Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is distancing the Trudeau government from former China envoy John McCallum after he warned Beijing against punishing Canada further over the arrest of a Huawei executive because it could end up electing a Conservative government.
She also rebuked such conduct, saying Canadians should not be offering advice to any foreign government on how to affect election results in Canada.
"Mr. McCallum does not speak for the government of Canada,” Ms. Freeland told journalists at a media freedom conference in Britain.
"It is inappropriate for any Canadian to be advising any foreign government on ways it ought, or ought not, to behave to secure any particular election outcome in Canada."
She noted the long-time Liberal insider had left his ambassadorial post in January. His departure came after he waded into the legal case surrounding Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested by Canadian authorities last December at the Vancouver International Airport on an extradition request from the United States. She is fighting a handover to the Americans.
This week, Mr. McCallum made headlines in Hong Kong after revealing he has cautioned Chinese officials that further sanctions against Canada over the arrest of Ms. Meng could help to spur the election of a Conservative government, which he said would be far less favourable to Beijing.
The former ambassador revealed his discussions during an interview on Canada-China tensions with the South China Morning Post. The Hong Kong newspaper said Mr. McCallum had been speaking to "former contacts at China’s ministry of foreign affairs” in Beijing.
Mr. McCallum told the South China Morning Post that he warned Beijing that further punitive measures against Canada could help oust Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from power. A Canadian federal election is slated for October.
“Anything that is more negative against Canada will help the Conservatives, [who] are much less friendly to China than the Liberals,” Mr. McCallum told the newspaper. “I hope and I don’t see any reason why things will get worse. It would be nice if things will get better between now and [Canada’s federal] election [in October].”
Mr. McCallum is a veteran Liberal Party insider who served as a cabinet minister in three Liberal governments, including Mr. Trudeau’s.
His statements drew accusations from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer that Mr. McCallum, as a senior Liberal, was “conveying the message to China that they should help the Liberals get elected because it would be in China’s best interest."
Mr. Scheer, speaking again following Ms. Freeland’s comments, said the Foreign Affairs Minister should have been more forceful in censuring Mr. McCallum. “She made a general statement without specifically condemning what had happened, and what happened is we have a high-ranking, high-profile former Liberal cabinet minister who, until very recently was the top ranking Canadian official in China, making these types of comments," he said.
He said Mr. McCallum’s statements raise questions about whether the Liberal government is engaging in some kind of mixed messaging to China, where Ottawa castigates Beijing in official statements but proxies deliver a different line.
David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said the difficulty the Liberals face in distancing themselves from Mr. McCallum is that, until recently, his brand of Canada-China relations was the preferred diplomatic approach for Ottawa. “The problem is that Mr. McCallum was speaking for Canada only six months ago when it was established policy to invoke the supreme importance of the China market and the need to put unpleasant issues behind us. … So the Chinese might have reason to be confused.”
Ms. Freeland on Thursday, however, said her government’s priority is the well-being of two Canadians who were arrested by Beijing in apparent retaliation for the Meng detention.
Only days after the Huawei executive was taken into custody, China arrested two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – on alleged national-security violations. In the months that followed, Beijing has also imposed what amount to economic sanctions on Canada, restricting imports of Canadian canola, pork and beef.
Ms. Freeland said she discussed the Kovrig and Spavor cases while in London with Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign Secretary, and Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Stef Blok.