OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who chairs a parliamentary friendship group between Canada and the Philippines says the ongoing garbage war between the two countries is both embarrassing and unlikely to end soon.
Kevin Lamoureux, a Winnipeg MP whose riding has one of the largest Filipino populations in Canada, tells The Canadian Press that Canada told the Philippines clearly that it could not meet the May 15 deadline to repatriate 69 containers of Canadian trash. He said it is "a sore point" for some of his constituents, many of whom have family in the Philippines and are embarrassed by Canada's inaction.
"I'm disappointed that we were not able to try to get this thing resolved before the May 15 deadline but it just wasn't possible," Lamoureux said.
The trash has been in two ports in the Philippines for nearly six years, arriving there in 2013 and 2014 improperly labelled as plastics for recycling.
The Philippines recalled its ambassador and consuls general Thursday, after President Rodrigo Duterte's deadline came and went without any movement of the garbage.
"That recall shows that we are very serious in asking them to get back their garbage otherwise we're gonna sever relations with them," presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a regular news conference.
Lamoureux said "it's really sad that it's gotten to this point."
In a statement, Global Affairs Canada said it was disappointed by Duterte's decision to recall the top diplomats, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday the Canadian government will continue to work on getting the garbage out of the Philippines.
"We very much hope to get to a resolution shortly," Trudeau said in Paris.
Lamoureux said he met with the ambassador from the Philippines in Ottawa Monday about the issue and Petronila Garcia warned him that her government was serious about forcing an end to the dispute and that if the May 15 deadline wasn't met, action would be taken.
Duterte set the deadline last month, after he threatened to "declare war" on Canada over the garbage. He said if Canada wasn't going to take the garbage back, he would put it on a ship and send it over himself, dumping some of it outside the Canadian Embassy in Manila to underscore the point.
"Celebrate because your garbage is coming home," he said on April 23. "Eat it if you want to."
"Had he not made the statement that he made, I suspect through the bureaucracy they would continue to be moving at a snail pace," Lamoureux said. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind because of the president's actions the government of Canada has come to the table, and we are expediting it."
Lamoureux's assessment was seconded by Philippine Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin, whose harsh tweets on the dispute have been one of the main sources of public information about the status of the dispute. Locsin also blamed officials in the Philippines for allowing the matter to drag on for so long, saying nobody in the Philippines did anything about it until Duterte "laid down the law."
Canada tried to either convince the Philippines to dispose of the trash locally or find another nearby country in Asia willing to take it, rather than have it shipped all the way back to Vancouver. Neither option was a success.
Trudeau was asked about the garbage on trips to the Philippines in both 2015 and 2017. In 2018, the two countries formed a working group to negotiate a solution. The main sticking point was who would pay for the shipments.
Two weeks after Duterte issued his threats, Canada agreed to cover the costs. The Philippines moved quickly to issue export permits and have the containers inspected for seaworthiness and Philippine officials blame red tape in Canada for delaying the movement.
Lamoureux said Canadian laws mean the garbage simply couldn't just be moved overnight. He said Canada issued a public tender Monday seeking a company willing and able to bring the garbage back. He said Canada put a "national interest" tag on it to reduce the deadline for filing bids to just seven days, so it closes next week.
Lamoureux said he is hoping there will be a decision within two weeks and that the garbage will be Canada-bound before the end of June.
Sixty-nine of the original 103 containers remain in the ports, after the contents of the rest were handled locally at various points over the last six years. Environment groups in the Philippines and in Canada have staged protests, arguing Canada is violating international law by shipping garbage to another country without its permission.