Fleetwood-Port Kells MP looking out for trade, looking in for local issues
Last Friday afternoon, sitting in the office of Surrey Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal, I watched a steady stream of people swirling though the facility. Traffic control was provided by an attentive staff, while their MP, dressed casually, gives his attention to everyone with a request for service, or seeking an answer to an issue that’s causing a problem. It’s a busy place.
I’m there to interview him about how this term in parliament is going, particularly in his role as a member of the International Trade Committee, and what issues he sees among his constituents.
Sukh Dhaliwal: The International Trade Committee is very active because in this past year alone we’ve dealt with the Trans Pacific Partnership travelling from coast to coast to coast, discussing and informing people about that treaty. As well, we’ve just successfully concluded the landmark Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union and its block of 28 European nations. You see that we are showing leadership in the world when it comes to international trade.
Contrasted with our friends to the south, people are seeing Justin Trudeau as a world leader, and Canada as open to trade. That’s the key achievement. Next week we will be travelling to Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco and Denver, and in May the committee will travel to Chicago and Washington DC to remind the state and local governments that for some 35 states, Canada is the top export destination. We’re a big part of their economy. We will be talking with the business people and stakeholders, reminding them that if we start implementing these 15% and 20% duties and taxes, it will dramatically affect both sides.
Ray Hudson: Canadian softwood lumber is back in the spotlight again as the U.S. forest companies make yet another attempt by US lumber producers to impose a surtax on Canadian wood under a pretext that has never been recognized by the courts over all the years these complaints have been adjudicated. Some suggest it’s little more than harassment of our lumber exports and the opportunity to impose higher costs on the Canadian industry.
Sukh Dhaliwal: I was sitting on the International Trade Committee last October, when the softwood agreement expired. I met with the stakeholders in BC, and being the only member from British Columbia we dedicated two days to study the lumber trade issue as it affects us in BC. That’s the key perspective from BC, Quebec and other provinces. Yesterday I met with UNIFOR, the forest workers union, and they expressed concern. My job is to take their voice forward to make sure that we get some kind of agreement in place.
Ray Hudson: How does India, the second biggest country in the world, measure up in terms of importance for trade, particularly as a target for exporting lumber products?
Sukh Dhaliwal: I have a very good working relationship with the Indian Ambassador and their team as well as with their Prime Minister. Now that we’ve completed our trade deal with Europe, we are moving forward toward Asia with our focus on India and China. The appointment of former cabinet minister John McCallum as Ambassador to China, is very good. He and I have worked together for quite a number of years now, and with his economic background, he’s the right person to be there. India, on the other hand, is an emerging nation where we would love to have more trade, particularly with the large diaspora here in BC. That is a strong resource in helping moving the issue forward.
Ray Hudson: It seems to me that the daily non-stop air travel to India from Toronto, and seasonally from Vancouver are important aspects of increasing trade between us.
Sukh Dhaliwal: I was just meeting with one of the administration team from YVR, and we were talking about how to make the airport friendlier in moving people and trade through the facility. The daily direct flights from Toronto have made it so much easier to travel, but I would like to see the daily seasonal direct flights from Vancouver in place all year long as well. The flights are full and oversold so it’s a good step moving forward. There seems to be a market here.
Ray Hudson: Turning to your riding, what are the issues in Surrey Newton?
Sukh Dhaliwal: In Surrey Newton, crime and safety are first, immigration is second, third is the financial condition of the country, particularly with respect to jobs and economic opportunities for people, followed by issues concerning seniors.
Ray Hudson: What are the immigration issues?
Sukh Dhaliwal: There has been a problem with the Chandigarh office. The rejection rate was very high, somewhere around 85%. Perhaps they were too strict looking at people as threats. The Delhi office by comparison had a 15% rejection rate. I have raised this issue with the minister and we’ve been working to fix that. I can report that things have improved. It’s much smoother there, but there are still issues with small businesses around the temporary workers they need to bring in. In permanent family immigration we have done a lot. We’ve said that spousal cases will be dealt with within a year where it was taking two to four years before. With respect to grandparents, we have doubled the number of applications from five thousand to ten thousand. So we’re bringing in the reforms which will not only help the families to come to Canada, but will also help industry find the labour that they need, whether it’s the agriculture and farm industries or the hospitality and construction industries.
Ray Hudson: You also raised the concern about crime and personal safety in the riding, while even members of the government have been critical of the judiciary because they are being seen as too soft on sentencing dealers of fentanyl and carfentanil. What are you hearing from your constituents?
Sukh Dhaliwal: People want the system to change overnight, but they also want to be the social justice person believing in the Charter of Rights while wanting to be able to put every criminal in jail. It’s a very difficult task for the Minister of Justice to balance. Right now she’s taking a leadership role in reforming the whole justice system. But these issues continue and people are still concerned. The Justice Minister has been in Surrey Newton a few times, and even yesterday after the budget, her staff talked to me because they know it is a key issue. All the senior ministers are concerned about Surrey and they’re listening to our feedback.
Finally, Bill Blair was here to discuss the legalization of marijuana and how to remove the criminal involvement. It’s a work in progress.