Andrew Scheer is leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and leader of the Opposition
If there is a guiding principle for Canadian foreign and trade policy, it's that it must put Canadian interests first. It naturally follows that Canada should not pursue partnerships that threaten our security or our economy.
When it comes to trade, Canada's Conservatives believe Canada's strength has always been linked to opening trade with the world, and seeking out partners with whom we are most compatible. Not every country shares Canada's commitment to a free-market economy, protections for workers and the environment, protection of intellectual property and transparent governance.
This is why the Conservatives oppose Justin Trudeau's rush to sign a bilateral free-trade agreement with the People's Republic of China.
Without a doubt, Canada has been enriched by generations of immigrants from China, and today's Chinese-Canadian communities are vibrant across our country. In the past, Conservative governments have worked hard to build economic opportunities with China. Measures such as the establishment of a renminbi currency trading hub in Toronto and the signing of a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China were concrete steps towards building a mutually beneficial trade relationship.
Still, Canada maintained a strategic economic engagement with China under the Conservative government, aimed at advancing our interests without ignoring the risks. Stephen Harper told the Globe in 2014: "the objective is not to have the best possible relationship we can have with China in terms of getting along…Our policy is to have the best relationship that is in Canadians' interests."
The Trudeau Liberals' inability to defend Canadians' interests raises grave doubts about their competence at the free-trade negotiating table. Before even getting to the table, they have, in fact, been making concessions over the last several months which give the appearance of appeasement.
The Liberals have allowed the sale of sensitive Canadian technology firms to companies with close links to the Chinese state, in one case overturning the previous Conservative government's decision to block the sale on national security grounds, and in another dispensing with the national security review altogether.
These concessions come as the Chinese government continues to ask Canada for even more. Beijing is demanding full and open access to Canadian natural-resources sector as part of a trade deal, while dismissing Canadian concerns over national security and human rights as "protectionism." Beijing also wants an extradition treaty, which could subject people in Canada to China's harsh and unfair justice system, infamous for its use of torture and the death penalty.
As the Chinese government makes these ever-increasing demands, our new ambassador, a former Liberal cabinet minister, is in Beijing saying, "move faster!" He represents a Prime Minister who has never disavowed his admiration for "China's basic dictatorship."
Allowing Chinese state-owned enterprises unfettered access to the Canadian economy is not in our economic interest. We have seen how perverse incentives and inefficiencies can plague Canadian government-run enterprises, even when they are trying to advance our interests. Why would we then allow Chinese government-run enterprises, solely focused on the political interests of Beijing, to decide who gets hired, who gets fired and what investments are made?
There is a better alternative available here, which still involves engaging China commercially, but which protects our economic interests. We should pursue closer trading and strategic relationships with like-minded democracies in the Asia-Pacific region. If China eventually seeks to join a trading bloc dominated by democracies, it will be they, and not us, making concessions. However, the Trudeau Liberal approach of unilaterally pursuing trade with China, without the partnership of our allies, leaves us much more vulnerable.
Conservatives do not want to see further concessions by the Trudeau Liberal government to conclude with a deal that gives the benefits to the Chinese government, and makes Canadian workers and businesses pay the price.
It's time for Canada to take a step back and think clearly about the costs and benefits to Canadians. Standing up for Canada is not a sign of hostility towards China. It's in our national interest to do so.