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 Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères 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 Leader of the Bloc Québécois 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 Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs 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 Prime Minister 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 Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs 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 House Leader of the Bloc Québécois 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 Minister of Foreign Affairs 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 Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs 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 Prime Minister'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.