OTTAWA — The federal opposition parties have failed in their bid to use a rare summer committee hearing to press for an investigation that would force top officials and the foreign affairs minister to explain the Liberal government’s China policy in detail.
The Conservatives and NDP had called for the meeting in response to allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office had attempted to innappropriately pressured two former ambassadors to China into checking with the government before making public statements.
But Liberals on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee shot down a motion in Tuesday’s meeting that would have called Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, the two former ambassadors, and other witnesses to testify.
Conservative critic Leona Alleslev said such an investigation would have shed light on Liberal efforts to end Canada’s deepening diplomatic row with China, and helped Canadians understand if the government had tried to “muzzle” two diplomats.
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David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques told The Globe and Mail newspaper last week they had been contacted by an official from Global Affairs Canada. Mulroney said the official had asked him to clear future comments with Global Affairs and that the request had come from the PMO.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted his office did not direct the department to silence the former diplomats.
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, said during the committee meeting Tuesday the focus should remain on ensuring the safety of two Canadians held in China, as well the livelihoods of farmers and others affected by the ongoing trade dispute.
Oliphant said the contact with the two former ambassadors was part of an effort to ensure Canadians were speaking “with an informed voice,” but not “one voice.”
“There was an intention to inform, an intention to engage, it was misunderstood and heard as an intention to somehow direct,” Oliphant told reporters following the meeting.
The parliamentary secretary highlighted statements from the PMO and Global Affairs saying there had been no intention to pressure the two former diplomats.