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Canada, U.K. in ‘informal talks’ on trade ahead of key Brexit vote

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The United Kingdom’s high commissioner to Canada says informal talks that could lead to a U.K.-Canada free trade deal in as little as a year are underway — which could ease the economic uncertainty surrounding her country’s fraught debate over when and how it will exit the European Union.

A key vote on Brexit will be held in the British Parliament on Tuesday. High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, the U.K.’s chief diplomat in Canada, said London wants to keep the disruption in its trading partnerships to a minimum.

“We can formally start negotiating a free trade deal on the day we leave the European Union,” she said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House.

The U.K.’s exit from the EU is set for March 29.

Behind the scenes, informal trade talks are already happening, d’Allegeershecque said.

“These informal talks underline the importance of this relationship in a trade and economic sense,” she said, citing the fact that 40 per cent of Canada’s exports to the European Union go to the U.K.

“I think we’re both acutely aware of the potential negative impact of a cliff-edge and nothing being in place to allow that [relationship] to continue.”

Canada’s no-deal Brexit safety net

A trade deal between Canada and the U.K. would only come into effect in a year’s time if Parliament votes against British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan — a vote that’s scheduled for January 15 — and goes ahead with a no-deal Brexit.

A no-deal Brexit would mean the U.K. cutting ties with the European Union overnight, without a transition period.

Great Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union at the end of March, and this New Year’s Day was filled with mixed emotions as the tumultuous Brexit situation is set to continue during the new calendar year. 2:11

If May’s deal is accepted, however, the U.K. would enter a two-year implementation period on March 29 during which the country would be free to negotiate new bilateral trade deals.

The lack of clarity on the Brexit path can be frustrating for Canadians with business interests in the U.K., d’Allegeershecque acknowledged.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “When people ask me what’s going on, at the moment it’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen.

“The difficulty, of course, is that many Canadian businesses use the U.K. as a way into the rest of the European Union, and it’s that uncertainty that is very difficult for companies to deal with.”

Although Prime Minister May has said that a no-deal Brexit would be “the worst outcome,” the government is preparing for that possibility, d’Allegeershecque said.

“We’re working very hard with the Canadian government and ministries to put in place a sort of safety net in the event of a no-deal Brexit, so that business can continue unaffected.”

That safety net would cover things like air travel between Canada and the U.K. and the transition of CETA, the trade deal between Canada and the EU that will remain in place for the U.K. while it negotiates Brexit, she said.

Co-operating on China

While Canada’s future trading relationship with the U.K. is still up in the air, d’Allegeershecque offered clarity on one issue: the U.K.’s support for Canada in its current dispute with China over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“Our support for Canada and our concerns about the reciprocal action in China is pinned on the principle of upholding the rule of law,” she told the CBC’s Chris Hall.

“Obviously there are consequences to that, but the U.K. has never held back from calling out unacceptable behaviour.”

In December, the U.K. joined the U.S. in condemning China for an alleged series of cyberattacks the country’s Foreign Office described as a “widespread and significant” campaign targeting intellectual property and sensitive commercial data.

D’Allegeershecque said the U.K. chose to speak out “despite the possible negative implications” for the country’s relationship with China.

Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat recently detained by China, speaks during an interview in Hong Kong March 28, 2018. (Associated Press)

“We’ve seen what China has done to Canadian citizens. There’s always a risk that any government that feels slighted or badly treated will act in a way that’s detrimental to the interests of the other country. And we have … all sorts of links that are potentially on the table if a country wanted to retaliate. But I think it shouldn’t stop us doing the right thing.”

China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, suggested this week in an op-ed in the Hill Times that Canada and its Western allies — Britain included — are demonstrating “Western egotism and white supremacy” in their approaches to China.

“What they have been doing is not showing respect for the rule of law, but mocking and trampling the rule of law,” Lu wrote.

D’Allegeershecque said she doesn’t agree with the Chinese envoy.

“I think the rule of law was very clearly applied in Canada,” she said.

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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Future of Ottawa: Farming with Jeremy Colbeck

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Jeremy Colbeck: Well first, let’s talk about what we mean by farming. Although farms, and farming as an occupation, are in decline across Canada, they are still a major part of our rural landscape. That’s even more true for a strange city like Ottawa which includes a LOT of rural areas and whose urban boundary takes, what, three hours to cross? About 40 per cent of the rural land in Ottawa is farmland. Most of that farming is corn and soybean cash-crop, as well as some dairy and livestock farming. That’s mostly conventional farming (the kind that is profitable but not exactly where you take your kids on a Saturday).

There are also a lot of agri-tourism businesses in Ottawa, which give you that oh-so-good Saturday spot for family donkey-petting and apple-picking. And it’s totally understandable from a business perspective, but sometimes surprising to find out, that even though they grow some of the Christmas trees they sell, they might also be reselling some that come from much larger farms far away. The farmland around Ottawa is also inflated in price because of its proximity to the city, where it is in demand by would-be hobby farmers—folks who want to do some farming on their property in their spare time but make their money (to subsidize their small-scale farming habit) elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these properties will have large mansions built on them, which will then make them completely unaffordable for the average farmer

There’s also a segment of small-to-medium-sized Ottawa farms that grow “premium” (artisanal, unique, extra-fresh, ecologically- or organically-grown etc…) products that they sell directly to local eaters via farmers’ markets or other direct marketing channels, including on-farm stores and farm stands. That’s where BeetBox fits in.

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