Mr. Speaker, this is a very important debate that our Parliament is seized with today and I want to thank the leader of the Conservative Party and our caucus for bringing this to Parliament. This is an example of how this Parliament can fulfill its function, challenging the government, holding it to account for a record which on foreign affairs is quite weak, but also proposing methods that allow for better resolutions. That is what this opposition day motion and the proposal of a special committee of Parliament on Canada-China relations are all about.
I want to start off with two reflections. The first is that today marks one year since Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were arrested by Chinese state authorities and detained without charge, and without access to a lawyer or to the rule of law. They were arbitrarily detained as a diplomatic response to a lawful extradition arrest performed by Canada, a rule of law country, on behalf of the U.S. and a decision by a U.S. court. Canada acted with full respect of its rule of law traditions and China's actions have reflected and reminded us that there is no rule of law.
I am sure I speak for all Conservatives, parliamentarians and Canadians in saying that we stand in solidarity with the families of the two Michaels. We want their well-being to be safeguarded and we want to see them return home to Canada as quickly as possible. Today, we will be talking about many facets of the Canada-China relationship with its many challenges and some opportunities. However, we are not going to speak further about the two Michaels, out of respect for that case and the need for a resolution.
What is promising about this motion is the specialized committee that we are proposing. It would be all-party and multidisciplinary, with the ability to look at all aspects of the Canada-China relationship from complex consular cases to national security issues, to trade, to global affairs, within the context of a committee that can go in camera and respect secret and sensitive information. That is probably the best venue to come up with a plan for a swift resolution for the situation of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig. I hope the government takes that into consideration when they consider voting on our motion later today.
I hope all members of this House realize this could be an opportunity to actually take the politics out of it, but allow us to do our job because Canadians are concerned about the well-being of these citizens. Canadians are well seized with issues related to China, from the South China Sea islands, to Huawei, to the situation with the Uighurs, to Chinese ambitions in the Arctic as a self-declared “near-Arctic state”, a new diplomatic term that really did not exist until they created it.
The challenge of the China relationship is the foreign policy challenge that Canada will face over the next generation. This is a perfect opportunity for a specialized committee of parliamentarians to examine it to make sure that Canada gets the balance right.
The second thing I will say at the outset of my remarks is that there are tremendous opportunities in China. However, for those opportunities, many of them business and many of them export-driven, Canada cannot and must not relinquish our unbridled support for the rule of law, for human rights and for standing up for our allies and friends around the world. In many cases, economic opportunities would not be worth it if Canada had to sacrifice the values that we are respected for and have been respected for since Confederation.
All governments in the modern era, going back to that of the 's father, have tried to balance the need to engage trade, do business and help develop parts of China, alongside the need to push on human rights, democratic reform, rule of law and a higher standard in global affairs, so there is a tremendous opportunity.
I am frustrated that in recent years the Communist Party of China seems to be stepping back from its path of engagement as a serious law-abiding world power.
Years ago, before my election to Parliament, I spoke at a business luncheon in Toronto. The law firm I was at, like many exporting companies in Canada, saw the tremendous growth potential in China, the second-largest economy, with growth rates in the double digits in recent decades. I introduced the ambassador to China at the time, who was speaking to a Toronto business audience. I used a Chinese proverb: One generation plants the trees, the next generation enjoys the shade.
The hard work going into the early development of modern China was started by Pierre Trudeau and continued through all prime ministers, and goes back to iconic Canadians like Norman Bethune and hundreds of missionaries and other Canadian citizens who engage with China. These relationships have planted the trees. We have done the hard work. We should be enjoying the shade now. That proverb ended up being the ambassador's favourite expression, because it gets to the heart of diplomacy: We do the hard work so that future generations can benefit.
Canada has been a leading partner in China's development from its being a truly developing country into the world's second-largest economy, a global power. We have been at the forefront with Dr. Bethune and have been there to help with agricultural practices. We have been there with our CANDU technology to provide greenhouse gas emission-free power through nuclear generating stations in a country that is too reliant on coal. We have been there to trade. We have seen pandas come; we have seen trade missions go. We have tremendous companies in financial services, agriculture and transportation, leading companies like Manulife, Bombardier, Agrium and others that have done billions of dollars of business with China in the last decades. We should be very thankful for that but should also be very cautious.
In recent years, particularly in light of the 19th national congress, China has been stepping back from serious engagement on the world stage. The Communist Party has been exerting its influence through all levels of Chinese life, including through state-owned enterprises and their global effort. We have seen the belt and road initiative, making countries beholden and in debt to China for infrastructure and other projects.
We have to be cautious with the turn that China has taken in the last 10 years. Rather than this generation walking in the shade of the trees that were planted in the past, we are now almost lost in the woods on how best to handle this important relationship without sacrificing Canadian values.
Why are we bringing forward this debate on our first opposition motion? It is because we have had serious concerns with the 's ability to govern in Canada's national interest on the world stage. All Canadians now have no confidence in the Prime Minister when he goes abroad.
We used to bemoan the fact that Canada was never talked about on the world stage. Now we cannot see a late-night talk show or Saturday Night Live without seeing our being lampooned for his actions on the world stage, gaffes that hurt Canada's national interest. At the NATO meetings, the Prime Minister mocked the U.S. President, the very person we need to help us apply pressure for the release of our citizens in China.
This is at a time when NATO is being questioned by the President of France and the U.S. President. Canada could play its traditional role as a linchpin, as Winston Churchill described us, between Europe and North America. We are a G7 nation, we are a NATO nation, we are a NORAD nation and we are a Five Eyes nation. Canada is never the biggest, but we have those relationships that normally we could use to influence our national interest, the freedom and liberty of others and the interests of the Western alliance. That has eroded. Canada is now seen in a way that is probably best represented by the 's state visit to India, where he put photographs, his brand and the Liberal Party's fortunes ahead of Canada's national interest.
With respect to China, our concerns have been grounded in the very earliest actions of the government. I am hoping many of the new Liberal members of Parliament listen, because their role now in caucus is to ask questions. They should be just as worried as Conservatives are when it comes to China.
Former Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney, has called the 's approach to China naive, and I would agree. I will not make much of the comment he made before the election that he had admiration for the basic dictatorship. I am not sure if it was a joke or if that is just how it was received, because it was such a ridiculous answer.
However, the influence of a very pro-Beijing element in the 's core team was evidenced right in the earliest days. The Liberal transition team in 2015 was led by the president of the Canada China Business Council. He is now sitting in the Senate at the appointment of the Prime Minister.
In May of 2016, the first year of the Liberal government, the was revealed to have been in some cash-for-access fundraisers with major figures, oligarch-level people with close ties to the Chinese state. I remember my friend from brought up the point in the House, with great delivery, that not only were the Liberal Party coffers being filled, but a $200,000 donation was made to the Trudeau Foundation by a wealthy business person connected to the Chinese state. In fact, money was put aside for a statue of Pierre Trudeau. These were the earliest days.
In their first few months of government, the Liberals also reversed a decision that stopped the sale of a technology company to a Chinese-controlled company. In fact, late in the Harper government, the sale of ITF Technologies to O-Net Communications was blocked by the Conservative government on security grounds. There was direct energy research and development that could have been weaponized or militarized, and the sale was stopped in July 2015. Within the first few months of the Liberal government, the Liberals set aside the blocking of that transaction and a few months later approved the sale, with military-related technology, for a Chinese state enterprise.
Mr. Speaker, do you not think our Five Eyes allies noticed that? It was seen as reversing a responsible security decision by the previous Conservative government because of the new 's desire to engage with China on a free trade agreement.
It did not end there. The next year, the Liberals approved the sale of Norsat to Hytera, another Chinese-controlled enterprise, leading to outrage from the Pentagon, which had contracts with this Canadian military communications company. In fact, a trade commissioner in the U.S., a Democrat appointed by Obama, said about the sale:
Canada's approval of the sale of Norsat to a Chinese entity raises significant national-security concerns for the United States as the company is a supplier to our military....
Canada may be willing to jeopardize its own security interests to gain favour with China.
He also said that Canada should not put the security of a close ally at risk in the process. This was the commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Democrat appointed by the bromance partner of the , President Obama.
This is not agitating language. These are serious concerns that were brought up to the foreign affairs committee when its members travelled to Washington. Right off the bat we saw the ability to sweep through sales, which likely should have been stopped on security grounds, to curry favour in the relationship.
There are also a significant number of human rights concerns. I have raised in the House this week that millions of people over the last few months have been protesting on the streets of Hong Kong. The government has been virtually silent on that. There are 300,000 Canadians living there. Seventy-eight years ago this week, Canadians from the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles were fighting in defence of Hong Kong. We lost hundreds in the battle that ended on Christmas Day and lost hundreds more in POW camps in Japan. We therefore not only have our national interest and our citizens, but also our blood, represented in Hong Kong, and the government has been reserved in its comments.
It has also been reserved in its comments on the very disturbing internment and re-education of up to one million Uighurs. This is an area where we must be able to balance our values as a country and the need for us to speak out with the commercial interest.
Under the , all other issues have taken a back seat. In fact, before his state visit there in 2016, the Liberals were pre-positioning for a free trade agreement announcement. It is clear that the commercial interest has been overriding with the Prime Minister and the Liberal government regarding national security issues, the Huawei decision that has never come, our virtual silence on many significant human rights cases and the fact that our Asia-Pacific partners are very worried about the militarization of artificial islands built in the South China Sea. Seventy per cent of global trade passes through those waters. The last Pacific naval visit by one of our frigates was surveilled by China the whole time the frigate was there. China is making efforts to keep Taiwan away from bodies like the World Health Organization, an organization meant to stop contagions from spreading around the world, isolating countries like that. Canada is once again not being as forceful as it should.
Conservatives are asking for this special committee so that Canada can make progress toward having a balanced position on China after four years of no balance under the .
Since we are acknowledging the one-year anniversary of the detention of our citizens, in the last year alone Conservatives recommended a travel advisory. It took the government three months to implement it. Within weeks we asked for the to engage directly. He refused and claimed it was just a regular consular case, when it was not. By the time he and the previous minister tried to engage, they could not get their calls returned. We said there was flexibility within the Extradiction Act to move Ms. Meng's trial to a faster jurisdiction. That would have shown, within the rule of law and the act, an expedited process in return for favour to our citizens. The Liberals did not act on that.
The committee called Mr. McCallum to appear in camera. I cannot talk about it, but I wish it had been televised. Members can probably understand why he is no longer the ambassador. He contradicted himself several times and had to resign. We wanted an ambassador appointed immediately and the Liberals waited until the election to appoint Mr. Barton, without consultation with opposition parties. We asked them to withdraw Canada's participation in the Asian Infrastructure Bank. We asked them to immediately bring a WTO challenge with respect to canola and other commodities unfairly impacted by trade. The Liberals waited until two days before an election, a delay of six months. Our allies are not there for us, because of the current lack of seriousness the has on the world stage.
Let me leave everyone with Mr. McCallum's final comments, which illustrate why we need this committee and need to be serious with China. When he was leaving for the assignment, he said:
When China and Canada have disagreed on something, and this sometimes happens, all three prime ministers I have served have drawn on this friendship to speak respectfully but frankly to their Chinese counterparts. I know this long tradition will continue.
It did not continue. With this special committee it can continue, and we can be serious and have a balanced approach when it comes to China.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to address the motion brought forward by the member for . I would like to begin by first acknowledging that today marks one year since Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arbitrarily detained in China. It must be stated that they are and will remain our absolute priority as a government and as Canadians.
Canada's relationship with China is deep and long-standing. In these difficult times, we must work together to resolve these differences, keeping in mind that the safety and security of Canadians remains our top priority.
With perseverance, care and determination, we are working to bring them back to Canada.
Despite the breadth of these bilateral ties, as with any diplomatic relationship ours is not without its challenges, and we are going through a particularly difficult period. Canadians, as we have heard on all sides of the House, are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and the arbitrary sentencing to death of Robert Schellenberg.
Canadians are also concerned by the human rights situation faced by Muslim Uighurs and other minorities in China. The recent developments in Hong Kong are of particular concern to Canadians, given the 300,000 Canadians living there. The Government of Canada continues to share these concerns and has spoken out consistently.
Our government will always raise issues that matter to Canadians with the Chinese government, including respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Canada remains staunchly committed to defending its principles and interests. As the and the have clearly stated, all levels of government are involved in the cases of the Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained and convicted in China.
We salute Mr. Kovrig, Mr. Spavor and their families for their courage and moral fortitude under exceptionally trying circumstances. Today, December 10, marks exactly one year since Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arbitrarily arrested by Chinese authorities. Neither man has had access to a lawyer or any contact with their families or loved ones since they were first detained.
The government has made it very clear that the detention of these two Canadians is unacceptable, that they are being arbitrarily imprisoned and that they must be released without delay. We have raised this issue with every level of the Chinese government, and we will continue to do so every chance we get until these men are freed.
Ambassador Barton, the diplomatic team in China and our government will continue to support these men and their families by providing consular services.
This matter is not just a concern for Canada, but a concern to all who seek to defend the rules-based international order. Arbitrary detention and sentencing Canadians absolutely betrays the principles of the rule of law.
Several countries, despite what my colleague across the way has said, have spoken out to echo concerns about China's actions, including Australia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Spain, along with the European Union and NATO.
Leaders in academia, in the private sector and across civil society have also joined the chorus. An open letter signed by diplomats and scholars from 19 countries is just one example of how the concern over China's actions extends well beyond Canada's own borders.
We will continue, along with Canada's ambassadors around the world, to speak to foreign counterparts and other stakeholders about the issue, emphasizing the troubling precedent represented by these arbitrary measures.
Indeed, Canada is not alone as citizens of many countries have been targeted.
It is important that China recognize that its actions are harming its reputation in the eyes of many other countries, not only Canada, and sending the wrong message to the international community.
We understand that the arrest in Canada of Ms. Meng Wanzhou is a matter of utmost concern for China. Ms. Meng was arrested in accordance with Canada's international legal obligations under the Canada-U.S. extradition treaty. This was not about our relationship with China nor about our relationship with the United States. This was about Canada's unwavering commitment to uphold the rule of law and fulfill our legal obligations.
Canada has over 50 bilateral extradition agreements and we uphold them all with equal vigour. As China also has dozens of active bilateral extradition agreements, this is a process that should be well understood.
For Canada, the rule of law is not optional. It is the bedrock of our Canadian democracy and a core Canadian value. Canada will not compromise nor politicize the rule of law and due process.
Canada is conducting a fair, unbiased and transparent legal proceeding with respect to Ms. Meng. Canada granted consular access to China within hours of Ms. Meng's arrest and Ms. Meng was granted bail. Ms. Meng is represented by an experienced counsel and will be given every opportunity to raise any issue that she or her counsel believes to be relevant throughout the legal proceedings.
This is timely, as today, December 10, is also Human Rights Day around the world.
Canada has consistently called on China to respect, protect and promote the freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of religion or a belief of all Chinese citizens.
We continue to raise human rights and the rule of law issues with our Chinese counterparts at all levels.
The promotion and protection of human rights is fundamental to Canada's foreign policy and remains an unwavering priority for the Government of Canada. Although China's economic growth has resulted in a general improvement in the standard of living of the country's population, there has been a worrisome deterioration in respect for civil and political rights in China. Freedom of religion or belief is also threatened.
Canada is deeply concerned about the ongoing intimidation and repression of ethnic and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in China, including Tibetan Buddhists, Uighurs and other Muslims, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, women and girls, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Canada has expressed concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in China. The intensification of actions against human rights defenders, such as lawyers, journalists and civil society actors, is also worrisome.
Our government has consistently raised concerns with our Chinese counterparts about human rights in China, including the situation in Xinjiang. We have spoken publicly at the UN Human Rights Council, urging Chinese authorities to release all Uighurs arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang. This includes statements in September 2018, November 2018 and March 2019. In July 2019, Canada stood alongside 21 countries, including Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Japan and the United Kingdom, and presented a letter to the Human Rights Council expressing these concerns.
More recently, on October 29, the United Kingdom, on behalf of 23 countries, including Canada, expressed their concern regarding the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and human rights in Xinjiang, China, at the third committee of the UNGA with the committee on the elimination of racial discrimination. We will continue to raise these and other human rights concerns at every possible opportunity and to call on the Chinese government to ensure that the human rights of its citizens are fully respected.
Canada continues to monitor closely the current unrest in Hong Kong. Canada urges all sides involved in the current crisis to exercise restraint, to refrain from violence and to engage in peaceful and inclusive dialogue.
With 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, Canada has a vested interest in Hong Kong's stability and prosperity. We continue to support the right of peaceful protest and Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy under the basic law and the one country, two systems framework.
Canada commends the people of Hong Kong for the peaceful election of its district council on November 24. This was an important opportunity for the people of Hong Kong to express their point of view. We hope that the election will help pave the way for dialogue and peaceful reconciliation.
Despite the challenges we face, it is important to recognize that Canada's bilateral relationship with China has always included many different areas of valuable co-operation. In recent years, we have enhanced our framework of formal engagement mechanisms. While we regret that the Government of China has chosen to restrict collaboration, Canada continues to pursue dialogue at every level.
With the recent exchange of ambassadors in Ottawa and Beijing, we remain hopeful that formal and informal dialogues will continue. My colleague, the , raised his expectations for continued dialogue when he met with China's foreign minister on the margins of the G20 meetings in Nagoya at the end of November.
The Government of Canada is deeply concerned by the decision of the Chinese authorities to restrict imports of Canadian canola, and we are pressing for the complete resumption of trade in bilateral discussions in the WTO.
Our pan-Canadian efforts have led to the resumption of trade in pork and beef, and we will continue to press for Canadian interests at every opportunity.
There are many clear sectors of valuable, practical engagement. Climate change and the environment require global solutions, and China will be an essential partner in this pursuit. Canada has built productive collaboration with China in this area and will continue to do so.
Health is an example of the importance of ongoing collaboration and dialogue to advance practical co-operation. Global pandemics pose significant risks. Canada and China have long-standing bilateral co-operation on health issues, including on international health.
Culture is another important area of bilateral co-operation between Canada and China. We are witnessing a growing number of independently organized exchanges by arts organizations. These exchanges help enrich both of our cultures and contribute to shared knowledge and understanding. Canada must build a stronger understanding of China.
These and other areas of bilateral engagement are a valuable reminder of the importance of ongoing dialogue with Chinese counterparts.
I would like to emphasize that Canada will continue to navigate this challenging period with China through careful and strategic engagement. Engaging with China is important to realizing and promoting Canada's interests globally. This is why it is essential that the channels of communication remain open, while ensuring that Canada communicates clearly to China our firm commitment to securing the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and to uphold Canadian values and principles.
Ultimately, China must realize that asserting pressure on another country through arbitrary measures against foreign citizens sends the wrong message to the international community. It is not an effective way to resolve bilateral challenges.
We will pursue an all-of-Canada approach and continue to endorse a united front. This is not a partisan issue nor does it help Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor to play politics with this issue.
Canada will continue to stand on its principles and the rules-based international order that has sustained global and peace and prosperity for decades. In our principled engagement with China, we will pursue collaboration where we can and defend our values and interests where we must.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to begin by making some opening remarks, since I once said my farewells in this place. Indeed, I once said my goodbyes to my colleagues in the House of Commons because life was taking me in another direction. Life took me to the National Assembly of Quebec, where I sat for 13 years before becoming the registrar of the Rimouski CEGEP. As it happens, fate brought me back here.
I am now delivering a maiden speech as a new-again member of the House of Commons. I am very pleased to be here and I want to thank the people of the riding of Montarville for placing their trust in me on October 21.
I was even more surprised to be coming back to the House of Commons, this time to represent the riding of Montarville. The member for is an excellent member, so I would never have encroached on him. Sainte-Julie, the most populous municipality in the provincial Quebec riding of Verchères, is located in the federal riding of Montarville, where I was asked to run. It certainly seems like it was a good fit, because not only am I enjoying myself in this new riding, but also the people of Montarville seemed to think that I was a good choice.
Here I am, back in the House, greeting colleagues, congratulating everyone on their election, and telling them I look forward to working with them. As the has already said, on October 21, Quebeckers called on us to work together. I think today, with the Conservative Party's motion, is our first test of that. I will get back to that shortly.
To close out my opening remarks, I will simply say that when I said my goodbyes to the House, it was located in Centre Block. When it was closed and the House was temporarily moved to this chamber, I remember thinking that I would never have sat in this new House. Fate sometimes has some very strange twists in store for us.
In any event, I will repeat that I am very pleased to be here and to have the opportunity today to speak to this first test of collaboration being proposed by the Conservative Party. What are we being asked to do as part of this first test?
Setting aside the words, which I will come back to in a moment, what we are being asked to do is to create an ad hoc committee on Canada-China relations so that we can work together to come up with ways to improve those relations.
I have to say that this seems like a good idea. It seems like a good idea, in a minority government, to try to collaborate with all the political parties. It seems like a good idea to sit down in a parliamentary committee and try to find solutions to a real problem. No one can deny that Canada-China relations, which were excellent until recently, have deteriorated considerably over the past few years. We can speak at length about the reasons the relationship has deteriorated, but there is no denying that Canada-China relations have deteriorated.
There is a problem. Once we become aware of the problem what do we do? We can take the Liberal government's approach of late and close our eyes and leave the Canadian ambassador to China post vacant in Beijing for eight months. Yes, I said eight months.
That is not a good approach to finding solutions. A minority government needs the goodwill of the whole House. We have to sit down together and look for solutions. That is essentially the spirit of the motion before us.
I will address each element of the motion in turn. Once we have a good understanding of the spirit of the motion, we will have to consider the letter of the motion more thoroughly.
That, in light of the prolonged diplomatic crisis with China, the House appoint a special committee with the mandate to conduct hearings to examine and review all aspects of the Canada–China relationship including, but not limited to, consular, economic, legal, security and diplomatic relations:
So far, so good. That is basically what I just said.
(a) that the committee be composed of 12 members, of which six shall be government members, four shall be from the official opposition, one shall be from the Bloc Québécois and one from the New Democratic Party;
That is pretty much how standing committees are composed, so that is fine, too. Nobody is going to argue against that.
(b) that changes in the membership of the committee shall be effective immediately after notification by the whip has been filed with the Clerk of the House;
That is a standard practice. There are no issues so far.
(c) that membership substitutions be permitted, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2);
Once again, this is a standard practice. There is nothing to say about that.
(d) that the members shall be named by their respective whip by depositing with the Clerk of the House the list of their members to serve on the committee no later than January 15, 2020;
That seems logical to me.
(e) that the Clerk of the House shall convene an organization meeting of the said committee for no later than January 20, 2020;
This too seems logical. As members can see, everything is fine so far. It reminds me of the joke about a man who falls from the 20th storey of a building. As he is falling, he passes the 10th floor. When someone there asks him if he is okay, he says that he is fine so far.
(f) that the committee be chaired by a member of the government party;
I do not see what the Liberal Party would have against that. Once again, so far so good.
(g) that notwithstanding Standing Order 106(2), in addition to the Chair, there be one vice-chair from the official opposition, one vice-chair from the Bloc Québécois and one vice-chair from the New Democratic Party;
In the spirit of co-operation, I must say that this seems logical. So far, so good.
(h) that quorum of the committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118 and that the Chair be authorized to hold meetings to receive evidence and to have that evidence printed when a quorum is not present, provided that at least four members are present, including one member of the opposition and one member of the government;
Once again, that is the usual practice. So far, so good.
(i) that the committee be granted all of the powers of a standing committee, as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada;
If we want to really examine the Canada-China relationship, it makes sense that we must eventually be able to travel. So far, so good.
(j) that the committee have the power to authorize video and audio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings; and
I think that also makes sense.
I have read nearly all the points in the motion. I do not see how any of those points should pose a problem for the government. Only paragraph (k) remains.
(k) that the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Public Safety, and the Canadian ambassador to China be ordered to appear as witnesses from time to time as the committee sees fit.
I will digress for a moment to say that I assume our Chinese friends are listening carefully to today's deliberations. I suspect they are very interested in what we are saying. I have to tell them that there may be problems between Canada and China. We need to examine this more closely to come up with solutions.
There are also internal problems in Canadian politics. Unfortunately, parties sometimes seek to score political points. Without ascribing any motives to my Conservative colleagues, I believe that item (k) shows this desire to score political points because it would compel the , the and Canada's ambassador to China to testify. This would likely lead the Liberal Party to oppose the motion, resulting in the Conservative Party being outraged. How would that help us improve relations between China and Canada? That would not help in the least.
The Conservative Party would probably score some points with the public by saying how mean the Liberals were for rejecting such a reasonable motion. I read each item in the motion and they are all perfectly reasonable. There is absolutely no reasonable reason for refusing this motion. It just makes good sense. However, by including item (k), the Conservatives clearly want to embarrass the Liberal government. This will result in the Liberal government saying that this motion is unacceptable and that they cannot compel the to appear. The Conservatives will answer: “Why not?” Is it not up to the committee members to decide who will appear before them? It seems to me that they should have left it up to the committee members to decide who is on their witness list.
Why try to embarrass the government by demanding three specific witnesses, namely the , the and the Canadian ambassador to China? If this was an attempt to ensure that this eminently reasonable motion would not be adopted, it was not a very sensible way of going about it. If the ultimate goal is to find solutions to the problem of the strained relations between China and Canada, we need to sit down and come up with solutions.
As I said at the start, this is a test of our collaboration skills. It is primarily a test for the Liberal government, of course, but for the Conservative Party as well. If the Conservatives would agree to withdraw item (k), I do not think anyone in the House would object to adopting this motion unanimously. We have an obligation to discharge the mission given to us by Quebeckers and Canadians, and that is to make Parliament work. Again, this is our first test. I am calling on the Liberal government and the official opposition to rise to the challenge that the official opposition itself just issued. It will require maturity and a sense of responsibility.
As the said during a conversation we had just moments ago, we have to consider which is likely to have a more detrimental impact on Canada-China relations: the creation of a committee tasked with finding ways to improve relations between our two countries, or a statement by the about how Beijing is treating the two detained Canadians in a totally arbitrary fashion?
When the government accuses the opposition of trying to add fuel to the fire with this motion, I think it should take a good look in the mirror and realize that, after cutting through the rhetoric, there is nothing unreasonable in this motion. I read it.
I therefore call on the government to step up and show some maturity. It needs to give the parties in the House a chance to work together. If the official opposition truly wants to work together, it should make its motion less of a challenge for the government and remove item (k). We should work together and come up with a list of witnesses. If the list must include the , the and the Canadian ambassador, then so be it. The opposition should not give the government an opportunity to reject the whole thing and throw the baby out with the bathwater by demanding that item (k) be included.
In the four minutes I have left, I will talk about Canada-China relations. Canada, which always presents itself to the world as a paragon of virtue, has always stood up for human rights, up until Jean Chrétien's former Liberal government decided to focus on promoting trade. The argument was that we could use trade to get other countries to adopt our way of life. The standard of living would improve, followed by increased consumption and more respect for human rights.
Two decades later, the only conclusion we can come to on this strategy, given the tense relations between China and Canada these days, is that this may not have been the best choice. We are at quite the impasse right now. I think there were good intentions behind this policy change brought in by the Jean Chrétien Liberal government. I think there was a profound belief that trade would bring about change. Invoking human rights repeatedly was not really going to change things. It was thought that change would come through trade. The impasse we currently find ourselves in shows that may not have been the right path to follow. What path should we take? I believe in the collective wisdom of this institution to find the right path.
That is why I fundamentally believe that aside from item (k), the motion moved by the official opposition is an invitation to appeal to the collective wisdom of this institution so that we may find the right path to improve relations with China, which had always been good. We only have to look at the legacy of Henry Norman Bethune, or the legacy of the current 's father, which led to excellent Canada-China relations until quite recently.
I urge the Liberal government to change its attitude towards the Conservative motion, and I urge the official opposition to withdraw item (k) so that we can unanimously adopt this motion and draw on the best in each and every one of us in order to improve political and trade relations with the juggernaut that is the People's Republic of China.
Mr. Speaker, this being my first full speech in the House, I would like to thank the people of St. John's East for giving me the honour of representing them once again in the House of Commons. I had an involuntary sabbatical during the last Parliament, but I am very happy to be back again. I appreciate the honour given me by the people of St. John's East and I thank them for it.
This is a very important resolution that has been brought before the House and I want to thank the member for for bringing it forward. I think there has been some discussion about the appropriateness of having a special committee in this situation. I think the member and the opposition, through their opposition day motion, have brought forth something that is of concern to many Canadians.
The incarceration of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor has continued for a full year after an arbitrary arrest. They experience very severe conditions of want and a failure to have proper advice from legal counsel or contact with their family. This is a horrendous situation that I think Canadians from coast to coast to coast are very concerned about.
Canadians are also concerned about a lot of other issues, not only in terms of our relationship with China but also about what is going on inside of China. The protests and demonstrations in Hong Kong have been front page and television news for many months now. Canadians are concerned as to what is happening to the people of Hong Kong, Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, human rights in Hong Kong and the willingness of the Government of China to follow through on its “one country, two systems” promise to the world. That is something that we want our government to be fully involved in, as has been pointed out.
We have had a significant problem, only in the last year or so, with respect to diplomatic endeavours. When Mr. McCallum was appointed to China as our ambassador, things were very different. That turned out to be a very inappropriate appointment, partly because of the inappropriateness of the things that Mr. McCallum has said. It is interesting to notice that relationships such as Canada had with China can go south so quickly, and the Liberal government was not able to manage that relationship effectively.
We have seen in the last election that the Canadian public also decided to pass judgment on the actions of the Canadian government and the . The public did not think it was a good idea for the Liberals to have total control over Parliament and they wanted to give them a little help. The Canadian public, in its wisdom, said that Liberals should not have a majority. They felt that there should be a better balance and an opportunity to co-operate and that the Liberals should have to listen to the other side and be willing to work collaboratively to make Canada work best both internally and in our dealings with other countries, in this case China.
This motion would actually put into effect the kind of collaboration that Canadians wanted to see in the government in Canada. We still have a Liberal government and we still have the same , but we also have other voices at the table that are going to be able to have some influence.
The member for just went through details of every section of this proposed committee, including the structure of the committee and what the mandate is going to be in terms of our entire relationship with China. It is not just about the two individuals who are incarcerated, but also our trade relationship. The motion states, “all aspects of the Canada-China relationship including, but not limited to consular, economic, legal, security and diplomatic relations.”
That is an opportunity for a special committee to look at that whole relationship and see if there are ways that we can improve that relationship beyond what is being done now and in different ways. There may well be things that are being overlooked. There may be other opportunities. If the comes, or the comes, or our ambassador comes, it may be a way for our committee, through its actions and in the proper tone, to set up a new relationship and send a signal to China about what we want and how we might achieve it in ways that we could not do in any other way.
I cannot prejudge what will happen in the committee. I have to say we have some concerns. In the speech from the member for , we heard hints that we do not necessarily want to see an opportunity for a political battle between the opposition and the government or see finger pointing. That is not necessarily going to help the circumstances, so we have to be careful about that. As this motion goes forward today, I look forward to hearing from other members of the Conservative Party to see how they plan to do that.
It is one thing to be critical of the government's failures over the past couple of years, in particular over the last year with this particular crisis. Those failures are certainly obvious in many cases, including the failure to appoint an ambassador in a timely fashion. There are the difficulties that we have had with trying to ensure that there are appropriate responses. The Liberals did not move quickly enough to assure the Chinese government that our actions with respect to the arrest of Ms. Meng Wanzhou were appropriate in the context of our treaty relationship with the United States. That is something that could and should have been done very quickly, and there are other criticisms that can well be pointed against the government's actions over the past year.
However, at this point in time we have to decide how we move forward in our relationship with China. Is it possible to come up with ways and means of doing this that have not yet been tried? Obviously, whatever has been tried so far has not worked, so there is an opportunity here to find ways that might work and to develop ways to go forward.
One suggestion along the way is that perhaps we can come up with a protocol that might be agreed upon in terms of consular work in dealing with individuals who are arrested in China for various reasons, a protocol as to how Canada and China would deal with these matters. We similarly have an extradition treaty with the United States, but we might want to find ways of dealing with issues as they arise in terms of how prisoners are treated, to what extent they have access to legal counsel and other aspects. Moving forward, we can hardly expect them to follow our laws in all respects, but we could have an agreement as to how matters could go forward.
We have had other suggestions come forward. I do not know whether they were testing the waters, but there were suggestions that a prisoner exchange might be a good way of dealing with this. I do not think that was a very helpful suggestion, frankly. We are not dealing with the same kind of circumstances, and the analogy to the Cold War is not a good one. We do not want to see what is going on here between Canada and China and what is happening with China and the world developing into a standoff like the Cold War, which took place for such a long period of time.
The opportunity that this motion presents is for Canada and China to reset a relationship going forward to avoid some of the negative consequences that could come about. This is a positive opportunity but one that we have to be careful and cautious in implementing. It is going to require some significant restraint on the part of the official opposition and all the opposition in dealing with this issue.
We have to recognize that diplomatic relations are just that, diplomatic, and they have to be carried out in a spirit of willingness by all members in this House who might participate in this committee, and by all parties in this House, and that must be kept in mind in the operation of such a committee. Without that spirit of collaboration, there could be a danger that the relationship could be harmed. It is a leap of faith of the members of this House, a test of the notion of collaboration and a test of the maturity of this Parliament to be able to operate such a committee in a way that meets the needs of Canada in trying to find a solution, but it is also an opportunity for constructive criticism or at least for attempting to find out what does work and what does not work.
It is a positive and optimistic proposal. I do not think it is naive. I think we have to be concerned about not being too naive. We are dealing with a significant country with a very powerful place in the world and a very long history.
As was pointed out by the member for when introducing his motion, we do have a long history of Canadian-Chinese relationships, as has been mentioned by a couple of members. Dr. Norman Bethune was very influential within China and very well respected by China. His work has been acknowledged in Canada. In fact, in Montreal, we will find a statue of him not far from Concordia University. If members are there, they should have a look at this very fine statue. We do have that history. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity of making it a positive part of future relations with China.
We have a complex relationship and significant trade relations with China. We have seen how disruption in that trade can so quickly and seriously affect Canadians, particularly, as we have seen, Canadian farmers with canola, soybeans, peas, beef and pork, which cost many millions of dollars and are still costing many millions of dollars to Canadians in the case of canola. Some of these issues have been resolved, but others are still outstanding. It is an important relationship and something we have to take very seriously.
It is a complex relationship, particularly as China has a political system that we are not satisfied with in terms of how it deals with human rights. We are not satisfied with the situation in Hong Kong. We are very sympathetic with the concerns of the demonstrators, and on their opportunity and desire to have peaceful demonstrations to seek influence on the future course of what will happen in Hong Kong. We recognize and support their efforts to have their own say in what is going on. We decry some of the tactics used by the police forces in dealing with these demonstrations.
Also, from a human rights perspective, concern for the Uighurs is extremely high in Canada. We have to find ways to put pressure in whatever way possible to seek to resolve some of these issues. We have long-standing concerns about Tibet as well.
These issues have been there for a long time and are not going to be fixed by this committee. I do not think we could have too high expectations. However, we can try to find a way to ensure that Canada is doing everything it can in this relationship to seek the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor as soon as possible. Dealing with this issue on the anniversary of their incarceration is paramount in my mind and, I think, in the minds of many Canadians, and certainly the families of these two individuals. All Canadians see this as something that needs to be resolved. One of these individuals is a Canadian diplomat who is on leave from the foreign service. He was working with the International Crisis Group, which is an important international agency. It is highly problematic that he or any Canadian should be subject to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment such as has happened.
I will conclude my remarks by saying that we will support this opposition motion with the cautions that have been laid down by me in my remarks here today.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the member for .
As this is my first time rising in the 43rd Parliament, I want to begin by thanking the people of Portage—Lisgar. I am grateful and humbled by the support and trust they have placed in me. This is the fourth time I have been elected by the riding of Portage—Lisgar and I am more appreciative than ever.
A huge thanks also to so many friends, volunteers and people who helped out during the campaign and supported me. I have a special thanks to my partner Michael. This is the first election campaign he jumped into, and he jumped in with both feet. I appreciate so much the love and support of family, friends and my constituents of Portage—Lisgar.
I know the people of Portage—Lisgar elected me to come here once again to not only be a strong voice, but a direct voice, to say things that have to be said and do things that have to be done. I know all of us in this place take that responsibility very seriously.
The motion we brought forward as an opposition party reflects that. We could have brought forward a number of issues today. There are still many outstanding issues from the last Parliament to do with ethics, accountability, the government and the rule of law. There are questions around higher taxes for Canadians and a real plan to combat greenhouse gas emissions. There are all kinds of issues that could have been addressed today in our opposition day motion, but we chose this for a number of reasons.
I am so happy we brought this forward. This is a very difficult issue, one surrounding our relationship with the Government of China. However, it is an issue that requires all of us to come together to find a solution. That is the spirit in which this motion is brought forward.
The motion would establish a special standing committee that would examine this specific issue. It would not wade into other issues but would only look at our deteriorating relationship with China and how to resolve it. I know there have been some questions from the Liberal side on why we do not let the foreign affairs committee do this.
The Liberals, especially, have said time and again that we should not direct committees on what they should or should not study. For the Liberals to now suggest that we would assume the foreign affairs committee would take it over is a bit of a contradiction in their own approach to committees. It is for that reason the Conservatives would not just expect that the foreign affairs committee would look at this situation.
This is not a challenge that can be solved in just five or six meetings. This issue is multipronged. It affects foreign affairs, trade and the rule of law. There are public safety issues around Huawei, for example. It is a multi-faceted challenge that requires a committee dedicated solely to helping find a solution. When we as parliamentarians come together, though we are in a minority Parliament, we can find a solution to this problem.
I will go over a couple of things.
Why do we need a solution and why do we need it now? It is obvious that this strained and broken relationship with the Government of China is having real, meaningful and very serious effects on Canadians, not only Canadian groups like our canola, pork and beef producers, which, in turn, affect jobs, families and certainty around all of these industries, but today especially, this is having a real impact on lives. The lives of individual Canadians are at risk. This certainly is an issue with which we should all be seized.
It is important to say that our reputation on the world stage is also being impacted by this. I think most of our partners know that the Government of China is not an easy government to deal with and that it is complex. How we deal with what China is doing to Canadians is being watched. We have to recognize that the impact is not only on individual Canadians, but also on us as a nation, and it needs to be addressed.
How did we get here? I believe, in part, there has been incompetence and some bad decisions by the current government and it is important that we recognize it. We cannot go back and undo all of the wrongs, but if we do not recognize some of the wrongs that have been done and the poor decisions that were made, we cannot move ahead.
Certainly, we have to discuss the complexity of having a relationship with a government like the government in Beijing, China. It is very complex. This is a regime that does not respect the rule of law. It does not respect democracy in many ways, which we are seeing in Hong Kong. It does not respect the very people who it is governing. I think we all recognize it is not an easy government with which to deal. This problem has been created because of some mistakes and it is also there because of the complexity of dealing with the Government of China.
I want to break that down very quickly.
A lot of the problems started before the became the prime minister, when he stated that he had an admiration for the basic dictatorship of China. I do not know if any of us, to this day, can understand why he would think that, but even more so why he would say that. That really begs a lot of questions, and I hope since then he has changed his mind. I hope he can now recognize that a dictatorship and the way that China operates are not to be admired at all. It is something to be recognized for what it is.
That was not a good start. He then became and in 2015 and well into 2016 and maybe even 2017, we saw the government basically courting the Government of China and many of the businesses that were part of that regime and trying to be courted by them, kowtowing to that regime. It was very hard to watch. A number of experts saw it.
I want to quote David Mulroney, former ambassador to China. In December 2018, he said, “I think the Liberals tended to be naive and have been naive. That precedes the current prime minister, but when the prime minister certainly in some of his statements said that it was the administration he most admired, it showed naivety.”
In a February 2019 column, Terry Glavin stated:
From the outset of his emergence on the national scene, [the] Prime Minister...has happily accepted the warm embrace of Canada's China business lobby, and his enthusiasms have not gone unrequited. From his appointment of Peter Harder of the Canada China Business Council to lead his transition team — Harder is now...[the Prime Minister]'s point man in the senate — to his private cash-for-access fundraisers with Chinese billionaires, [the Prime Minister] had been Beijing's hands-down favourite among G7 leaders.
Make no mistake that being a favourite of Beijing's G7 leaders is not a positive; it is a negative. He was seen as the little potato by the Chinese regime.
We saw that mistake really set the tone for our relationship. Subsequent to that, we saw issues where we, as Canadians and as a Canadian government, obeyed the rule of law. We arrested, under an extradition warrant, a certain Chinese executive. We then saw the retaliation of the Chinese government when it took two Canadians hostage. The relationship from there has gone downhill. We saw our former ambassador, John McCallum, mishandle, misfire and misspeak, which again showed great misjudgement.
In an interview in The Globe and Mail, Guy Saint-Jacques, a former ambassador, said, “apart from seeking support from allies...I am not clear on what is the strategy being pursued by the Canadian government. It may be useful if there was better communication.”
It would be useful if there were a strategy. If there is one, we have not seen it. The proposed committee will provide the opportunity for the government to get not only ideas, but input and buy-in from Parliament and show the Chinese government that we are united and that we will stand up for Canadians and Canada. We are not naive; we are sophisticated, strong and we have the ability to find a solution.
We ask all parties to support the motion and find a way forward to solve this ongoing crisis.
Madam Speaker, I welcome you to the Chair. It is great to give my first speech in the House in front of you.
I also want to take the opportunity at this time to thank the people in the riding of Prince Albert in Saskatchewan for electing me to represent them here in this great chamber.
My riding is a very special riding. It has had three prime ministers. Of course, one of the most famous is John Diefenbaker. What did he do to make himself so famous? He did many things, such as appoint the first female cabinet minister, establish the Bill of Rights and allow the first aboriginal vote. This was done by John Diefenbaker, a Conservative. He was the first global leader to criticize apartheid in South Africa. As he was balancing these issues, he was able to balance them with the needs of doing trade with China.
In 1961, China was experiencing massive starvation. It was having huge economic issues. John Diefenbaker, through the Canadian Wheat Board, offered China 40 million bushels of wheat for sale. Through compassion, he stepped up and gave it to China on credit, of all things. He was criticized. Our neighbours to the south were upset with him when he did that.
However, he knew it was important to find a way to balance what was required in China with human rights and other issues that were important to Canadians. I think that is what Canadians expect of any government moving forward.
We had a really good relationship with China up until about 2017. In fact, in 2015, when Canadians went to the polls, they never expected the Chinese relationship to be a problem with the current . They assumed it would keep growing. Yes, we had issues with respect to human rights and security. Yes, we had issues, but we had mature conversations with China to deal with them and find solutions to them together. However, in 2017, this all changed.
I am going to talk to this from a trade perspective and how important this market is to Canada. However, we cannot look at this issue from just a trade perspective. When we look at what China means to us, what it means to Canada and Saskatchewan, it is huge. It is 4.3% of our total exports. Of course, the U.S. is number one, with 75%.
China is our second-largest trading partner for merchandise and our fifth-largest for services. We trade approximately $100 billion a year, and that is growing. It has a population of 1.4 billion people, which is growing. It has a GDP of $23.3 trillion. It is huge. It is a massive marketplace for people from around the world to sell into and participate in.
Canada has sold $2.6 billion of canola. Of that crop, 40% went to China. That crop does not have a home today. We have not seen solutions presented from the current government on what to do with that or to compensate the farmers who grow canola. About 2.4 billion dollars' worth of wood pulp comes out of Canada.
Those are just some examples of the things we sell into the Chinese marketplace that make it so important to us. These are things that we want to make sure we continue to move forward with, because these are the things that it requires and that we have an abundance of.
On December 1, 2018, the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, and I apologize to her if I have pronounced her name wrong, the chief financial officer at Huawei, caused a problem. I get that.
However, the answer to that problem was that the legal and political systems are separate in Canada. China respected that answer until the decided he was going to interfere in the legal system in Canada with SNC-Lavalin, and that is what he did. That is when we saw the problems happen.
In April 2019, there was a ban on canola seed by the Chinese. In May there was a ban on Canadian pork, of which 20% went to China. In June there was a ban on Canadian beef and veal. Canada was banned from its fifth-largest market. At that time, we had no ambassador. There was no game plan or repercussion for what was happening.
We have to ask why this happened. What went on in the background that took our country from being one that had a respected relationship with China to a situation where it will not even talk to us or acknowledge that we need an ambassador? What happened? We need to have a committee go through and research that.
Thankfully, in November 2019, the ban on meat was lifted. I was glad to hear that because our Canadian farmers needed that piece of good news. Hopefully, that is something we can build on. Maybe that is something the committee could analyze to find out what we did that allowed us to resume trading our meat to China.
It is really tough to pigeonhole this issue into one of our existing committees, because issues outside of trade impact trade. Human rights issues impact trade, and security issues impact trade.
One good thing about trade, and I still believe this to be true with respect to all of the countries around the world that we trade with, when we trade with countries such as China or Saudi Arabia, when we have concerns about human rights or women's rights, would we not be better off having a conversation with those countries?
Would we not be better off to challenge them to do better and encourage them to do better? Would it not be better to reach out to those countries and show them a better way to have a better society? When they do not talk to us, what influence do we have? We have zero influence and zero impact on the ability to move the yardsticks in a positive fashion.
The importance of trade to Canada is huge. When we look at our role in the world, our influence around the world, trade is one of the tools that we have in our tool box that we could utilize effectively. If we do not have those markets, if those countries will not talk to us because of something our has done, or because of bad policy or bad judgment shown in foreign affairs, the developers of the products we sell around the world are hurt.
No dollars will come out of the 's back pocket. For example, a Canadian farmer grows 1,000 acres of canola. The market drops to about $1.50 a bushel. That farmer grows roughly 50 bushels in an acre, which is roughly $60 to $70 an acre. That farmer has lost $70,000 out of his back pocket because of the actions of our .
That is important. That means a lot. That is a huge dent in that farmer's livelihood. Then we throw a carbon tax on top of him. Let us not talk about that and what it will do to the drying cost and everything else, which the Liberals seem to ignore. I will not digress because that is a different topic for debate. This shows why people in western Canada are so mad. They are the ones who are always paying for the Liberal government's mistakes.
Then there is Huawei. One of the things that does not get talked about, with respect to the Chinese government, is that it massively invested in western Canada, in the resource sector. When the Chinese government found out that it could not get pipelines and resources to market, its investment was stranded. How did we expect the Chinese to react? They need our resources.
We want to make sure that we give our oil and natural gas resources to the Chinese, because every time we ship our natural gas to that country it is one less coal-fired generating plant there. That helps our north. That helps us directly. That helps climate change in a global fashion. That is important. Again, when the country does not talk to us and will not trade with us, what have we done? We have lost all of those opportunities.
It is important that the committee comes together because people do not trust the to lead the discussion with China. They trust this Parliament to do it. The Prime Minister needs the committee to give him the appropriate advice to move forward to rebuild that relationship. Members of the House can work together and co-operate so Canada can benefit as a whole.
I look forward to the committee coming together. I look forward to working with all sides of the House in a positive and constructive manner. I look forward to analyzing what went wrong, but not only that, I am looking forward to solutions. The people of Canada need solutions. The Conservative Party has some solutions and we are more than happy to share them for the benefit of all Canadians.
Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege again to represent the people of Don Valley West, and I want to thank them for their confidence in me. I will be splitting my time with the member for .
This is an important motion and an important discussion we are having as a House of Commons, as members of Parliament. The diplomatic relationship we have with China is complex, important and sensitive. I am actually very pleased that the member for has raised this motion today, to give us an opportunity to have this discussion as members of the House.
Let me assure all members in the House that on the government side we are listening to all the arguments being made by members with respect to this motion. We are listening carefully to every concern raised. As those concerns are raised, I would hope that there is agreement in this House that the relationship with China is important; our trading, cultural and people-to-people relationships, as well as every consular issue, are of great importance to people in this House.
As we are doing that, let me say very clearly that if the intent of this motion is to have a robust discussion and get to the core of these ideas, it is absolutely an appropriate idea. What we are wondering about on this side of the House is where that discussion is best held. Is it best held in a standing committee, or several standing committees, or is it best held in a special committee? We are listening to the arguments carefully to understand the best place for this discussion to be held.
Underneath all of these issues, whether they are about trade or security, all of us need to hold up the state of Canadians held arbitrarily in detention in China, especially after one year. As the and the have said very clearly, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are and will remain our absolute priority. Also, in the case of Robert Schellenberg, it is of extreme concern that China has arbitrarily applied the death penalty.
Formerly, as parliamentary secretary, I had the opportunity to travel to China and to raise these cases with officials in China, as well as to observe the quiet but very effective diplomacy of our diplomatic corps in Beijing. I want to commend each and every one of those people, who have provided leadership and thoughtful understanding of the intricacies of this consular dilemma.
Consular cases are the most sensitive files that a government can be faced with. Families, friends and communities are at the heart of everyone. To take this responsibility is to take it seriously and importantly. There is nothing more important to us as a government than the safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad.
Each consular case involves a person, a Canadian, and is unique. Our consular officials are trained experts who know how to approach each case in each country differently and uniquely.
A year ago today on December 10, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arbitrarily imprisoned in China.
On November 23, his third day in office, the raised these cases directly with his Chinese counterpart at the G20. On the sidelines of the G20 meeting, a bilateral meeting that lasted almost an hour was also held with China's foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi. Our minister took that opportunity to express Canada's serious concerns about the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The minister reiterated that these cases were his top priority as Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs. More specifically, he expressed his concern, and that of all Canadians, regarding these men's detention conditions. He clearly stated that the detention of these two Canadians was unacceptable, that they had been imprisoned arbitrarily and that they should be freed immediately.
I am asking members of the House to take the time today to think about what these two men and their families are going through. We all need to continue to support Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and their families.
The government will continue to work tirelessly until these men are once again free.
Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases. Therefore, we will continue to advocate for Robert Schellenberg at the same time. Aligned with this principle, our government seeks clemency for all Canadians facing the death penalty anywhere and everywhere in the world. These are difficult situations, especially for the individuals involved and for their families. Our government and consular officials continue to provide consular services to them and their families.
I take exception to Conservative members of Parliament who somehow suggest that we are not doing absolutely everything in our power. With great expertise, with officials, with diplomatic relations, and with our minister and , we take every opportunity possible to raise these cases as well as the ongoing diplomatic issues that are important to every member of this House. Our efforts also include active engagement with the international community.
It is clear that, just as these Canadians are not alone, Canada is not alone. Canada is grateful to our many allies who have spoken out in support of us, such as Australia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S., The Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Spain, the European Union, NATO, and respected members of civil society and scholars. All have echoed these statements loudly and clearly regarding China's action and are in support of Canada. They, too, have called for the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and for an impartial due process for Mr. Schellenberg.
Canada and this government will continue to raise our deep concerns, emphasizing the worrying precedent that China's arbitrary actions have set. It is a precedent that will undoubtedly be of concern to any country, business, organization or person seeking to deepen ties with China. Ultimately, China must realize that expressing displeasure with another country through the arbitrary detention of its citizens and the arbitrary imposition of the death sentence sends the wrong message to everyone in the international community.
The Canadian government has raised specific cases, as well as our opposition to the use of the death penalty, directly with the Chinese government. We will never waver in these ongoing efforts. Neither will we ever waver in our ongoing stand for human rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law, absolutely standing firm on those issues while maintaining an important relationship with a country, China in this case. We will continue to undertake calculated, strategic engagement with China and express our extreme concerns on these cases.
With respect to where this discussion should happen, I would argue, having been a chair of a standing committee, that those are the places where we should most appropriately deal with this. We should allow the committees to do their work. The House may direct a committee on certain work, which has been done several times, but we need to manage our resources well. We need to also allow our standing committees to be masters of their own houses. We will continue to do that as a government. We have shown our respect for committees and we will continue to do that.
We will continue to listen today. We will promise to always collaborate. We are looking forward to constructive suggestions on how to improve every diplomatic relationship. We will count on the opposition to hold Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in their minds and hearts this day and every day to ensure that their safety trumps anything about politics or personal advantage.
Madam Speaker, as this is my first chance to speak in the House in the 43rd Parliament, I would like to thank the constituents of Ottawa West—Nepean for giving me the privilege of representing them in this House.
I want to thank my colleagues across the aisle for bringing such an incredibly important issue to the attention of this House and giving all of us the opportunity to share our concern about what is happening to our citizens under arbitrary detention in China. That is what I will speak about today.
The Government of Canada shares the distress felt by many Canadians with respect to the arbitrary measures taken against Canadian citizens in China. As the and the clearly stated, all government sectors are affected by the cases of Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and Robert Schellenberg.
One year ago today, December 10, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arbitrarily arrested by the Chinese authorities. We will continue to insist that these arbitrary detentions are unacceptable. We will continue to call on the Chinese government to immediately release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. We will do so at every opportunity until these men are released.
As we acknowledge this one-year anniversary, I ask members to take time today to reflect on what these individuals and their families are going through. We must all continue to stand with Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and their families.
What is helpful to these Canadians is a united front in defending their interests. I am happy to see that today in the House we are demonstrating exactly that. We have seen support from international partners, allies, civil society, diplomats and Canadians across our country, who echo our call for their release. Working together is in the best interest of these Canadians.
We also remain seized with the troubling case of Robert Schellenberg. We oppose the arbitrary decision to issue a death penalty and continue to call on China to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg.
While Canadians are especially troubled by China's actions, it is important to recognize that this is not just a Canadian problem. Many others around the world share our deep concern about China's arbitrary measures against foreign citizens. We ask China to recognize that its actions are harming its global reputation, which is not in China's best interest.
The concerns expressed by China have been echoed by many other countries, including Australia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Spain, as well as the European Union and the Secretary General of NATO.
U.S. President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have all openly expressed concerns. Mr. Trump personally raised the issue with the Chinese president. Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the United States was standing with Canada in the face of China's arbitrary and unacceptable detention of Canadian citizens.
The U.S. Congress also passed two resolutions, one in the Senate and the other in the U.S. House of Representatives, commending the Government of Canada for upholding the rule of law and complying with its international legal obligations. Congress also joined Canada in calling for the immediate release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and for due process for Robert Schellenberg.
The foreign ministers of the G7 also emphasized together, in the communiqué released after their April meeting in Saint Malo, France, their collective, deep concern about the arbitrary actions of Chinese authorities against foreign citizens.
The European Union also raised its concerns with Chinese authorities during the 37th EU-China Human Rights Dialogue in April, in Brussels. The EU emphasized in particular the need for due process and the importance of ensuring that Canadians are treated properly while in Chinese custody.
The EU president, Donald Tusk, also expressed his personal support over social media, saying, “Both Canada and EU stand by the rule of law underpinning the global order. EU calls for the release of the Canadian citizens detained in China.”
Australia's foreign minister, Marise Payne, has also denounced China's actions, and emphasizes her government's concerns about these arbitrary detentions.
The U.K.'s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has expressed his own government's concerns. The U.K. has noted in particular its concern over “suggestions of a political motivation” for the detention of Kovrig and Spavor. France and Germany, among others, have echoed these concerns.
In addition to voicing concerns, the governments of Spain and the Netherlands, among others, released statements stressing the importance of ensuring that Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig receive fair treatment in China. Canada has concerns about conditions of detention in China, and it has shared them with Chinese authorities.
This includes calling on China to respect internationally recognized standards for detention, including the Nelson Mandela Rules, meaning the United Nations standard minimum rules and basic principles for the treatment of prisoners.
It is not only foreign governments that have expressed concern. Leaders in academia, the private sector and across civil society have also joined the chorus. An open letter signed by diplomats and scholars from 19 countries is just one example of how the dismay over China's actions extends well beyond Canada's borders. The letter, issued on January 21, states that Mr. Kovrig's and Mr. Spavor's detentions send a message that their efforts to build bridges and better understand China are “unwelcome and even risky in China.... That will lead to less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result.”
Canada is grateful to all those who have joined us in raising these concerns. The government will continue to work diplomatically to address the issue and encourage international partners to stand with Canada. Our international partners recognize that China's arbitrary measures set a troubling precedent for the international community. It is important that together we send a message that exerting arbitrary measures against foreign citizens is not an effective approach for addressing bilateral concerns.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that through careful and strategic engagement, Canada will continue to work with its friends and partners around the world to navigate this challenging period. Canada and its allies will continue to stand on our principles and defend the rules-based international order that has sustained global peace and prosperity for decades.
Madam Speaker, I congratulate you for resuming your role in the chair.
It is indeed a pleasure to be back in the House of Commons. This is my first speech in the 43rd Parliament, although I took part in question period and in committee of the whole last night. I want to thank the constituents of Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman for putting their trust in me again. I am humbled by their support. This is the sixth time I have been elected, and I always look forward to representing them and being their voice in the chamber.
I am splitting my time with the member for .
This motion by the official opposition is indeed timely, one that I support wholeheartedly and one that deals with a growing concern among Canadians. My riding of Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman has been dealing first-hand with the impacts of our increasingly difficult relationship with China. Earlier our agriculture, beef and pork producers were sanctioned, banned from moving product into the Chinese market. We are still dealing with the restrictions on Canadian canola, and that is having a huge impact on the farming sector in Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman and right across the country. The mismanagement on this file by the Liberals has created the challenges we are now facing in our economy, as well as making it more difficult to work with China when it comes to our national security, and it is affecting our national defence as well.
I have always been a big advocate of standing up for human rights. I brought forward the legislation to recognize the Ukrainian Holodomor as a genocide in this place. I sponsored the bill on the Magnitsky act and making sure we have sanctions in place against corrupt foreign officials who are gross human rights violators. I have been advocating for some time that Chinese officials responsible for those human rights violations need to be added to Canada's Magnitsky sanctions list.
We know how the Chinese have been behaving. We know the Chinese government has allowed individuals to profiteer by harvesting organs from political prisoners and exporting them around the world. We know that the Chinese government has intentionally targeted practitioners of Falun Dafa, often called Falun Gong, because it does not believe in their right to peaceful assembly or to worship or meditate in their own way. The government imprisons them, harvests their organs and tissues, and exports them all around the world. That, to me, is disgusting, and we need to put a stop to it. That is one of the things that this committee could look at, these human rights violations, such as how Tibetan monks have been treated by the Chinese government or how often Tibetan monks, in protest, will go out into the streets and light themselves on fire.
We have seen that Chinese Muslims, the Uighurs, have been targeted as well and imprisoned. Right now there is a smear campaign going on against them by the state of China itself. The regime in Beijing is discrediting minority and religious groups within China. That again is something that this committee could drill down on by allowing the different organizations and faith groups to appear in committee and talk about the human rights abuses that they have been facing. We have recently been witnessing the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and know that the Chinese military massed itself on the borders of Hong Kong to threaten the citizens of Hong Kong, saying that if they did not do what it wanted, citizens could face military oppression or possibly see Hong Kong turned into a police state. That threat is still there. Trying to appease China or normalize relations with it, to me, is very disheartening.
We know that the , the and the former have not viewed China as a threat, yet we have heard over and over again that our allies, both in the Five Eyes and the two eyes, NORAD being the two eyes, have grave concern over allowing a Chinese company like Huawei to have access to our 5G network.
We already know of the challenges for other countries that had adopted Huawei as their main Wi-Fi provider, with its backdoor access to their information systems putting at risk not only national security but also individuals, who were having to make sure their identities were not harvested and circulated through cyberspace or that their personal information was not stolen to be used for more nefarious reasons.
We recently had the Halifax security forum. The was there. On November 22, he said:
We don't consider China as an adversary. We do have two Canadians that have been arbitrarily detained in China and we ask China for their expeditious release and that's extremely important to us.
We have now learned that those two Canadians will be facing national security charges in a trial in Beijing.
Right after the quit speaking, Robert O'Brien, the national security adviser to the United States, got up and said, “The Huawei Trojan horse is frightening, it's terrifying.”
Of course, we all know there is always a huge U.S. congressional presence at the Halifax security forum, and CBC reported on November 23 that “Democratic and Republican senators...spoke with one voice, saying the dangers of proceeding outweigh the benefits.”
Senator Angus King said:
We differ sometimes on issues, but not on this one. The risks of Huawei coming into your country far outweigh any benefits.
Therefore, we are looking at protecting our systems, our financial and transportation infrastructures, and making sure that things operate well, never mind protecting our Canadian government and our national security.
Why would we want to allow a company like Huawei, which often provides intel to the Government of China through a backdoor access, into our Wi-Fi system?
Aside from the national security threat of having Huawei become part of our Internet system here through the 5G network, we also need to look at the military threat.
When I spoke here last night, I talked about the buildup of the military presence of Russia and that the rear admiral who is in charge of the northern fleet for the Russian Federation is anticipating a conflict in Canada's Arctic. I can tell members that if they look at China right now, which is not an Arctic nation, it has an Arctic policy called the “polar silk road”. It intends to make use of Canadian and Russian waters for transit. We would think that in itself, if it got approval, with the disappearing sea ice, would enable more trade up there, which could be a good thing. However, why would China, which is not an Arctic nation, currently have two polar research vessels and six People's Liberation Army navy icebreakers?
We are talking about the Government of China having heavy icebreakers. We are talking about the capability not to transit but to wage war. These are combat ships. Therefore, we have to be prepared. I have not heard anything from the government on how we are preparing to defend our sovereignty in the Arctic.
That is another thing we can talk about when this all-party committee is struck. We can get down to the essentials of Arctic sovereignty, protecting the Canadian domain, and making sure we are keeping China in check as it does things like militarize the South China Sea, as it continues to rattle sabres with neighbours like Japan and South Korea and continues to support North Korea in its efforts to build ballistic missiles. These are things that we have to take a serious look at.
I know that in 2019, the United States put China on its worldwide threat assessment. It is very concerned about China's military capabilities and the concentration of power within the regime in Beijing. We have to make sure that we are standing up for Canada first, for human rights and for the rule of law.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to be in the House once again. As this is my first time giving prepared remarks, I would like to thank the people of Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill for electing me once again. This time I ran as a Conservative, and I am so pleased that they saw fit to send me back here as a Conservative. I am humbled by the opportunity. I take this responsibility very seriously, and I want to thank all the volunteers and all of the people who supported me from across the country. I would also like to thank my family, without whom I would truly be lost.
We are here today to talk about a very important motion for a very important point in our history. The Canada-China relationship is probably the greatest diplomatic challenge of our time for Canada. That is why we are proposing the composition of a special committee.
We need a special committee to examine and review all aspects of the Canada-China government relationship because we have standing committees and they are focused on individual subject matter areas. These include foreign affairs, international trade, official languages, and health and well-being. They have many other things that they need to study as well. We want to ensure that those other committees have the opportunity to study the things within their mandate that are important to Canada. However, regarding something of this magnitude, complexity and breadth and depth of scope, we need to examine and review all aspects from foreign affairs, to health and safety, cybersecurity and defence. The only way that we can look at it from a cross-functional perspective is by having a special committee.
That is why we are proposing it. Why is the Canada-China relationship important now? What really is at stake?
In the last five years, we have seen an incredibly rapid deterioration of the relationship. We have seen everything from wrongful and arbitrary imprisonment to pressures on our trade agreements. China buys $4.7 billion of agricultural products from Canada, yet at the moment it is not honouring our trade agreements and punishing our canola farmers. That affects everyday lives. Everyday Canadians are being impacted by the relationship and the failed approach to that relationship.
We are also seeing that we have foreign state-owned resource companies, from natural resources to technology companies, and there is a concern about whether we can protect the viability and the national security interests of Canada. We have seen cyber-attacks from the Chinese government on our Canadian government departments. We are worried about the potential for influence, interference and spying in our telecommunications networks with the introduction of Huawei.
Other countries have taken the step of banning Huawei from their internal communication networks for those very reasons. At the same time, Canada needs to have the opportunity to have a robust discussion, examination and review to understand whether that is the course of action that we need to take.
Everyday Canadians are also facing challenges from the Canada-China relationship with respect to health and safety. We find that we have an overwhelming number of illicit drugs, fentanyl and others, coming into the country and literally killing our citizens. We need to find a way to stop that and prevent that from happening, but the only way we can do that is if we understand the size and the scope of how it is coming in and where it is coming from. We know that the United States has done an initial review. There was a 60 Minutes documentary talking about just how serious this is, leading to a congressional committee that said that the highest number of illicit drugs, including fentanyl, is coming from China into the United States.
Do we have a similar problem here in Canada?
We can talk about defence and security. I mentioned Huawei but there are other mechanisms where our telecommunications, information, banking, and infrastructure are under threat. Money laundering is also possibly an issue that we need to look at, as well as other aspects of espionage.
The Chinese military is the second-largest investment behind the United States at $250 billion. That is significant and something to be concerned about. Some of those investments are going into icebreakers and submarines, which we are finding in Canada's Arctic. The Chinese government is talking about itself as a near-Arctic state. That is an interesting proposal. We would need to understand how that would affect our sovereignty, our security and our ability to leverage the opportunities that Canada's Arctic offers. These are serious issues that affect Canadians not only today but into the future. We need an opportunity to review them and examine them in depth.
China is building 3,000 kilometres of pipeline. It is looking at massive expansion in the belt and road initiative and in many ways having the opportunity to leverage certain countries simply by making investments in their infrastructure.
Those are the types of things that we are competing with. If we are not able to understand how we are going to leverage the resources that we have here, then we are not going to be able to compete in the future.
Then we look at climate change. There is no question that climate change is very important. We need to take action on climate change. China's emissions have gone up exponentially and continue to do so while Canada, although still expanding our economy, is not seeing the same rapid rise in our emissions. We are working to bring them down and we have some of the most advanced, highly technological and environmentally friendly approaches. These opportunities would allow us to help China look at how it can reduce its emissions. This is also another opportunity for us to examine and review how we can best leverage.
Why now? Obviously we have seen a deterioration. We have a Liberal government and a that admires the Chinese government and does not have a strategy and a plan to actively move forward on improving the relationship.
We as parliamentarians are entrusted with the responsibility to have these in-depth reviews and conversations. That is why we have parliamentary committees. This is exactly what we should be doing as parliamentarians. We should bring in experts and stakeholders, and bring Canadians along with us as we do this important review.
That is why we need this committee. That is why it should be an all-party committee. That is what we as parliamentarians can do to fulfill our role. It needs to be an interdisciplinary committee so that we can look at all aspects, understand the complexities and the balances, and make strategic improvements for all Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member of Parliament for .
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the motion. Given that it is my first time speaking in the House in this 43rd Parliament, I want to take a moment to thank my constituents in York Centre for the honour and privilege of returning to represent them in this House.
On the topic at hand, I will start by saying that the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is arbitrary and unjust, and they should be immediately released. While the debate on this motion has covered a wide range of issues related to the Canada-China relationship, it must not distract from the fundamental underlying question: What is in the best interest of the two Michaels as we mark the grim one-year anniversary of their imprisonment in China? We can have a broader discussion on the merits or lack thereof of this motion, but we must come back to reflect on that question. It must always guide our actions.
The Canada-China relationship is important to our government and to members on all sides of this House. That relationship is important to Canadians across the country. Right now, nothing is more important in the Canada-China relationship than securing the immediate release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The , the minister, the whole government and parliamentarians across the spectrum continue to work tirelessly to that end.
As chair of the foreign affairs committee in the 42nd Parliament, I had the opportunity to work with the member for in committee, including on this issue. In fact, the member was vice-chair when we studied the issue of consular affairs and tabled a productive report, which the Conservatives supported. One of the fundamental things that we heard, and that members from all sides of the House know, is that sensitive consular issues, like the detention of Canadians abroad, should not be arbitrated in public. It is not in the best interest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, not in the best interest of their families, and not in the best interest of Canadians.
I bring members' attention to a column in today's Globe and Mail by our esteemed former colleague, Bob Rae. He rightly notes that Canada and China are two very different countries. China is not a democracy, and there are serious human rights issues that must be addressed, but the response to that cannot be yelling into the wind. The response has to be diplomacy and engagement. It is not always easy, and it takes time, but it is what is necessary as Canadians, and we know it is essential.
Today is also Human Rights Day, which marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a time when leaders around the world are challenging the idea that human rights are universal, we must continue to uphold and protect human rights.
The promotion and protection of human rights is fundamental to Canada's foreign policy and remains an unwavering priority. As we know from our experience at the foreign affairs committee in the last Parliament, Canadians care deeply about international human rights, and our foreign policy reflects that priority.
We are deeply concerned about the ongoing intimidation and repression of ethnic and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in China, including Tibetan Buddhists, Uighurs and other Muslims, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, women and girls, and members of the LGBTI community. Our government has also expressed concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in China and the troubling and continued intensification of actions against human rights defenders, like lawyers, journalists and civil society actors.
At every opportunity, the government has consistently called on China to respect the fundamental freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly, association and freedom of religion of all Chinese citizens. We continue to raise human rights and rule of law issues with our Chinese counterparts at all levels. The has done so. The former foreign affairs minister, who is now , has done so. I know that the new will do so, because human rights are fundamental Canadian values which are fundamental to our foreign policy. Publicly and privately, in multilateral forums and bilateral settings, Canada has consistently called on the Chinese government to address these concerns.
We should also reflect on the cases that the Canadian government, under both parties, have sought to remedy, such as the imprisonment of Canadian Uighur Huseyin Celil, who has been detained in Xinjiang since 2006.
In my work on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, we studied Canada's engagement in Asia. As part of that study, a group of us, including the member for and the member for , travelled to Beijing and Hong Kong. We had very frank meetings where we discussed human rights and raised these issues directly with Chinese officials. We know there is a productive way of addressing these concerns that furthers the cause of human rights, but there is also a counterproductive way of doing that. We should be careful that we are not undermining the cause we are seeking to support, particularly when it comes to securing the release of arbitrarily detained Canadians.
When we were in Beijing, we raised a number of issues related to human rights. Canada remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in the Tibet autonomous region, including increasing restrictions on the freedom of language, culture and religion; freedom of expression; freedom of movement; destruction of historic buildings, temples and mosques; and forced patriotic education of ethnic Tibetans.
Canadians are deeply concerned by the credible reports of the mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, including re-education camps under the pretext of countering extremism. I know that the government shares those concerns and has voiced them publicly.
At China's universal periodic review last year, the government called on China to uphold its human rights obligations and release Uighurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily, and to end the prosecution and persecution on the basis of religion or belief, including for Muslims, Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong.
This past July and October, Canada joined over 20 countries in calling for unfettered access to Xinjiang for international independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Last, I know that many Canadians, including my constituents, are concerned about the situation in Hong Kong. With 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, we have a vested interest in its stability and prosperity and we will always support the right of peaceful protest and Hong Kong's autonomy under the basic law and the one country, two systems framework.
In my former roles as chair of the foreign affairs committee and before that as chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, these issues are dear to me and reflect essential Canadian values.
While this motion and today's debate have covered a wide range of issues, I want to come back to my initial point. We cannot be distracted from the fundamental issue, which is what is in the best interests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. I would ask all members to reflect on that as they consider the motion in the House today.
Madam Speaker, this being my first speech in the 43rd Parliament, I would like to thank the residents of Don Valley East for their confidence in me.
I thank the hon. member for raising the vital issue of our relationship with China. As I have been listening to the presentations by various members of Parliament, we need to reflect on the motion itself and whether it would get the intended results.
On this anniversary of the detention of two Canadians, we all share the concerns of getting an early release of the Canadians who were arbitrarily detained. However, would the committee that is being proposed be able to handle that? Are there any existing standing committees that could best address these issues?
The motion talks about a diplomatic crisis. I hope we think through this clearly. How would this committee be charged to take on a diplomatic issue? The standing committees on foreign affairs, trade, security, etc., could deal with issues that have arisen.
As I look at the motion logically, I do not believe it is in the best interest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to have the government publicly discuss the ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure their release. There are things that can be discussed in public and there are things that need to be done discreetly. The proposed motion would not allow this.
Our government has been working hard to ensure the release of the two Canadians. We have sought the assistance of other like-minded countries and are grateful to them for their support.
The other aspect of the discussion of the House on this topic focused on our agriculture industry as well.
Our farmers are critical to our economy. Canada and China have a long-standing relationship, spanning almost half a century. China is a priority market for the Canadian agriculture sector and our second-largest trading partner after the United States.
The agriculture industry is very important. Canada is a significant trading nation. We are in the top five exporters of agriculture and agri-food products. We are the world's top exporter of canola, flax, pulse crops and wild blueberries. We are in the top three exporters of wheat and pork. On average, about half of the value of Canada's agriculture product is exported.
Our farmers depend on exports. Well over a third of their wheat crop, two-thirds of their pork, 85% of their canola and 90% of their pulse crops are exported. All told, agriculture and agri-food and fish and seafood trade drive over $66 billion of our exports and contribute $16 billion to our balance of trade. All this economic activity supports jobs, growth and opportunities for Canadians.
We are pleased that through our diplomatic efforts, China restored access to our high-quality Canadian meat last month. Our appointment of Dominic Barton as Canada's ambassador to China enables Canada's advocacy efforts to resolve trade issues, as well as the release of the two Canadians.
Issues like this do not get resolved without the hard work of our industry and trade officials in the trade area and of course the leadership of Mr. Barton and his diplomatic efforts.
I heard some hon. members mention canola. We continue to work hard to restore our canola markets in China. The canola sector contributes almost $27 billion to Canada's economy and employs a quarter of a million Canadians. Canadians take pride in this industry as it is an innovation by our scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
In April, we formed an industry-government working group, co-chaired by the Canola Council of Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with representatives from the prairie provinces. The working group continues to meet regularly, with discussions focused on developing strategies to resolve the market access issues with China.
In the meanwhile, to help the canola farmers, we have instituted an advance payments program and implemented the stay of default, and extended the deadline of AgriStability.
The advance payments program helps producers manage their cash flow concerns throughout the year. We also increased the interest-free cash advances available to canola producers from $100,000 to $500,000 for the 2019 program year. Total advances of up to $1 million are now available for canola and all other commodities, up from $400,000. This change is permanent and will be available beyond 2019.
With our provincial partners, we also extended the AgriStability enrolment deadline by two months.
I would add that we are working closely with the Canadian canola industry every step of the way. As the president of the Canola Council of Canada said in his recent “speech from the combine”, “The draw bolt of growing the ag sector is cooperation between industry and government, and between the federal and provincial levels of government.”
The canola sector has participated in trade missions to key markets in Asia with both the hon. and the hon. . In her meeting with the G20 agricultural ministers earlier this year in Japan, the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food also took the opportunity to engage the Chinese minister of agriculture and talk about Canada's concerns.
The canola industry has also hailed the appointment of Dominic Barton as Canada's ambassador to China to help advance Canadian interests at this critical time. Most recently, Canada has been meeting with China for formal consultations under the WTO in an effort to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. We continue to push hard to restore business with China.
If our farmers are to take full advantage of sales opportunities around the globe, we absolutely need to address the issues of non-tariff trade barriers, and we need to ensure farmers have the tools they need to compete on the world stage. Canadian farmers can compete with the best the world has to offer, but to do so, they need a level playing field that is clear of barriers to trade.
Our government is standing shoulder to shoulder with Canadians producers and farming families. Canadian farmers should know that we have their backs.
I thank the hon. member for raising the issue. For us to address the multipronged issues of globalization and geopolitics, it is important that we use diplomacy rather than create another bureaucracy that may impede this process.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak about this very important topic.
I would like to say from the beginning that I will be splitting my time with the member for . It is great to have my colleague be able to speak on this issue. He knows it extremely well.
I would like to thank the constituents of Foothills for re-electing me. It is a great honour to have that trust and confidence from my constituents to re-elect me as their representative.
It is apropos that the first subject I am going to talk about as we begin this 43rd Parliament is the canola crisis that our constituents are facing with China, which I think this motion would address, and why it is so important that we support this motion for the special committee, which has the opportunity to discuss this critical issue in more depth and at length.
I will go back to when this issue first happened almost a year ago, when we highlighted the canola crisis with the previous Liberal government, which has now spilled over into this current one. We saw that nothing had been done to address it when the Liberals were in government in the 42nd Parliament.
I think the lack of discussion on this crisis in the throne speech highlights that nothing has changed. It is still not an issue or a priority for the current Liberal government. For it to not even discuss the canola crisis and the trade embargo with China within the throne speech was a very loud message to canola farmers across Canada that this is not a priority for the Liberal government. It has no intention of standing up for Canadian farmers or standing up to China to get back one of our most critical canola markets.
For the Liberal government not to understand the far-reaching impacts of this crisis within our agriculture sector I think is very short-sighted, but it also shows how out of touch the government has become.
To put this in perspective, China accounts for more than 40% of all our canola seed exports, more than 40% of the product that is grown here in Canada.
This has nothing to do with the quality of our canola seed, which is second to none in the world. The Conservatives understand that this is completely a political decision and that the ineptitude and bungling of the Liberal government have led to this problem with the Chinese government.
This is a $2.7-billion industry for Canadian canola producers that has now been completely neglected by the . There are 250,000 jobs, not only in western Canada but across this country, that are being impacted by this.
We went through this last year. At that time, we told the Liberal government that there were some things it could do to try to address it. It could file an official challenge to the WTO. It could withdraw the funding to the Asian infrastructure bank. At the very least, it could name an ambassador to China.
It took the government more than eight months to do one of those three. It finally named an ambassador to China. The government has now hinted about maybe bringing forth a challenge to the WTO on this trade issue, yet it has still given $250 million to the Asian infrastructure bank, which is building infrastructure, including pipelines, across China.
Meanwhile, we have more than 150,000 energy workers in Canada out of work and the Liberals are doing nothing to address that. Now we have 250,000 jobs at risk in the canola industry and once again, the Liberal government is turning a blind eye to that issue.
I want to take a moment to address one of the comments from my colleague across the way, which was that the Liberals have been there for canola farmers because they expanded the advance payments program.
Let us put that into perspective. This is exactly what the Liberals have done, which is what they do with just about any problem they have. They threw some money at it and hoped it would resolve the problem. What the government did to canola farmers was like extending the credit on their credit cards to something that most of them could not afford or access. Then, the government would not let them pay the debt once it came due. Let me be clear, the debt will come due.
Once the farmers have accessed the advance payments program, there is still interest on a portion of that which they have to pay back. They have gone through this harvest, which our producers across Canada have called the harvest from hell. Those of us in Alberta, Saskatchewan and western Canada have certainly felt that.
More than half of the canola crop in northern Alberta is still under snow, which has made it impossible to access. These canola producers have gone through all of the last year not being able to sell their product to one of their most important customers, and this year they have had a horrific harvest.
The canola producers have accessed the advance payments program but they cannot sell their crop, what crop they could get out. Half of it is still under the snow. They have no way of paying back the advance payment program the Liberals have said has been the band-aid solution to this entire problem. The government is ignoring the actual problem, which is getting access to China.
Reopening that market is a critical problem and it has not been addressed in the throne speech. We have given the government an opportunity here to establish a special committee that will investigate or discuss the issues that we have between ourselves and the Chinese government.
We tried to do this last year through the international trade and agriculture committees. At that time, some of the ministers refused to even be at those committees or to give their position. They said that the crisis with China was not important enough to have a high-level delegation.
I look forward to finishing this speech after question period.