Parliament will set up a special committee to review all aspects of Canada’s strained relationship with China amid a prolonged diplomatic and trade dispute with its second-largest trading partner.
The Liberals opposed such a committee but suffered their first defeat as a minority government, with the opposition parties voting overwhelmingly in favour of the Conservative motion on Tuesday. The Liberals were out-voted 171 to 148.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole tabled a motion to “appoint a special committee with the mandate to conduct hearings to examine and review all aspects of the Canada-China relationship including, but not limited to consular, economic, legal, security and diplomatic relations.”
Liberal MPs, including International Development Minister Karina Gould, argued there was no need for a special China committee, saying the Commons foreign affairs committee could handle any reviews of the troubled relationship with Beijing.
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But Mr. O’Toole said a special committee gives MPs the opportunity and time to explore complex consular cases, such as the arrests of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, as well as efforts by Chinese telecom giant Huawei to sell its next generation 5G mobile technology in Canada.
The United States is pushing Canada and other allies to ban Huawei’s 5G gear, citing cybersecurity concerns.
“In this context, when there are sensitive information that could hurt a complex consular case or relate to 5G networks, for example, the committee could be held in camera,” Mr. O’Toole told the House.
NDP Foreign Affairs critic Jack Harris said the committee’s studies and recommendations could be used by the Trudeau government to help reset Canada-China relations.
The motion also sends a powerful message to the Liberal minority government that it has to listen to the other parties, Mr. Harris said.
“This motion would actually put into effect the kind of collaboration that Canadians wanted the government in Canada to be. We still have a Liberal government and we still have the same Prime Minister, but we also have a situation where there are other voices who are at the table and are going to be able to have some influence," Mr. Harris said.
Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin said a separate committee offers an opportunity for MPs to “work as a team” with a clear mandate to improve relations with China.
Since Canada detained senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last December on a U.S. extradition warrant, Beijing has responded with the arbitrary arrest of the two Canadians and blocked imports of Canadian canola and soy beans.
“We have a very aggressive Chinese policy in many parts of the world and we have not taken this issue seriously. We have Canadians on trial. We have affected canola,” NDP MP Charlie Angus told the House. “We can come together and establish a special committee … so that we can apprise and look at this issue and find solutions and look at the threats that are being posed.”
Veteran Liberal MP John McKay offered support for greater scrutiny of China, including the cybersecurity risk from Huawei’s 5G technology and the country’s human-rights abuses.
He said that China is acting like a 21st-century colonial power by affirming that the Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong situations are all internal matters and that it is “saying to the world, and particularly to Canadians, not to involve themselves” in these affairs.