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Archive for the ‘Administrative Law’ Columns

WTO Panel Sets Threshold Test for the National Security Exception

In April 2015, we posted the first of a pair of articles on the “national security exception”: an important and controversial part of WTO agreements and other trade agreements including NAFTA and the new CUSMA. In these articles, we explored whether it was a necessary “safety valve” or the “ultimate threat” to the rule of law in the context of international trade.

The issue was put in an urgent perspective in March 2018 when the U.S. Administration announced section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminium—measures justified on the basis of national security. See our “Pandora’s Box” series (Pt 1 . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

A Step Towards the New NAFTA: Part II

On May 17, 2019, Canada and the United States agreed to remove reciprocal trade restrictions on steel and aluminum – the U.S. “national security” tariffs and Canada’s countermeasures. In Canada, the removal of the U.S. Section 232 tariffs without the maintenance of residual quotas or export restrictions (the initial U.S. condition) was considered an important “win.” While Canada did succeed in this regard, it did agree to “snap back” provisions; the tariffs can be re-introduced on a product-by-product basis in the event of a “surge” of imports of steel and aluminum beyond historic levels due to imports from third countries. . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

A Step Towards the New NAFTA, Part 1: End Game or a Cease Fire?

On May 17, 2019, Canada and the United States announced the settlement of the cross-border steel and aluminum trade conflict. Both countries agreed to eliminate tariffs on their cross-border trade in steel and aluminum products. Mexico and the United States also settled the issue in the same way–with the reciprocal elimination of the tariffs.

We recall that in spite of the then-ongoing NAFTA re-negotiations, the Trump Administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports of 25% and 10%, respectively, from Canada in June 2018. This action was pursuant to section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 on the . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

On Second Thought… an Administrative Tribunal’s Common Law Ability to Reconsider Its Decisions

An acquaintance of mine recently accused me of being an “expert” on administrative law now that I have been regularly writing on the topic. His choice of words, not mine. Correct or not, I took it as a complement. Then, based upon his misguided belief, he put an interesting question to me, which provided with some inspiration for this article.

The question related to an unspecified administrative tribunal with no statutory appeal provision and no statutory reconsideration provision. Apparently, the tribunal discovered that it had made a demonstrable and embarrassing denial of natural justice, failing to invite submissions on a . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

The Ombudsman: A Little Bit Country (Sweden) and a Little Bit Rock and Roll (Or Not)

When most lawyers think of administrative law, we think of administrative decision makers and tribunals, or the judicial review process. However, there is an adjunct to the administrative law process that is not technically an administrative tribunal or traditional decision-making body, yet which shares many of the concerns of administrative law. This is the Ombudsman, an administrative agency that may seem obscure to or misunderstood by some.

The Ombudsman is often a place of last resort for citizens who have exhausted all decision making remedies or for whom there is no administrative or legal process that can address their concerns . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

CUSMA/USMCA Scorecard: More Poison Pills Revisited

This is the second half of our discussion and scorecard on the CUSMA/USMCA poison pills. For detailed discussion on dairy and dispute resolution, see our last column.

Autos: A Canadian Solution, a Qualified Win for both Canada and the U.S.

The opening U.S position on autos was that all NAFTA-qualifying vehicles must have at least 50% U.S. content, and 85% overall North American content. Both Canada and Mexico rejected this position. It was some lateral thinking by Canadian negotiators during the January 2018 round that led to a new approach. The Canadian concept entailed the use of a formula . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

CUSMA/USMCA: The Poison Pills Revisited – a Scorecard

On November 30th, 2018, 16 months after the start of negotiations, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States signed the Canada United States-Mexico-Agreement (“CUSMA”) or the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”)[1]. Signed on the margins of the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires, the agreement is made up of 34 chapters and a dozen side letters. Ironically, it does not include the word “trade” in its title.


In our previous article we addressed the continuing uncertainty that has been a central theme in the tough and sometimes divisive negotiations. The U.S. . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

Oil’s Well Does End Well for Alberta Environmental Regulator

In August 2017, I reported that the SCC would hear an appeal from the Court of Appeal for Alberta (Orphan Well Association v Grant Thornton Limited, 2017 ABCA 124). The case related to the jurisdiction of a regulatory body, not in terms of its governing statute, but in terms of a classical constitutional law question and division of powers. The conflict – or apparent conflict – was between a provincial regulator’s authority on environmental matters and the federal government’s jurisdiction over bankruptcy.

This case involved Redwater, a bankrupt oil and gas company that owned over one hundred . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

From NAFTA to the CUSMA/USMCA – a New Trade Template?

Part I. The New Deal and Continued Uncertainty

On September 30th, after 14 months of difficult talks, Canada and the United States announced the successful completion of their NAFTA re-negotiations. Whether the latest U.S. deadline was “real” or not, it is likely that both the Trump Administration’s threat that it would proceed with a U.S-Mexico agreement without Canada and the risk for the United States that such a bilateral deal would not pass Congressional review spurred both countries to make the last minute concessions that led to agreement in principle on the renamed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

Law, Regulation, Policy, Rule, Guideline, or Mere Suggestion?

Or As My Kids Might Say, “Do I Have To?”

For some who do not routinely work in the field of administrative law, the idea of statutory authority is generally thought of as the statute itself and whatever regulations might be created by cabinet in relation to the statute. However, administrative law is replete with examples of statutes that grant administrative bodies the authority to create regulations or other kinds of rules.

There is also ample case law regarding scope of an administrative body’s authority to create regulations, rules, guidelines, or other principles by which it might compel or direct. . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law

Where the Sunshine List Don’t Shine

In 2015, the Alberta government extended coverage for disclosure of public servant salaries (aka the sunshine list) to those who make more than $125,000 per year. The new legislation was celebrated by all political parties as a victory for “transparency” and “open government”, and the right of taxpayers to know how public money is being spent. The legislative record is replete with these platitudes yet devoid of any specific policy objective.

When Ontario created their list back in 1996, the immediate goal seemed to be to shame public servants as a prelude to government cutbacks. If the longer term objective . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law, Intellectual Property

Five New Pillars of U.S. Trade Policy (A.k.a. the “Poison Pills”)

Canadian business is navigating through a period of growing uncertainty in terms of both global politics and trade, and faces unprecedented challenges with respect to marketing, production and investment decisions. In the current climate, the Government of Canada’s policy can be summarised in the words of Minister Chrystia Freeland: “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

A review of the apparently fixed U.S. position in the NAFTA negotiations is both telling and discouraging for the future of the agreement and North American trade. Canada’s early “charm offensive” led by the Prime Minster, combined with an engagement strategy tied to . . . [more]

Posted in: Administrative Law