Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has recruited an Indo-Pacific advisory committee that includes several pro-China advocates, among them Dominic Barton, Canada’s former ambassador to Beijing.
Mr. Barton resigned from his diplomatic role in December and is now chair of Rio Tinto, an Australian mining conglomerate that does half of its business in China.
As Canadian ambassador, he was a supporter of closer trade ties between Canada and China. He tended not to criticize Beijing’s human rights record.
Ms. Joly announced the 14-member Indo-Pacific Advisory Committee’s establishment on Thursday. The group is tasked with providing independent perspectives and recommendations on Canada’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy, which is expected to be unveiled in the fall, before Prime Minster Justin Trudeau attends the G20 summit in Bali and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.
Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Ms. Joly, said in a statement that the panel will provide independent and non-binding advice. He did not specifically address Mr. Barton’s business ties to China.
“All Committee members have accepted to serve in a voluntary capacity,” he said. “Members are expected to work with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to ensure that the highest standard of ethics and transparency are upheld.”
Mr. Barton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The committee includes several prominent Liberals. Among them are former Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew, who is now chair of the board of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, which promotes closer trade ties with China; Jonathan Hausman, head of the Global Investment Strategy Department at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and a former executive director at Goldman Sachs, where he had extensive dealings with China; and Darren Touch, a fellow at the Kissinger Institute on China, a think-tank.
Also on the committee are former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and ex-Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, whom Mr. Trudeau appointed as an independent senator last year.
The Liberal government’s Indo-Pacific strategy was initially meant to shift Canada away from reliance on China by diversifying trade and investment in Asia, the Pacific Rim and beyond, while boosting contributions to security and international assistance in the region.
A draft of the plan has been circulated within the top levels of the federal bureaucracy. But a senior federal source said Ms. Joly is trying to play down the shift away from China and is determined to repair relations with Beijing after the fallout from Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at the Chinese tech company Huawei, and China’s near-simultaneous jailing of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
The source said Ms. Joly has proposed adding 1,000 more diplomats in the region, even as Defence Minister Anita Anand has pushed for any Indo-Pacific strategy to include a bigger naval and air force presence and greater cybersecurity. The Globe is not identifying the official, because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, said he was surprised by the lack of career diplomats on the committee. The only former diplomat included, he noted, is Mr. Barton.
Mr. Saint-Jacques said he was not surprised that both he and David Mulroney, another recent Canadian ambassador to China, were not recruited for the committee. Both men in recent years have publicly criticized the Trudeau government’s handling of its relationship with China.
“They probably are of the opinion that if we criticize the government then all our views must be dismissed,” he said. “We have to speak truth to power and we have to stop being naïve.”
Before he was Canada’s envoy to China, Mr. Barton was the global managing partner of the consulting firm McKinsey and Co. He is facing a civil racketeering lawsuit in the United States involving allegations related to his time in that role.
The lawsuit, in the Southern District of New York, names him and other top McKinsey executives. They are accused of filing misleading disclosure statements to a bankruptcy court in order to secure consulting appointments worth tens of millions of dollars.
During the period of Mr. Barton’s leadership, McKinsey advised Purdue Pharma on ways of boosting sales of OxyContin, a powerful opioid. That consulting work, of which Mr. Barton has said he was unaware, resulted in the firm agreeing in 2021 to pay US$573-million to settle investigations in dozens of U.S. states. McKinsey also had significant business relationships with Russia and China during Mr. Barton’s tenure there, which ended in mid-2018.
Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director of the Indo-Pacific program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said he is concerned about the makeup of Ms. Joly’s advisory committee. He noted that a government news release announcing the committee mentioned security last in a list of goals that also included trade, inclusive growth and fighting climate change.
He added that he is worried the committee may serve as an echo chamber for the progressive values of the Liberal government, rather than as a critical eye on geopolitical and security concerns related to countries in Asia.
Alliance Canada Hong Kong (ACHK), an umbrella group that represents people from Hong Kong in Canada, said it is concerned that the advisory group lacks representation from diaspora communities and Indo-Pacific strategy experts.
“Dominic Barton continues to have significant business interests in China as a chair to Rio Tinto, a mining giant that has more than half of [its] revenue from China,” said Ai-Men Lau, an adviser to ACHK.
She also took issue with the presence of University of Ottawa Professor Pascale Massot on the panel.
“She previously advocated for the need to remain engaged with China rather than confronting it or breaking ties,” Ms. Lau said. “The community is appalled that the government continues to ignore the gravity of Canada-China relations.”
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