Michael Chong is at the centre of the latest revelations of Chinese interference in Canadian politics. This is grim news for the government.
Mr. Chong, the Conservative member for Wellington–Halton Hills, may be the most principled MP in the House of Commons. The Chinese government allegedly sought to influence him by intimidating his family members in China. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government did not inform Mr. Chong of that threat, which infuriated even prominent Liberals.
“That a bunch of folks in official Ottawa knew that MP Chong’s family was being targeted by the Chinese, decided not to tell him & no apparent consequences is appalling on [a] personal, political & diplomatic level. But not surprising based on my experience,” tweeted Catherine McKenna, who served as a minister in Mr. Trudeau’s government before retiring from politics in 2021. “Be serious.”
“Totally agree,” John McCallum tweeted in reply. Mr. McCallum also served in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet, and was ambassador to China.
Why would senior Liberals openly criticize this Liberal government over its lack of support for Mr. Chong? In part, it has to do with his reputation.
In November, 2006, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government introduced a motion into the House of Commons recognizing “that the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada.”
Mr. Chong was Mr. Harper’s intergovernmental affairs minister at the time, a young professional of partly Chinese ancestry who held an exurban riding on the edge of Greater Toronto. His political future was golden.
But Mr. Chong believed the resolution could be exploited by separatists. Rather than support the motion, he resigned from cabinet, short-circuiting his political career.
Mr. Chong promised Mr. Harper that he would never seek to undermine him, and he kept that promise. He focused instead on parliamentary reform, drafting the Reform Act, which gave caucuses that chose to adopt its principles greater power over party leaders. Parliament adopted his private-member’s bill in 2015; under its provisions the Conservative caucus removed leader Erin O’Toole in 2022.
Mr. Chong entered the 2017 Conservative leadership race, where he did poorly, mostly because he insisted on supporting a carbon tax to combat global warming, which was anathema to party members.
In 2021, as foreign affairs critic, Mr. Chong sponsored and lobbied for a House of Commons motion that declared “a genocide is currently being carried out by the People’s Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.” Though MPs voted unanimously for the motion, Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet cravenly abstained from voting.
Now, even more cravenly, the government has done almost nothing in the days since The Globe and Mail revealed Beijing’s effort to intimidate Mr. Chong’s family members. The Globe reported that Zhao Wei, a Chinese diplomat in Canada, was involved.
The Conservative MP’s stern indignation contrasted sharply with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s fumbling response at the foreign affairs committee Thursday.
“Why is this diplomat still here?” he asked her bluntly. “...Why do you, minister, continue to allow this diplomat to be accredited in this country on Canadian soil?”
“We’re assessing the consequences that we’ll be facing in case of diplomatic expulsion,” the minister replied, “because there will be consequences.” She mentioned “economic interests, consular interests and also diplomatic interests.”
“I can’t think of an interest more important to the Canadian state than the protection and the safety and the security of its own citizens here on Canadian soil,” Mr. Chong retorted. He said he found it “inexplicable that this diplomat hasn’t been told to leave the country already.” Many others find this inexplicable, too. Some of them have served in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet.
In this escalating controversy – in which the Liberal government appears to be unwilling to confront Chinese efforts to interfere in this country’s internal political affairs for reasons that are both baffling and suspicious – Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is a flawed critic. His stridency undermines his credibility.
But Michael Chong is the personification of principled opposition. He has been standing by those principles since he entered Parliament. He has sacrificed his political prospects for them. He has earned the wrath of the Chinese government because of them.
No wonder so many Canadians, some of them Liberals, are frustrated by this government’s timidity. Mr. Chong deserves better. We all do.