5 min

Scott Brison on Halifax, China and Colombia

Liberal MP Scott Brison is in Ottawa this week as the face of the party, holding daily press conferences on issues that they feel Canadians should be discussing. Today, Brison called out Stephen Harper for not addressing the media in over three weeks, while important policy decisions were being announced without Parliamentary consultation – things like the census and the sole-source contract purchase of those F-35 fighter jets.

I caught up with Brison later in the afternoon, where we discussed the rest of his summer.

Q: How was Halifax Pride?
A: Halifax Pride seems to grow every year – it’s always terrific. It’s become a lot bigger than an LGBT event – it’s become an event celebrated by the whole city, and more of a celebration of diversity, and of freedom, and of rights. It’s amazing the number of families you see out every year. I see every year more people – straight, gay, single, married, children, families – everyone’s there. It’s wonderful. It’s just a really special celebration for the community, and of Halifax, and of Canada. It’s the only Pride parade I’m participating in this year, so it was really great. Maxime and I, and Simba [their dog] were happy to return to it this year.

Q: Tell me about your trip to China.
A: We had a very productive trip. We met with very senior leaders of government, including the minister of foreign affairs. We met with one of the nine members of the of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, which in many ways is one of the most powerful decision-making bodies in China. We met with the president and chief investment officer of the China Investment Corporation, which is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. What was interesting was how open the Chinese officials were about some of the challenges they face, some of the fears they have for the future, and their enthusiasm for the future at the same time. A lot of common challenges we face together – they’re very concerned about the demographic shift in China, which their situation ought to be more challenging than ours because of the One Child policy, so it has real implications in terms of labour issues, in terms of pension issues. They’re very concerned about the gap between rich and poor, about the growing gap between rural and urban, and these are issues that all countries face but they are genuinely focused on trying to deal with these issues. We made the point that when it comes to pension issues, that we have Canadian financial institutions and Canadian experience on the pension side that could be very helpful, and that we can deepen our commercial relationship in terms of the financial services sector as an example – deepen our sharing of information and expertise on dealing with some of those issues together. We also identified, in meeting with Canadian businesses over there including some Canadian banks, that there are some unnecessary barriers to entry and in some cases barriers to growth for Canadian banks and Canadian life insurance companies in China, and when we met with Chinese officials, we made the case that if you want our expertise, if you want our partnership on some of these issues, you have to break down some of those barriers.

We raised human rights issues – Michael Ignatieff was very strong on human rights issues when he met with the officials, and we had a very respectful, constructive and serious discussion. I was very impressed with the support that exists at very senior levels of the Chinese decision makers for the Liberal Party of Canada. There’s tremendous respect for the Liberal Party. We didn’t have to talk about Pierre Trudeau opening up China – they raised it. We didn’t have to talk about Jean Chrétien making six official visits to China when he was Prime Minister – they raised it, and in a very positive way. The Chinese officials were actually more direct than I had expected in terms of their desire to see a Michael Ignatieff-led Liberal government in Canada, and their frustration with the Harper government’s isolationism.

The other thing too is every time I go to China, and I’m going back in September, is you see changes. You see a lot of progress – Shanghai seems more and more like Hong Kong, and the growth and development there is remarkable. Over 30 million Chinese a year move from the country to the cities, so the Chinese are developing world-class design, architecture, green building systems. We met with Canadian architects who are doing a lot of the new buildings in China – the new and most modern buildings. We met with representatives of the Canadian forestry products industry, and with the burgeoning middle class, and with wood home construction not being mainstream yet in China, the opportunity that affords us is really quite remarkable. With the rise of the middle class, there’s going to be a lot more demand for residential housing construction, multi-unit primarily, and if we market effectively Canadian forestry products, Canadian forestry can have a big part of that business. I think there’s just great opportunity for us, whether it’s in the Canadian financial services sector, Canadian forestry products, or Canadian clean energy systems or clean energy technology, so I’m actually very excited about it.

Q: You mentioned that you’re heading back to Colombia shortly. You were instrumental in getting that free trade agreement passed, and it’s signed into law now. Is this the victory lap?
A: To the contrary – it’s jam-packed with meetings with Luis Plata, the Minister of Trade, and Jaime Bermudez, their minister of foreign affairs; I’m meeting with President Uribe as well, and we’ll be meeting with some of their successors while I’m down there. I’m also going to be setting up some meetings with human rights organisations, labour groups, and Canadian business representatives. I’m giving a speech to about 400 business people on Canada-Colombia trade opportunities. I’m going to be talking about the strengths that Canada offers as an economic partner, and I’m also going to speak about the importance of genuine and legitimate human rights engagement, and why that’s important to Colombia socially and economically. I’m looking forward to the trip.

Q: There as, a couple of months ago, a report that came out that talked about gay and lesbian human rights groups in Colombia being targeted a few years ago. I was wondering if you’d come across that as well?
A: Colombia has one of the most vibrant gay and lesbian communities in Latin America. Anyone who doubts that should Google gay and Bogota, and it’s really clear that there’s a vibrant and active gay community. In terms of gay life, Colombia has one of the more active gay communities in Latin America in fact. There are always examples of prejudice and discrimination, but they exist in every country. It’s something we always have to fight wherever it is. If anything, the human rights reporting mechanism in the treaty that we helped negotiate directly with the Colombian government will help provide us with better clarity on these types of issues as we move forward.

Q: Aside from the trip to Colombia, is there anything else going on this summer?
A: I spent some time with the leader, not just in China, but also on tour in Ontario last week. I’m going to be spending some time with him in Quebec in a couple of weeks. We’ve got our national caucus in Baddeck, Nova Scotia at the end of August, and I’m going back to China in September. We’re working very hard, and a team only goes as fast as the guy in front, and Michael Ignatieff’s running very fast, and his team is working very hard as well. There are no short cuts in this business – we’re doing real work in making ourselves ready for when Canadians want a change. I think that’s going to be the next election.
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