Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadian parliamentarians who are considering a trip to Taiwan should reflect on the “consequences” of such a visit.
MPs and senators who are part of a Canada-Taiwan Friendship Group are planning a potential visit to Taiwan that would be paid for by the Taiwanese government.
Such trips, officially known as sponsored travel and disclosed annually, were common before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the resumption of sponsored trips to Taiwan could potentially be viewed in a different light after China approved a series of military exercises earlier this month in response to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.
A separate government was formed in Taiwan after China’s civil war in 1949, but the democracy is viewed as a breakaway province by Beijing.
Canada’s official diplomatic position is a “one-China policy” that stops short of endorsing Beijing’s claim on Taiwan.
During a news conference in Quebec’s Îles-de-la-Madeleine region, Mr. Trudeau was asked Friday about the potential trip in light of China’s reaction to Ms. Pelosi’s travels. The Prime Minister said parliamentarians make their own decisions about where to go.
“There are significant reflections going on right now. Canada has a long-standing position around China and Taiwan that we will ensure to respect,” he said. “China’s belligerence around this and their position is of course – as it has been for a while – troubling, and we will ensure that the parliamentarians making the decision to travel, or not, will be done with all the reflections of the consequences and the impacts of it.”
Liberal MP Judy Sgro, who chairs the Canada-Taiwan Friendship Group, said she agrees with the Prime Minister.
“This is meant to be a positive experience. And certainly, it’s not to cause some diplomatic problem for anybody anywhere,” she said in an interview Friday.
Ms. Sgro is also the chair of the Commons international trade committee. That committee had discussed a potential trip to Singapore and Indonesia that would have been paid for by the House of Commons. There was also talk of adding a sponsored trip from the region to Taiwan, but the committee’s original travel plans were not approved.
As a result, the only potential trip under discussion at the moment would be a trip by the friendship group, which includes MPs and senators. Ms. Sgro said the trip, if it goes ahead, would be paid for by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, which is part of Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Conservative MP Randy Hoback, who is considering taking part in the trip, said he also agrees with the Prime Minister’s comments. He said MPs would listen to the advice of officials before making a final decision.
“I would insist that Global Affairs give us an appropriate briefing of the risks and benefits of doing such a trip. And that’s something that would definitely have to come into the equation,” he said.
Sponsored travel must be disclosed to federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, but he does not approve the trips and has called for tighter rules. He has told MPs that the existing system “creates in many cases the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
The travel and total expenses are disclosed by the commissioner in an annual report.
For instance, in 2018, the Taipei cultural office covered the costs of visits by Liberal MPs Alexandra Mendes and Jean Rioux, as well as Conservative MP Garnett Genuis. They each travelled with one other person.
The entry for Mr. Genuis’ December, 2018, trip shows he travelled with his wife Rebecca. The costs list $11,552 for transportation, $4,250 for accommodation, $400 for gifts and $1,100 for “other.” Ms. Mendes and Mr. Rioux travelled at the same time, but disclosed smaller amounts.
The Conflict of Interest Code for MPs says MPs and their family members are prevented from accepting gifts or benefits “that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the member in the exercise of a duty or function of his or her office.”
Sponsored trips are not considered gifts under the Code.
During a May committee appearance, Mr. Dion questioned this exemption.
“Sponsored travel is a fact of life. Before the pandemic, there were 80 trips or so on an annual basis involving MPs and sometimes their spouses. The test applicable to gifts is not applicable to sponsored travel, and it escapes me why it’s okay if it’s a trip and it would not be okay if it were something else. Some of these trips are quite expensive.”
Ms. Sgro, who was first elected in 1999, said the trips provide “immeasurable” value for MPs.
“There’s a big difference between reading about a country and actually visiting a country and looking at where are the opportunities for us to strengthen our relationships,” she said.
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