Federal Conservatives are pushing for all-party collaboration on Canada’s fraught relationship with China, while also accusing the Liberal government of “gross incompetence” on the file.
UPDATE: The Conservative opposition motion passed Tuesday evening with support from the Bloc, NDP, Greens, and Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould. The motion was carried 171-148.
In their first opposition motion of the new Parliament, the Tories are calling on the House of Commons to appoint a special all-party committee to “examine and review” all parts of the Canada-China relationship, including security and diplomatic relations.
The proposal would see the committee chaired by a Liberal MP, with five other Grits, four Conservative MPs, and one member from each of the Bloc Québécois and New Democratic Party to begin meeting no later than Jan. 20, 2020.
While the idea seems to reflect the spirit of collegiality called for in last week’s throne speech, Tory foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday that Canadians have lost confidence in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the world stage.
Watch: Tories press Liberals on Canadians detained in China
Citing Trudeau’s “infamous” 2018 state visit to India, O’Toole said the prime minister is “known for his gaffes on the world stage and for putting his own brand and the fortunes of the Liberal Party ahead of Canada’s national interest.”
A minority Parliament presents an opportunity for a foreign affairs approach that “imposes a degree of seriousness by Canada on the world stage that has been sorely lacking,” he said.
The proposed committee would be empowered to call expert witnesses, including the prime minister and Canada’s envoy to China Dominic Barton, who was appointed just ahead of the fall election campaign. The group would go in-camera to discuss sensitive matters.
While the motion could pass without the support of Liberal MPs, O’Toole said that Grit opposition to the “modest proposal” will mean the government simply wants to avoid scrutiny.
“If they oppose this recommendation of an all-party accountability mechanism, it will also show very early in this minority Parliament that the Liberals only pay lip service when it comes to the concept of cross-party collaboration,” he said.
The move comes on the one-year anniversary of China’s detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on allegations of undermining national security, widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States. China also sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of Canadian canola.
Asked what Tories would do differently to secure the release of the “two Michaels,” O’Toole suggested Trudeau had not done enough to push Beijing and dithered too long on naming a new ambassador after firing former envoy John McCallum last January.
O’Toole said his party has only raised the cases of Kovrig and Spavor “a dozen times in the last year” because Tories do not want “politics to get in the way of their well-being.”
Tory Leader Andrew Scheer marked the grim milestone Tuesday with a statement that also blasted Trudeau.
Scheer said in the release that Trudeau and his government have “demonstrated gross incompetence and poor judgement” during the arbitrary, unlawful detention of the two Canadians. He noted the “torturous conditions” the men face in prison, including how Kovrig’s reading glasses have been confiscated.
Scheer also called out Mary Ng, minister of small business and export promotion, for a July tweet that promoted a Canadian-owned ice cream company operating in Beijing at a time when “two Canadians sit in a Chinese government prison.” Ng’s office later told iPolitics that she raised the issue of the detentions during her visit to the country.
“These actions show an unserious government unable to handle this important file,” Scheer said in the statement. “I will continue to call for Justin Trudeau to personally intervene on this vital issue and hold him accountable for the numerous mistakes he has made in the failed attempt to secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.”
Trudeau told the House Monday that he has spoken directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping to push for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, while other Canadian officials continue to press the matter.
“We will continue to work very hard, as I know all Canadians will, to send that clear message that those Canadians must be returned home,” he said.
On Tuesday, a Chinese foreign minister spokesperson told reporters that the cases of Kovrig and Spavor have been sent to prosecutors for “review and prosecution,” suggesting trials are upcoming.
The full text of the Conservative opposition motion:
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;
1. 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;
2. 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;
3. that membership substitutions be permitted, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2);
4. 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;
5, that the Clerk of the House shall convene an organization meeting of the said committee for no later than January 20, 2020;
6. that the committee be chaired by a member of the government party;
7. 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;
8. 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;
9. 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;
10. that the committee have the power to authorize video and audio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings; and
11. 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.
With a file from The Canadian Press