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View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all the committee members on both sides for being here and for exercising both their privilege and their responsibility as parliamentarians. It really is a tremendous privilege to be a member of Parliament. It allows us to engage in issues and engage in conversation and engage in matters that are on the minds of Canadians every day. It is also a tremendous responsibility, and we bear that responsibility, I think, because our privilege is so great.
When I received the notice of this meeting and the request that had been made, I welcomed that. It's part of our privilege as members of Parliament that if any four of us request a meeting like this, it is incumbent upon us to give full and due consideration to that request. That's what we are doing, but that also comes with tremendous responsibility. Dispassionately, when I saw the notice of motion, I prepared my remarks, but I'm actually leaving them for a moment because I think that the responsibility we have is far greater than to score political points.
I am very distressed—actually more distressed than I was when I simply read the notice of motion—at the tone, at the idea and at the allegations that are being cast about by members of the opposition. I say that advisedly, because I've been on the opposition side and I've been on the government side and I know what opposition members do, because I have done it myself. But there are times in politics, there are times in public policy, there are times in our Canadian shared life when we let some of that go and we actually think primarily, as the government has been doing since December, about two Canadians who are wrongfully and arbitrarily held in detention in China in conditions that have been horrendous and belittling and that have demanded tremendous courage from both Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. I have talked to their family members, and we've had consular visits, and there should be nothing more on our minds right now than ensuring their safety and considering their well-being.
We have lives in the balance and we also have livelihoods in the balance, and those have to do with farmers and exporters of Canadian goods that are also being arbitrarily detained. That means we put aside trying to gain political points and trying to make specious arguments for the sake of some gain. I am well known for not having always been in favour of things that our government has done, and I have been quite free to vote against our government. There are times, whether you are in opposition or in government, when you rally together and offer constructive, important conversation and ideas to make sure that we are doing the right thing.
This government consults. This government engages. On every issue we do those things. On an issue like our current very tense and fragile relationship with China, particularly when lives are hanging in the balance, we consult with everybody. We would open the door. This government—I am speaking as a parliamentary secretary now—would open the door to all opposition parties and independent members to offer constructive, helpful ways to negotiate in a very, very difficult situation. We've been doing that with patience. We've been doing that with firmness. I think our foreign affairs minister has a spine of steel as she engages with all these partners in what is a very complex situation. Part of that is ensuring that our professional public servants are also engaged not only with the government but also with civil society, engaged with everyone who is an opinion leader, to make sure that we have an informed public discussion about key foreign issues.
The issue around China—and there are several issues around China—is no exception. Our very professional foreign service has regular meetings with the key people in government responsible for public policy with respect to China. That obviously engages elected officials from time to time. It obviously engages their staff from time to time, including the Prime Minister's Office. Those are important conversations that happen inside the government, and then we go outside the government to engage civil society, too, to ensure that we are not speaking with one voice but speaking with an informed voice. That's what this government is committed to doing.
Global Affairs Canada engages with people outside government all the time. They do that to ensure there is an informed discussion—not one voice but an informed discussion.
The public service issued a statement last week and I want to quote it so that it is on record. The media has already paid attention to it. This comes from Global Affairs Canada and I will just add my own comment. This is a very distinguished public servant, continuing in an extremely important position in Toronto. He said:
The call with Mr. Mulroney was made with this intention....
We welcome the views and advice of informed Canadians such as Mr. Mulroney on these complex issues and regret that this message was not clearly communicated. There was no intention, nor was there any instruction from anyone, including the PMO, that Mr. Mulroney clear his public comments with the government.
Let me be very clear. He said there was no instruction from anyone, including the Prime Minister's Office, that Mr. Mulroney clear his public comments with the government. The public service in Canada is an extremely professional and distinguished public service. They've been clear that the current assistant deputy minister was not acting under the direction of anyone when he made these phone calls.
Our government has the utmost respect for these two former ambassadors to China. We would never attempt to limit their right to speak freely. That doesn't mean we won't engage with them to ensure that we have a Canadian constructive discussion about important issues when lives are at stake.
For me, personally, it is absolutely our responsibility to come here to deal with a motion that is in order, and it is our responsibility to ensure that politics do not get in the way of doing the important work of being government. Whether it's the legislative branch or the executive branch, we share that responsibility together and it's given to us and we hold it in an earthen vessel and we do it the best we can. We should not be wasting public resources to drive down avenues that simply will not help save lives and there is no story there.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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