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Philip Steenkamp: Food security should be next on B.C.’s political menu



Certainly not all of us — anyone who has relied on a food bank knows what it’s like to worry about where the next meal is coming from. But many British Columbians, especially those in positions of power and influence, are used to the luxury of leaving food security questions to other people.

Those days are over.

We got a taste of food insecurity early in the pandemic as grocery-store shelves emptied. The race for the last package of toilet paper or bottle of hand sanitizer got the headlines, but even the availability of household staples like flour and eggs was suddenly in doubt.

Then, just as that was settling down, the November 2021 atmospheric river swept in. Floodwaters overtook huge swaths of Fraser Valley farmland, and drowned cows, chickens, pigs and even bees by the thousands. Landslides and bridge collapses cut off trucking routes and rail lines — and once again, supermarket shelves emptied out.

On the heels of that disaster came a massive surge in inflation. COVID-19’s on-again, off-again supply-chain disruptions were supercharged by Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. And while prices rose across the board, food prices have been the ones to keep stubbornly increasing. (Not that frustrated consumers will be willing to place the blame entirely on supply chains while grocery chains are reaping record profits and memories of the 2017 bread price-fixing scandal are still fresh in customers’ minds.) In one of the most expensive places to live on Earth, that’s having a serious impact on the ability of people with a limited income to feed themselves and their families.

Today, in the aftermath of an even more devastating atmospheric river and widespread flooding in California — the source of a lot of B.C. produce, especially in the winter and spring — questions are arising of where the next shortages will show up. Even at that, our situation pales in comparison to developing countries that until now relied on wheat from Ukraine. Russia has not only blockaded exports from that country, but is also launching relentless attacks on the energy infrastructure that helps keep food production running.

If there was any doubt before, it’s gone now: Food security is a critical issue. The assured, ready supply of a wide variety of food that we’ve been accustomed to is in jeopardy.

That may be disheartening to hear, given the many other dangers and challenges we’re facing, but then those crises have more than a little connection to a safe, reliable, affordable supply of food. Climate disruption means more extreme weather events; rising authoritarianism and nationalism threaten to unleash more wars; our global economy, built on assumptions about stability that today seem hopelessly naïve, can be expected to falter again and again.

All of these conditions erode the security of our food supply.

In turn, an insecure supply of food can undermine the stability of governments and local economies, prompt large-scale migrations and humanitarian crises, and heighten conflicts between countries.

This is life under the polycrisis — interconnected, mutually reinforcing crises that affect everything from severe rainfall warnings to the ever-rising prices at the grocery checkout.

Giving Garden Harvest Fall 2022 event at Royal Roads University near Victoria. Left to right: University president Philip Steenkamp, Jesse Willis of Upbeet Garden and Anna Maria Stone of Iyé Creative. Steenkamp and Stone hold a variety of winter squash to be donated to local community groups.
Giving Garden Harvest Fall 2022 event at Royal Roads University near Victoria. Left to right: University president Philip Steenkamp, Jesse Willis of Upbeet Garden and Anna Maria Stone of Iyé Creative. Steenkamp and Stone hold a variety of winter squash to be donated to local community groups. Photo by Trevor Henry

Addressing food security requires a broad range of co-ordinated responses at every level, from individual neighbourhoods to international co-operation. We urgently need to have long-overdue conversations about just what that response must look like.

But not all the answers will have to be planetary in scale — or even provincewide.

As you read this, the Giving Garden in the Farm at Royal Roads University is nearly ready for the first harvest of 2023. Driven by Dr. Hilary Leighton, program head in our School of Environment and Sustainability, it is both a living laboratory for Royal Roads students and a growing source of fresh produce for the Greater Victoria community, directly addressing food insecurity in the region.

The impact of the Farm at RRU is real and significant, with over 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables distributed last year to food-insecure seniors, single parents and newcomers to Canada. That contribution will keep increasing in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Newell, the new Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainability, is studying the use of systems mapping to show relationships among local farms, transportation networks, grocery stores, communities and key social and environmental issues. His program also looks at sustainability and novel food production methods, such as vertical agriculture (growing crops indoors using stacked shelves) and cellular agriculture (growing meat directly from cell cultures instead of relying on animals).

Solutions like these are being developed throughout B.C. and Canada. But we need to co-ordinate them. One obvious vehicle for that co-ordination is government: Indigenous, municipal, provincial and federal. There are many ways they can support that work — from developing up-to-date standards for measuring food insecurity to bringing a food security lens to bear on every aspect of public policy.

That can only happen if leaders at all levels start convening the public conversations needed to shape that vision.

If any good is to come from the food supply shocks of the past three years — and the more severe incidents that are sure to come — it’s that they’ve given us all an appetite for those conversations. It’s time for our leaders to get cooking.


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A closer look at MP Han Dong’s voting record on China – Global News



Toronto-area MP Han Dong is at the centre of a political firestorm following a Global News report that he allegedly spoke with a Chinese diplomat in 2021, advising Beijing to delay freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, according to two intelligence sources.

While Dong acknowledged he had the conversation with China’s consul-general in Toronto, Han Tao, he strongly denied the allegations that he told Beijing to hold off the release of the two Canadians.


He has subsequently resigned from the Liberal caucus, giving an emotional speech Wednesday night in the House of Commons.

“What has been reported is false, and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims,” said Dong, who will now sit as an Independent.

“Let me assure members that, as a parliamentarian and as a person, I have never advocated, and I will never and would never advocate or support the violation of the basic human rights of any Canadian or of anyone, anywhere, period.”

Click to play video: 'Han Dong leaving Liberal caucus, will sit as an Independent'

Han Dong leaving Liberal caucus, will sit as an Independent

Global News previously reported last month that Dong is one of at least 11 Toronto-area riding candidates who was allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 federal election, according to national security sources.

The sources spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity, which they requested because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act.

Dong has denied the allegations.

In an effort to glean more about the Don Valley North MP’s positions on issues regarding China, Global News has compiled a review of his votes and statements inside and out of the House of Commons:

Statements on the Two Michaels

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says foreign interference ‘very real challenge,’ urges people to watch Han Dong’s speech'

Trudeau says foreign interference ‘very real challenge,’ urges people to watch Han Dong’s speech

Kovrig and Spavor spent more than 1,000 days in prison in China in what was believed to be in retaliation for Canada’s 2018 detention of Meng Wanzhou. The Huawei senior executive was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant over fraud charges related to U.S. sanctions violations against Iran.

While two national security sources told Global News that Dong urged Chinese Consul General Han Tao to delay freeing the Michaels, Dong pushed back strongly against the allegations in a response to Global News.

“I raised the status of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and called for their immediate release,” he wrote.

“At every opportunity before they returned home, I adamantly demanded their release to Canada without delay. Any suggestions otherwise are false and are attempts to mislead you and your readers, and slander me.”

More on Politics

Global News reviewed all statements made by Dong in Parliament since he was elected in 2019 and found no remarks related to the Two Michaels or calls for their freedom prior to March 2023.

Dong did not respond to questions about where he’s previously made such statements.

Read more:

Liberals ignored CSIS warning on 2019 candidate accused in Chinese interference probe, sources say

The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that the Trudeau government determined there was no “actionable evidence” after it received a CSIS transcript of a 2021 conversation between Dong and China’s top diplomat in Toronto.

According to The Globe, a senior government source indicated that conclusions could not be drawn that Dong asked Beijing to keep the two Canadians in prison for political reasons.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Friday by reporters about whether he believed Dong advocated for delaying the Michaels’ freedom.

The prime minister did not directly answer that question despite his office’s review of the conversation’s transcript.

“Dong gave a strong speech in the House that I recommend people listen to. We fully accept that he is stepping away from the Liberal caucus in order to vigorously contest these allegations,” the prime minister said.

Trudeau added that meddling by China, Russia or Iran “is a very real challenge to our democracy and is absolutely unacceptable.”

Calls for interference inquiry

Click to play video: 'Liberal MP Han Dong says he won’t ask PMO to verify allegations of Chinese election interference'

Liberal MP Han Dong says he won’t ask PMO to verify allegations of Chinese election interference

Shortly after resigning from the Liberal caucus, Dong voted Thursday for an inquiry into foreign election interference.

The Trudeau government has been under intense pressure for perceived inaction after reports of China’s alleged meddling in Canadian elections.

Dong voted with the Conservative Party, Bloc Québécois and New Democrats to help pass the motion with 172 votes in favour and 149 against, largely comprised of Liberal MPs.

Canada-China relations

Since 2019, there have been three votes on Canada-China relations. One was to review “the Canada–China relationship,” the second a call to combat growing Chinese foreign operations in Canada, and third recognizing that authoritarian regimes like China “increasingly pose a threat to the rules-based international order.”

Dong voted with the entire or vast majority of the Liberal caucus against the three motions.

Uyghur Genocide

Click to play video: 'MPs votes to declare China’s Uyghurs persecution as genocide'

MPs votes to declare China’s Uyghurs persecution as genocide

On Feb. 1, a Liberal motion was brought forward condemning China’s human rights abuses of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and called on the government to bring 10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims to Canada.

Uyghurs in other countries, the motion said, are pressured to return to China, where they face “forced sterilization, forced labour, torture and other atrocities.”

Dong voted before and after the Uyghur genocide motion but missed the show of hands on the Uyghurs, which passed with the unanimous consent of all 322 MPs present. His absence was first reported by the National Post.

Read more:

2017 memo prepared for PM warns of Beijing election interference

The Toronto MP did not respond to questions from Global News about his non-attendence and referred Global to his statement before the House of Commons.

“Members skip their votes, abstain their votes all the time, and I wasn’t the only one that skipped the vote,” he told reporters Tuesday.

In February 2021, there was a House vote to declare that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs constituted genocide.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstained, but MPs were free to vote. Dong skipped that motion, which passed unanimously.

Election interference

Click to play video: 'Liberals insist Trudeau government worked “tirelessly” to bring home 2 Michaels'

Liberals insist Trudeau government worked “tirelessly” to bring home 2 Michaels

Amid a flurry of questions from reporters about the stunning allegations against him, Dong said that in 2020 he had called for a motion to study “election interference.”

In November 2020, Dong did call for a study on “ways to further protect Canada’s democratic and electoral institutions from cyber and non-cyber interference.”

The study, he said at the time, should include “how new domestic and international stakeholders, as well as other orders of government, can work together to strengthen Canada’s whole-of-society preparedness, resilience and civic engagement in the face of evolving threats to democracy.”

Wuhan Institute

In 2021, a Conservative motion sponsored by MP Michael Chong requested that the Public Health Agency turn over unredacted documents related to the shipment of viruses sent from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory to Wuhan, China in 2019, and the subsequent firing of two scientists from the Winnipeg facility.

Dong voted with the nearly entire Liberal caucus against the motion, which nonetheless passed in Parliament.


Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons earlier this week, Dong said he had voted in favour of motions considered hostile to Beijing’s interests.

“I voted to condemn China when they sanctioned one of our vice chairs of a standing committee,” he said. “I voted to include Taiwan in the WHO. In 2020, I moved a motion in [an] ethics committee to study election interference, domestic and international.”

Read more:

Liberal MP Han Dong secretly advised Chinese diplomat in 2021 to delay freeing Two Michaels: sources

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and views any overture of support as meddling in its internal affairs.

In October 2022, Dong indeed joined 323 MPs in voting for the politically sensitive country to become a WHO member. And in June 2021, Dong joined all 327 MPs in favour of unanimously passing a Parliamentary committee motion to condemn Chinese sanctions levied against Conservative MP Michael Chong.

Hong Kong

In February, Dong publicly supported the Liberal government’s move to expand the open-work permit program for Hong Kong residents.

The former British colony, which reverted to Beijing’s control in 1997, has seen a massive wave of emigration following anti-government demonstrations four years ago. The protests were sparked by a bill that would have allowed people to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China.

“[This] announcement will ensure that Hong Kong residents who share Canada’s values of freedom and democracy will continue to be able to seek opportunities to settle and succeed in Canada,” Dong said in a press release at the time.

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Toews, Savage withdrawal from election could cast doubts on premier, say experts – Calgary Herald



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One day after two top UCP cabinet ministers announced they would not seek re-election in May there were still few answers to be had.

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On Friday afternoon, both Finance Minister Travis Toews and Environment Minister Sonya Savage announced they were opting to spend more time with family instead of running again in the next provincial election.

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Premier Danielle Smith on her Saturday radio show on QR770 noted Toews’ ability to manage through the pandemic and deliver two consecutive balanced budgets. She called Savage her “point person in dealing with Ottawa.”

“I’m grateful to both of them,” said the premier. “I’m looking forward to finding out how we might be able to continue to use their incredible talents post-election in an advisory role, because I think that they’ve done so much for our province and I want to continue to see them have an opportunity to contribute.”

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Smith, in a press release on Friday, said she will appoint replacement UCP candidates for Toews’ riding in Grande Prairie-Wapiti as well as for Savage in Calgary-North West.

The two are the latest cabinet ministers who have withdrawn from the coming spring election. They join former Jobs, Innovation and Economy Minister Doug Schweitzer, who stepped down before the UCP leadership race last summer, and Minister of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism Rajan Sawhney and party whip Brad Rutherford who have withdrawn since Smith took office in October.

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said it is not uncommon to have a 25 per cent turnover in MLAs. What is different is to have so many cabinet ministers — especially single-term politicians — decide not to run again.

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Adding to the intrigue is both were at one point prepared to run again. Toews was the first runner-up to Smith in the leadership race, while Savage had already secured the nomination for her riding.

He called the reasoning to spend more time with family a mere cliché but said it is difficult to know their full reasons for not running again.

He also does not expect this to be the end of the withdrawal of cabinet ministers, pointing to the potential of two more members of former premier Jason Kenney’s inner circle — Health Minister Jason Copping and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro — stepping away before May.

“You wonder how united the party is as Smith was able to rally them,” said Bratt.

Smith said Toews promised to stay on to at least deliver his fifth budget, which he did on Feb. 28. The implementation bill was passed on Thursday and he then informed the premier he was not going to run again.

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Bratt said the deal could potentially have been that Toews was to stay on to get the budget passed before stepping away all along, while Savage was just “hedging her bets and keeping her options open” until the legislative session was over.

“I don’t know how you could ignore the shift in leader and the role that that plays,” he said.

Melanee Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said it is curious what changed for the finance minister. If he didn’t share the premier’s vision, he likely would not have been given the power to put the budget together.

The question is, how this will play out come election time, especially with Calgary considered to be a key battleground with both the UCP and the NDP needing to win the city to win the election.

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While Calgary-North West has been a long-time conservative stronghold, Thomas said Savage stepping down could mean the riding is up for grabs.

“The NDP vote is inefficient in Edmonton. The UCP is inefficient in rural areas, which means that it comes down to who wins all the seats in Calgary,” she said.

Bratt said the fact two more high-profile ministers have decided not to run again, regardless of the publicly stated reasons, will play on the minds of the undecided electorate when it comes to the UCP leader.

“You know, people do have questions and wonder, ‘if I have doubts about Smith, well, maybe Toews and Savage and Schweitzer and Sawhney have doubts about her as well,’” he said.
Twitter: @JoshAldrich03


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China, Russia face sanctions from US states now. That’s dangerous



Sanctions have become all the rage in international politics. The United States and its allies are imposing them on rivals with increasing frequency and severity. And those rivals are reciprocating where they can.

Now, American states, too, are increasingly getting in on the act. And that’s bad news — for the world, and for US foreign policy. A much-publicised episode of a Chinese balloon entering US airspace seems to have created new energy for such restrictions and has led to legislation being proposed in at least 11 states.

On Wednesday, the South Carolina State Senate passed a bill barring ownership of land in the state by citizens of US geopolitical adversaries Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Cuba. The bill’s top sponsor even compared a planned purchase of South Carolina land by a Chinese biomedical firm with the Trojan Horse plot of Greek mythology.

Meanwhile, Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst has proposed a similar law that has drawn strong condemnation on human rights grounds but has been defended by Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor. A simple reading of the original version of this bill would lead one to conclude that any individual who holds citizenship from any of the mentioned countries, or any firms which they own, would be barred from owning property. This would have included American citizens who hold dual citizenship. Since then, the language has been softened to protect dual citizens and permanent residents but not citizens of those countries residing in Texas on a visa.


Implementation of such language would impose new and unusual due diligence requirements on common land transactions. Meanwhile, creating special restrictions on various immigrant communities to own property poses human rights concerns.

Existing sanctions laws and Treasury Department designations already block leaders from those American adversaries from transferring money into the US or owning property in the country. Meanwhile, recently introduced federal legislation aims to ban US adversaries from purchasing large swaths of farmland in the US.

So why would a state engage in what is essentially a foreign policy and national security matter?

Why sanction?

On the one hand, some scholars see sanctions as often being a product of domestic politics, aimed at portraying muscle to the electorate, at times influenced by pressure groups such as “ethnic lobbies”. Those in this camp of scholars are more inclined to believe that sanctions are not particularly effective. If sanctions are for the satisfaction of domestic onlookers, they will not be designed and implemented with an eye towards efficacy and the security context.

Other scholars, however, argue that sanctions are indeed imposed due to a meaningful effort to address national security concerns.

Like many in the national security decision-making scholarship community, I feel both of these binary constructions frequently fail when confronted with the history of economic sanctions. The truth is that foreign policy choices are a product of complex national security matrices that accommodate both foreign policy and domestic political considerations.

Who sanctions?

Yet irrespective of one’s overall view on the efficacy of sanctions more broadly, it is hard for anyone to deny that policies against foreign nationals adopted by state governments can have little explanation other than domestic and even local politics.

In the US, the executive branch has always been best suited to make foreign policy decisions due to its clear mandate and wherewithal in this field. Congress has a constitutional role in foreign policy matters but it’s far more likely to be influenced by domestic political pressures and national anxieties.

The executive branch largely controlled sanctions policy throughout the Cold War era. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, as major threats to the homeland faded, Congressional and sub-federal forces became increasingly involved in this field.

While Congress has largely ceded its war power authority in the modern era, it has become more active in sanctioning due to an impulse of members to be seen as projecting power against American adversaries even when it interferes with the president’s efforts to engage in strategic policy.

What about state legislators and governors? They have no real national security staff nor the relevant mandate, as their elections almost always lack any meaningful foreign policy discussion and are decided based on provincial issues, whether taxes or abortion rights.

Yet their meddling in foreign policy isn’t superfluous — it can actually be reckless, for global diplomacy and for US foreign policy. Here’s how.

The folly of state sanctions

As written, the mentioned measures are unlikely to meaningfully interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy. But one can imagine a scenario in which sanctions imposed by states do just that.

New York state and California preside over major nodes of the global banking community and the international technology supply chain. Texas itself is a major player in global energy markets. Other states can wield a more narrow version of such powers as well.

There are already examples of when New York State has targeted European firms for their perceived violation of sanctions, ignoring objections at the federal level. States can, as the federal government has often done, impose restrictions on firms operating in their jurisdiction in a way that has extraterritorial consequences.

This in turn sets up a precarious dynamic. The federal government might have to mollify or negotiate with state governments led by ambitious politicians responding to special interests or catering to local constituencies.

Equally, state governments of the party in opposition can actively undercut diplomatic efforts of the federal government using such sanctions. For example, a federal effort to ease sanctions on Cuba could create political momentum for state sanctions in Florida, where families of those who fled communist rule are a powerful lobby.

Ultimately, sanctions are a tool of foreign policy and the capacity to modulate or even repeal them is critical to accomplishing the political goals behind sanctions campaigns. For the president or Congress to have to lobby with state governments, each representing a fraction of the overall population, to alter America’s sanctions against a country would represent a bizarre new obstacle to the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy obligations.

The proposed Texas and South Carolina laws are textbook examples of sanctions as political grandstanding meant for domestic consumption. They are also a reminder of the jingoistic zeal that can be nurtured and exploited by foreign policy amateurs at the state level.

As we embark upon what scholar Peter A G van Bergeijk calls the “second wave” of global sanctions, states will likely look further to getting in on the act with human rights and global affairs.

Washington’s basic ability to carry out a coherent foreign policy hangs in the balance.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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