POLITICS
05/07/2019 15:07 EDT | Updated 05/08/2019 14:32 EDT

Scheer Pledges To Get Tougher With China If He Becomes Prime Minister

The Tory leader outlined his foreign policy priorities in a major speech in Montreal.

A Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer will not be afraid to stand up to China despite the allure of the superpower's market, says the Tory leader.

"I will deal with China with eyes wide open," Scheer told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations Tuesday in a speech outlining his foreign policy priorities.

He named the rise of China among the top threats to Canada's security and prosperity, along with the "re-emergence of Russia's Cold War mentality" and state actors who "export terrorism and extremism."

While Canadians have long looked to China as a way to diversify exports markets and "looked the other way" on the country's human rights abuses, Scheer said, the past year has shown things must change.

'First comes trust, then comes trade'

The "grief" caused by the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou has proven "illuminating," he said, suggesting the detention of two Canadians and China's ban on Canadian canola shipments were acts of retaliation.

"After the arbitrary detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Sapvor, we should no longer harbour any illusions about China's attitude towards the rule of law," he said. "So long as China is willing to hold our exports hostage, all while committing human rights violations, we have no choice as Canadians but to consider other trading partners."

Canada exported more than $27-billion in goods to China in 2018, according to government figures.

The Liberal government has been in "total disarray" in the face of China's aggression, Scheer said. Though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has doggedly pursued a free trade deal with China, the Tory leader says such a step is only possible once the economic heavyweight embraces "a functioning rule of law system" where the government does not control market access.

"First comes trust, then comes trade," he said. "We may yet get there with China. But given the events of the last few months, it's clear we're a long way off."

Watch: Trudeau, Scheer trade debate Canada-China diplomatic dispute

Scheer reiterated pledges to scrap Canada's promised $250-million investment in the Chinese-controlled Asian Infrastructure Bank and launch a formal complaint at the World Trade Organization over trade barriers. He also said he would not grant Chinese state-owned enterprises "unfettered access" to Canada.

Better relations and more economic opportunity with China will only happen if Canada shows strength and resolve, he said.

"If this government isn't willing to stand up to China when two Canadians are unlawfully imprisoned and billions of dollars in trade is under attack, it never will."

Scheer also raised alarms over the "military adventurism" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"While today he is occupying Ukraine, tomorrow it could be Canada's Arctic waters," he said.

Scheer pledged a Tory government would expand upon Canada's mission in Ukraine and push for a United Nations peacekeeping mission to secure the country's borders.

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He would also do more to "show the world that we are an Arctic power" by ensuring Canada provides a "counterbalance" to Russia and China's burgeoning icebreaker fleets.

"We must establish, without a doubt, everywhere in the world, that our sovereignty over the North is non-negotiable," he said. "The Arctic does not only belong to us, it is us. And that includes the Northwest Passage."

Scheer's reference to the Northwest Passage comes a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged that Canada's claim to the sea route is "illegitimate."

When it comes to the United States, the Tory leader said Canada's relationship with its southern neighbour should be renewed, noting — as Trudeau often does — that the partnership is bigger than the "personalities" of its leaders.

Scheer said that, as prime minister, he would start talks to join America's ballistic missile defence program — something past Conservative and Liberal governments have ruled out. Tories called on the Liberal government to consider joining the controversial defence system in 2017.

Tory leader eyes ballistic missile defence program, moving embassy in Israel

Scheer alleged the Trudeau government has "fostered tension and mistrust" with its greatest ally by, among other things, withdrawing from the fight against the so-called Islamic State and seeking closer ties to China.

"Our posture in relation to the Americans must be to seriously and strongly defend our interests, and to make the case for strengthened partnership among free democracies," he said.

A Scheer government would seek to move Canada's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following in the footsteps of Donald Trump's administration.

Unsurprisingly, Scheer took some direct shots at Trudeau, including the prime minister's much-maligned trip to India last year. Scheer called it the "most disastrous foreign trip by any Canadian prime minister."

The Tory leader said Trudeau's declaration that Canada was "back" after the 2015 election showed the "profound arrogance" of a leader that places style over substance.

What about Brexit?

However, Scheer made no mention of his support for Brexit, the chaotic and divisive push for Britain to exit the European Union.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who will co-chair the Liberals' Quebec campaign, released a statement before Scheer's speech noting that the Tory leader's Brexit support as an example of his "reckless and divisive" foreign policy.

"Whether it's Andrew Scheer's endorsement of Brexit chaos, skepticism on climate change, corrosive rhetoric on immigration, or uncertainty on NAFTA, the Conservative plan amounts to risk and uncertainty that would hurt Canadians and our economy," Rodriguez said.

The Liberal MP added that "Canadians don't want to go back to Stephen Harper's failed foreign policy, and that's all Andrew Scheer is offering."

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Scheer's speech was part of a series of keynotes addressing his "vision" for Canada ahead of this fall's federal election. The Conservative party has created a website to showcase his remarks.

One topic not addressed at length Tuesday was climate change.

Scheer has promised to unveil his environmental plan in another speech, though he has said Tories will scrap the Trudeau government's carbon pricing plan. He has also signalled that he will backtrack on an earlier pledge to release a climate plan that will meet Canada's international climate targets as spelled out in the Paris accord.

"Issues such as climate change cannot be tackled by one country acting alone," Scheer said Tuesday. "Canada must continue to work with international allies across the world, those that are willing to take up the heavy responsibility of ensuring that we pass on a planet cleaner and greener than the one we inherited."