The federal Conservatives say they will not launch a bid to resurrect a parliamentary committee that probed Canada-China relations for more than eighteen months.
In December, 2019, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, before he became leader of his party, spearheaded a motion in the Commons to establish the special Committee on Canada-China relations. It was created over the objections of the governing Liberals and with the support of the Bloc Québécois and NDP.
At the time, Mr. O’Toole as the party’s foreign-affairs critic said: “The challenge of the China relationship is the foreign-policy challenge that Canada will face over the next generation.”
The committee went on to study the fraught relationship between China and the West under the increasingly aggressive leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping but also Beijing’s quashing of dissent and opposition in Hong Kong and its political inference and harassment in Canada.
The committee also focused on then-imprisoned Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and launched a demand for federal documents about the firing of two scientists from Canada’s top-security virus laboratory.
But now the Conservatives say there are other pressing priorities, such as examining the federal government’s handling of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August, 2021. A motion sponsored by the Tories to create this committee passed earlier this month.
Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong originally told The Globe and Mail last month that he expected the party would push to revive the special committee on Canada-China Relations after the fall election. Special committees are not permanent and must be recreated after a dissolution of Parliament.
Mr. Chong, however, now says that he didn’t realize at the time that stretched House of Commons resources would be such a constraint on adding more new committees. He also noted that the parliamentary agenda has become even more packed after a Liberal-sponsored motion in June created another permanent Commons committee, this one focused on science and research.
Cherie Wong, the executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group for Hong Kong prodemocracy activists in Canada, said she’s disappointed to hear the committee is not returning. She said China’s interference in foreign countries including Canada has not subsided, and nor has its repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, its crushing of democracy and dissent in Hong Kong or its menacing of Taiwan.
Mr. Chong said the Conservatives would be pushing for the Canada-China committee if it weren’t for these new committees on Afghanistan and science. “There are serious resource limitations that prevent us from starting a third new committee in the House of Commons.”
The China committee was first formed two years ago after the Bloc and NDP supported a Conservative motion. It would require all three opposition parties to revive it.
Wenran Jiang, a retired political-science professor from the University of Alberta, said he is not surprised by the Conservative decision. He said he thinks the party’s internal surveys are telling them that their policies critical of the Chinese government played a “key factor in losing many votes” from Chinese Canadians in the election.
“I have witnessed first hand that many traditional Conservative supporters, who are Canadians of Chinese origin, were very disturbed by the party’s extreme anti-China positions and decided either to sit out or to vote for the Liberals.”
Mr. Chong said the election results had nothing to do with this. “This has to do with resource limitations and not with any change in our stance towards China,” the MP said. “We believe that it is vital to this country’s national interests, vital to its national security that we counter the threats the Communist leadership in Beijing is directing towards Canada and Canadians.”
He said the Conservative policies toward China are unchanged. The 2021 platform called for shifting Canada’s international trade priorities away from China and toward other countries in the Indo-Pacific and Africa. It pledged to pass a Foreign Agents Registry Act – similar to those in the Australia and the United States – requiring individuals and companies acting as agents of designated foreign governments or companies to register with Ottawa.
The party also promised to withdraw Canada from the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G infrastructure and grant asylum to mainland Chinese proponents of freedom and persecuted minorities, including Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners.
Mr. Chong said he thinks his party has to do a better job of communicating in Cantonese and Mandarin with the Chinese community. “The early evidence is we didn’t do a good job of communicating on Chinese-language social-media platforms and we didn’t have a rapid-response team to counter disinformation.”
The MP said the Conservatives intend to continue to probe Canada-China matters through the foreign-affairs committee. He noted that he’s trying to pass a motion once again calling on Ottawa to release the Winnipeg lab documents and is proposing a study on Taiwan.
Reached on Sunday, Bloc spokesman Julien Coulombe-Bonnafous said the party would support a motion to recreate the Canada-China committee.
NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson said the committee conducted good work during the past Parliament and she feels “there is more work to be done with regards to Canada-China relations.” She said a proposal to revive the committee would be considered in that context.
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