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This article was published 30/3/2018 (625 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr is under fire from a fellow Liberal for giving what she called a lack of substantive answers to senators’ questions.
"After yesterday’s mostly unanswered questions, I am no longer sure that it is helpful to have a minister here when they give no answers," British Columbia Sen. Mobina Jaffer said Wednesday.
She lamented Carr’s appearance in the Senate Tuesday to field questions about Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, as the minister of natural resources.
In January 2014, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau removed all 32 Liberal senators from the party’s caucus and told them to sit as Independents. Jaffer is among a small group of senators who call themselves the Senate Liberal caucus.
Senate Liberals are aligned with the party, but do not participate in the weekly closed-door caucus meetings with party MPs, though the Conservatives continue this tradition.
Trudeau said he removed senators from his party to make the Senate less partisan, and also vowed to have his cabinet ministers regularly go to the Senate to answer senators’ questions.
But Jaffer is questioning the merits of that practice. She said Carr’s 45-minute appearance was "not helpful" and lacked "comprehensive answers." Trudeau’s representative, Sen. Peter Harder, didn’t object to that characterization.
On Tuesday, Jaffer had asked Carr why higher-risk crude bitumen is being transported instead of refined in Alberta; Carr answered it had been flowing through the same pipe for 30 years.
She asked whether the regulator adequately considered Indigenous rights, and how the pipeline fits into the "climate crisis." Carr outlined "meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples" as one of three pillars of the government’s energy policy.
Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran raised concerns about pipeline opponents being arrested in B.C. last week, including Green party Leader Elizabeth May. "Allegations of violence are coming from all sides," McPhedran said, asking Carr whether the government will promise not to use violence against non-violent protesters.
Carr responded that peaceful dissent "is a cherished right" in Canada. "We encourage people to dissent, and people will find their own ways to protest."
On Thursday, Carr said he felt he’d given sufficient answers to the senators’ questions.
"I appreciated the dialogue with them; I honour and respect the work they do and I feel as if I answered questions fully," he told the Free Press, appearing surprised at Jaffer’s remarks. "If senators want more comprehensive answers, I’d be very happy to have conversations with them about that."
When asked whether Jaffer was being fair, Carr said he hadn’t heard her remarks, but offered to give her "more time and more comprehensive answers" if his responses weren’t sufficient.
Manitoba Conservative Sen. Don Plett has taken swipes against various Liberal cabinet ministers during their visits to the Senate.
On Tuesday, he and fellow Manitoba Sen. Patricia Bovey (whom Trudeau appointed) asked Carr about the future of the northern Manitoba town of Churchill.
Carr reiterated that various funding programs for Churchill and ongoing talks aimed at transferring the damaged railway and port into local hands.
He also pointed out the Conservatives’ decision to sell the Canadian Wheat Board to a Saudi-owned company in 2015 cut wheat shipments and hurt the Omnitrax railway, prompting Plett to chide Carr for opting to "blame others."
Meanwhile, the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion proposal is becoming a contentious issue in the Senate.
The chamber passed a Conservative motion expressing support for the project while many senators were absent. A media report claimed the motion passed unanimously, but it was a vocal vote in which individual responses weren’t recorded.
That reporting led Indigenous activists to question whether Manitoba Sen. Murray Sinclair supported the motion. Sinclair declined to be interviewed, but said on Twitter, he’s "more resolved than ever to fight this project in the Senate."
McPhedran said she wasn’t part of that vote. She noted Tuesday "many Indigenous communities and leaders affected by the (project) are clearly opposed."