or not the Prime Minister’s Office exerted inappropriate pressure on the former-attorney general regarding the prosecution of a large Quebec company is also probably helpful to the government’s cause.
That’s particularly true when it comes to International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr and his presence in Manitoba.
Carr can not only express sincere and believable support for the prime minister, he’s also close to those economic files that can point to successes the Trudeau government has achieved since taking office in 2015.
In Manitoba, Carr’s legacy as the head of the Business Council of Manitoba for 15 years prior to going into government provides undeniable credibility.
For instance, the audience at a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce breakfast on Thursday likely had little doubt Carr knew what he was talking about when he made references to the role and responsibility of the "creators of wealth" in the country — private sector businesses.
Since government now seems to believe that job creation is the most important dynamic it should have an affect on all others, Carr can realistically project — especially to an audience of Manitoba business people — that he knows something about that.
But as the first federal cabinet minister to hold the portfolio called international trade diversification, he really does have his hands full. The very fact that such a portfolio was created suggests there needs to be more trade diversification, and if it was something that was easily attainable, creating a new cabinet designation wouldn’t have been necessary.
The reason 75 per cent of Canada’s trade is with the U.S. is obvious. Every other potential trading partner is more challenging for Canadian businesses by orders of magnitude.
Carr touted the beefed-up spending in trade infrastructure and 900 trade commissioners and new trade deals, but allowed that it’s only valuable if those "wealth creators" take advantage of it.
In his fireside chat with Carr on Thursday morning, Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the outrageous action China has taken banning Richardson International canola shipments underlines the nervousness Canadian businesses have about doing business overseas.
It’s a sobering example of what Carr is up against — the fear Canadian businesses have of capricious action taken by a "customer" located very far away.
Luckily, Richardson International is one of the most experienced foreign traders in the country, which probably leaves them better equipped than most to deal with such a situation.
Carr said, "We are going through a very difficult moment... because we are deeply concerned that China has detained two of our citizens without due process. We are also in the midst of an extradition issue. The Chinese for whatever reason are acting in a way that is harmful to our canola producers.
"We see it as a science issue," he said. "We want to know if there is any evidence that product — which is the highest quality in the world, distributed by one of our most reputable and important companies — has actually violated anything."
Carr was careful not to exacerbate the situation, saying all the appropriate inquiries and representations are being made to get to the bottom of the issue, and that "we have been doing business with China for more than 100 years and we will be doing business with China for a lot longer."
Carr made a passing reference to an interesting development in trade diversification efforts that could dovetail with another file that’s important in Manitoba — the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill.
He referred to potential for shipping out of that deepwater Arctic Ocean port as "another highway." He also made reference to his government’s Arctic strategy and promised Churchill will play an important role in that.
Carr has been talking about an Arctic strategy for some time with little meat on that bone other than the $117 million to support the acquisition of the rail line.
Canadian trade would definitely be diversified if an Arctic strategy were to materialize that included enhanced shipping activity out of the Port of Churchill.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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