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 Prime Minister'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 Prime Minister'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 Prime Minister 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 Prime Minister'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 Prime Minister'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 Prime Minister'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 Prime Minister 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 Red Deer—Lacombe 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 Prime Minister'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 Prime Minister, 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 Prime Minister, 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 Prime Minister.
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 Prime Minister 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 Prime Minister 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.