The Globe's Ottawa Bureau Chief on the public scolding of Canada's Prime Minister. Transcript of the audio:
We were in the midst of mostly ceremonial meetings. Premier Wen met Prime Minister Harper, there was a brass band, there was an honour guard, there were all the things you'd expect to see during any of these meetings between heads of government.
And then they went into a meeting and at the beginning of the meeting, again you hear the pro forma things - glad to have you here, glad to be here, hope for a new relationship, that sort of stuff - except Premier Wen said it has been five years since a Canadian prime minister visited Canada and that's too long and that's why there has been so much criticism of the Prime Minister in the Chinese media.
Well, first of all, that's an astonishing thing to say. Second of all, yes there has been a lot of criticism of Canada in the Chinese media and the fact that we have been so chilly in our relationship to the Chinese, and of course the Chinese media is controlled by the state. So the Premier was saying, "The stuff that we've been saying in the newspapers about you is in fact true." And it was a remarkable public rebuke. I've been covering these sorts of things now for 20 years or more and I've never seen anything like it.
He [Mr. Harper]just sort of sat there stone faced and when it came his turn to reply, he said, "Yes, it's been five years and in fact, it's been five years since you guys came to visit us." Of course, the Canadian government has to issue such an invitation, so it's a two-way street. And later at a press conference, which I've just this minute returned from, he said when asked by a reporter that he agreed with the premier that Canada and China need to exchange visits between heads of government more often. So they're trying to smooth it over. But the rebuke stands as a rebuke and the consequences will be the consequences.
I think - and this is my own thought on it - Prime Minister Harper initially was very cool towards China: stressed the issue of human rights, maintained that Canada wasn't [inaudible]for the almighty dollar. Well, then he discovered that this is our second largest trading relationship, there's a terrible imbalance of trade between the two countries, Canada has to work harder at trying to improve its exports into the country, and so he was prepared to make a sacrifice of going to China and working to improve the relationship and the Chinese, for their part, were prepared to agree and to sign the various memorandums of agreement that we've had today. But they weren't going to let it go without making him pay a price. And this was the price.