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It’s been a little more than two years since the Federal Liberals became the governing party of Canada’s House of Commons. Jim Carr, the Member for Winnipeg South Centre, is now Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources – a portfolio he has held since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formed his first Cabinet.

We spoke to Minister Carr at the tail end of 2017 to talk about his experiences, not only as a Cabinet Minister and representative for Winnipeg South Centre, but also as the only Jewish member of the Federal Cabinet (although you’ll see as you read this that point is open to discussion).
After I spoke with Jim Carr on Friday, December 22nd, I saw that he had also given interviews to the Free Press (and to the Free Press south end's community newspaper, The Sou'wester), as well as to the CBC (on the CBC website). You have to hand it to the Liberals: Obviously, their communications strategy involves getting articulate members of the government out there - talking to the media - unlike the previous Conservative government, which kept a tight lid on anyone speaking for the government other than Stephen Harper. As you will see though, if you read my entire interview with Jim Carr, like any other good politician, his answers to questions don't always refer to the specific questions that were asked.

As a personal aside, I’ve known Jim Carr for many years. I first met him when he was teaching a course on politics at the University of Winnipeg in the 1970s. My intention in speaking with him this latest occasion was not to grill him – which is not my style in speaking with anyone; rather, it was to try and discover some new insights into his role as a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, of which perhaps most of our readers would be unaware.
In the course of our 16-minute conversation what I found most interesting was the revelation (of which I was previously unaware) that Jewish and Muslim Liberal Members of Parliament have their own separate caucus, in which they get together to discuss issues of common concern. Having a group such as that is a continuation of Carr’s previous experience as one of the founding members of Winnipeg’s Arab Jewish Dialogue, which began seven years ago.

Here are some excerpts from my interview with Jim Carr:
JP&N: It’s been over two years since your government was elected. How are you finding the job?
Carr: It’s a little bit like parenting. There are no manuals, so there’s no preparation that really amounts to much. It doesn’t matter how many former ministers you talk to; every experience is the same – and the workload is endless. It doesn’t matter whether you work 12, 14, or 16 hours on any given day; you never finish all which you can do, so you have to learn how to pace yourself and look after the basic stuff, like a good night’s sleep and eating properly and keeping your body in reasonable shape. It’s endlessly challenging and fascinating. I feel privileged to be there.
There’s more travel than I expected – especially international travel. Energy is an international issue and I represent Canada abroad frequently – so that is a bit of a surprise. I’ve been to Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Beijing, Kitakyushu (Japan) (Ed. note: I had to look that one up.), all over the United States and Canada, parts of Europe – the International Energy Agency meetings a few weeks ago.
I guess the one surprise should be that nothing should be a surprise. It’s exhilarating, it’s fascinating, and it’s impactful work, and I’m glad to be there.

JP&N: I want to turn to the item that’s been in the news quite a bit of late, and that’s Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. You were a founding member of the Arab Jewish Dialogue. Are you still a part of that group or have you had to excuse yourself from that now?
Carr: Well, I’m on it, but I don’t have many opportunities to sit with them – just because of the scheduling. I’m a huge advocate of what the group has accomplished and how it remains an example for other communities.

JP&N: So let’s talk about what Canada did at the recent vote in the UN to condemn the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. I don’t think Canada could have done much more than it did, which was to abstain during that vote. Was that the kind of decision that would have been taken up by Cabinet as a whole or would it have been left to a small coterie of ministers to decide?
Carr: Well, Canada has a well-known position and we articulated that position when the Trump administration made its announcement. We believe that the status of Jerusalem should be part of a peace process and a negotiation among the parties themselves. That’s been the position of Canadian governments for a very long time, regardless of political stripe.
So, that was not a difficult decision for us to take because our position is unchanged and it’s rooted in Canada’s role and the role of the parties themselves.
As a Jews and as someone who has visited Jerusalem many times, I feel personally the attachment to Jerusalem. I am very interested in the history of the Middle East and the conflict. I go as often as I can. When I’m there I feel so much pride in what the Israelis have accomplished in really a relatively short period at a time in history when the world looks to examples of democratic nations and in the case of Israel, surrounded by hostility and the way in which Israel has taken full advantage of its freedom and its entrepreneurial spirit, to be an example in so many ways to the world on how it has developed its high tech and increasingly clean tech economies.
I’ve been there on business missions learning from the Israelis so, as a Jew, I feel a tremendous attachment and sense of pride in what we have accomplished. As a member of the Canadian Government I believe that Canada’s position is the right one, that we will continue to advocate for a two-state solution, and that the ultimate disposition of all the outstanding issues should be a subject of discussion among the parties themselves.

JP&N: By the way, are you the only Jew in the Cabinet?
Carr: Karina Gould (Minister of Democratic Institutions) is of a Jewish father.
Something else that’s not known is that Hunter Tootoo (MP for Nunavut) who’s no longer in the Cabinet, is of a Jewish mother and his mother is actually from Montreal. You’ll have to check the lineage – the “yichus”, but there’s a Bronfman connection there, and his parents met in Churchill, Manitoba, of all places.

JP&N: Wow – sounds like a Mordecai Richler plot. (See “Solomon Gursky Was Here”.)
Carr: Yah, it does. Karina considers herself Jewish; she’s not. I wouldn’t say that she’s practicing, but she certainly considers herself Jewish. Her interest in Jewish and Middle East issues is something we discuss all the time.
There is something you may not know about. There is a Jewish-Muslim caucus within the Liberal caucus. There are 17 of us; I believe seven Jews and ten Muslims. We meet from time to time. We meet during Chanukah or Christmas or Ramadan, depending on when the time is right, and we share stories.
It’s actually very moving to sit with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and it’s probably unprecedented anywhere. I know of no other example where, within a political party and within a government caucus you have Jewish and Muslim representatives who break bread, talk, and exchange ideas and stories with lots of affection and goodwill among us.

JP&N: Really? I don’t recall seeing anything about this. Is this something that’s been publicized at all?
Carr: Yah, it’s been publicized in that it’s well known within the capital region that we meet from time to time. We don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s mostly a way of getting together socially, but the conversations are heartfelt and everyone values these friendships that we’ve developed within our party’s caucus.

JP&N: Let’s talk some more about your role, not only as a senior minister, but as Manitoba’s Cabinet Minister. Traditionally the role of that person has been to bring the bacon back to Manitoba, but with the kind of ongoing tension between your government and the Pallister Tories, is there anything you can say about the kinds of divisions that have occurred over things like cost sharing of programs?
Carr: Manitobans don’t want to see their political leaders at all levels of government bickering; they want to see them cooperating. That’s why I wrote letters to both Mayor Bowman and Premier Pallister in November, inviting them to a meeting which the Government of Canada was happy to host, and suggesting that we meet from time to time.
They both agreed. Premier Pallister has asked Deputy Premier Heather Stefanson to come to the first meeting. Mayor Bowman has agreed. And we’ll talk. The advantages of talking are that we’ll reduce the chances of miscommunication and disinformation…
My job is to make sure that my colleagues in Ottawa know about what Manitobans expect from us. I think we have been a constructive partner. We have been generous in infrastructure investments - from the Inuit Art Centre to Diversity Gardens at the Assiniboine Conservancy to tens of millions of dollars in wastewater and sewage plants, literally across the province. We are fully engaged with the people of Churchill. We understand the importance of developing northern Manitoba as part of a Canadian Arctic strategy and we want to accomplish all of these important objectives with the Government of Manitoba. That’s the reason that I’m reaching out and I’m hopeful that we will be able to move ahead constructively and practically for the citizens of our province.

JP&N: Turning to the national scene, would you say that the issue of pipelines in B.C. has been your most difficult challenge?
Carr: We believe that the economy and the environment is one conversation, not two, and that we have approved pipelines. We have approved the Enbridge Line 3 replacement, we approved pipelines in Alberta and, of course, the Trans Mountain expansion, because we believe that it is vital that we expand our export markets.
Ninety-nine percent of Canadian exports in oil and gas to one nation: the United States. We want to open up the Asian market and the Trans Mountain expansion will do that. Literally, at the same time as we announced approval of that pipeline we invested a billion and a half dollars in the Ocean Protection plan. We know that environmental stewardship is more important today than it ever has been before. To quote the Prime Minister, “There is no contradiction between building a pipeline and building a wind turbine.” We need both for our future.
It makes a lot of sense to use the wealth that we have to finance the transition to a low carbon economy. We’re committed to economic growth, environmental suspendibility and, importantly, as another pillar, Indigenous partnerships and engagement. I think we’re making good progress on all three of those pillars, which is what our energy and environmental policy rests on.

JP&N: I suppose that the idea of a Trans Canada pipeline is on hold right now – just too many obstacles to that?
Carr: Well, the Energy East project was pulled by Trans Canada because the price of oil had gone from $140 a barrel down to 40; it’s now back up to 57 and there have been other pipeline approvals – and there’s only so much pipeline capacity. So, this was a business decision they made within what they believe to be their responsibilities to their shareholders. We respect that.
It’s also worth noting that we will introduce legislation early in the new year that will reform how environmental assessment is done in Canada, including reforms to the National Energy Board. So, we’re looking for clarity for proponents, also to rebuild confidence in the regulatory process because you need to have that confidence if these projects are going to be given the necessary scrutiny with fairness to the proponents who need certainty of timelines.

JP&N: One final question. It might be too early to ask, but given that we’re always talking about the “next election”, have you decided whether you’re going to run again?
Carr: It’s my plan to run again. I think there’s very important work to do and I’m happy to be a part of it. I’m privileged to represent Manitoba in the Cabinet and I think that our government has done some excellent work, particularly bringing hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, in leading the G7 in economic growth. I think our economic policies are working.
So, you never know what happens over time, but my current thinking is that I just may ask the people of Winnipeg South Centre for a report card.