When Saudi Arabia began 2016 by executing 47 people, it cast an almost immediate spotlight on Canada. Not because of our own predilection for beheading our criminals no matter the crime, but because of a 2014 deal by the Canadian government to have the London-based company General Dynamics Land Systems build armoured vehicles for the Saudi government. The details of that agreement were never released, and now that former Treasury Board President Tony Clement isn’t in the government anymore, he’s pretty ticked off about it.
In a statement to the Globe & Mail Monday, Clement, now the foreign affairs critic in the official opposition, said, “Canadians don’t want these weaponized vehicles to be used against innocents in Saudi Arabia. We need to know, given this rapidly changing environment in the Middle East, that the weapons are going to be used for the purposes that are intended and that there has been sufficiently rigorous assessment of Saudi Arabia.”
Yes, that was Tony Clement, a long standing cabinet minister in the government of Stephen Harper, demanding that the present prime minister and his government do something that he, the former PM and their colleagues, refused to do in the first place. You may be thinking that Clement is being a hypocrite, but it’s okay! You see, this is a Liberal government, and they are held to a higher standard:
“This is a [Liberal] government that has promised more transparency. I think that is consistent with the times in which we live,” Mr. Clement said.
“So don’t take the signal from the last government. If you want to be true to your principles and values, which the Conservative Party under new leadership shares, let’s move forward.”
This would mark another shift in tried and true Conservative policy since Harper resigned as party leader after the Conservatives’ loss on October 19, the most notable would be interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose’s support for an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls, an inquiry that Harper refused to call in his final months in office.
Back to the issue at hand, the Liberals have promised to release an internal 2015 report on the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia, and Federal export rules state Ottawa has to get assurances in deals like these that the vehicles will not be used against the client government’s own people. The sticky wicket here is the $15 billion deal that will keep 3,000 good manufacturing jobs in London till 2029. The economic argument, of course, is how Harper skated over human rights concerns during the campaign.
“Notwithstanding its human rights violations which are significant, this is a contract with a country that is an ally against the Islamic state, a contract that any one of our allies would have signed,” the Conservative leader said at an event in Riviere-du-Loup, Que.
“We expressed our outrage, our disagreement from time to time with the government of Saudi Arabia for their treatment of human rights, but I don’t think it makes any sense to pull a contract in a way that would only punish Canadian workers.”
For his part, Trudeau said during the campaign that he would not cancel the deal if elected, a sentiment repeated on CBC’s Power & Politics last week by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. “What is done is done and the contract is not something that we’ll revisit,” Dion said.
So it looks like the Liberal government is turning a deaf ear to Clement’s request, which is exactly what Tony Clement would have done, you know, six months ago.