Federal Conservatives call for special Commons study of Canada-U.S. relations

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives are calling for a special House of Commons committee devoted to Canada-U.S. relations.

They’ll advance the idea during a debate in the House of Commons today devoted to Opposition business.

Their motion would see the committee focus on the economic relationship between the two countries, and notes, given the ongoing pandemic, the “the need for a serious plan for the economic recovery that recognizes the integration of the North American economy.”

While the proposed committee would have a broad mandate, the Conservatives want emphasis placed on two areas: Buy American provisions being advanced by U.S. President Joe Biden, and the case of an Enbridge pipeline known as Line 5, which some U.S. officials want to close.

If the motion is approved, the new committee would be tasked with producing reports on those issues by certain deadlines, and also have the power to call the deputy prime minister, foreign affairs minister and the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. as witnesses.

The committee would also explore what work the government is doing with the U.S. to procure a steady stream of COVID-19 vaccines.

Opposition day motions are not binding on the government though can be used to create political pressure for action.

The call for a Canada-U.S. special committee has echoes of a previous successful attempt by the Conservatives to get a similar committee struck to focus on Canada-China relations, over objections from the Liberals.

That effort was spearheaded by current party leader Erin O’Toole when he was the Conservative foreign-affairs critic.

Both Buy American provisions and the future of Enbridge Line 5 are hot-button political issues.

The pipeline carries millions of litres each day of the liquids used in propane, traversing parts of northern Michigan and Wisconsin with an end in Sarnia, Ont.

The governor of Michigan wants the pipeline shut down, and environmental activists are pressing Biden to support that in the spirit of his recent decision to cancel construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Conservatives accused the Liberals of not doing enough to convince Biden to change his mind on Keystone, and now say more needs to be done to ensure Line 5 stays open to protect the associated jobs.

Biden is also advocating for protectionist Buy American policies, an issue Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did address on his call with U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris earlier this week.

Canadian businesses have raised concerns they’ll be stopped from bidding on U.S. government contracts, and Trudeau’s office said part of his call with Harris was about “avoiding the unintended consequences” of a Buy American approach.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021.

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