House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was taiwan.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

May 26th, 2003 / 3:50 p.m.

Simcoe North
Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers Secretary of State (Amateur Sport) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I believe that you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That when the House begins proceedings under the provisions of Standing Order 52 later this day, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be entertained by the Speaker after 9:00 p.m.

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the House give its unanimous consent?

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I can surmise and speculate about what other kinds of public policy issues are problematic for the people living in Taiwan vis-à-vis the People's Republic of China.

I would think the member would agree that the bid for recognition and participation at the WTO would be one such example of a position that found broad support by many others. One of the frustrating things about the question and answer exchange in these debates is there is not much of a chance for wide open debate or exchange.

I cannot help but think, and I am not sure if this is the unspoken reason for Canada's opposition, that all the time there is lurking in the back of the mind of the federal Liberal government the notion that anything Canada might do to recognize Taiwan for the purposes of WHO observation might at some time become a precedent that might get used with respect to the province of Quebec seeking a more independent status.That is another broader debate, but I think it is one we need to recognize cannot be used as a parallel.

Even though I think the government really does amazing contortions in the attempt to evade the reality that there are sometimes reasons for there being a recognition of the specificities of different language and culture and so on, it is just an absurdity for the government to be paranoid about any possibility that granting WHO observer status to Taiwan might somehow come back and bite it on the nose because the province of Quebec in seeking some kind of recognition for its specificities could use it as a precedent. I have not heard that offered up as an excuse by the government itself but it seems to inform many of its other actions and I can only assume it is a factor in this one as well.

Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, we are debating today the official opposition's supply day motion relating to the current world health concerns over severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the fact that Taiwan's aspirations to be recognized as a member of the World Health Organization should be supported and championed by Canada. The motion reads:

That this House, acknowledging that health issues transcend political borders as seen with the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), express its support for the admission of Taiwan as an Observer to the World Health Organization and call upon the government to actively urge other member states and non-governmental organizations to support this goal.

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary East.

SARS developed in Guangdong province in southern China in November of last year. It was not until March of this year that it was reported to the World Health Organization. The People's Republic of China has been roundly condemned by the international community for trying to deny this outbreak rather than exposing it immediately, as one would assume would be its responsibility as a World Health Organization member. Essentially, the PRC broke the rules of membership and yet wants to continue to retain a veto over Taiwan membership.

It is worthwhile to remember that in the middle of March there were more reported SARS cases in Canada than there were in Taiwan. There were 11 cases in Canada and three cases in Taiwan as of March 18. It was clearly evident in the case of both Taiwan and Canada that the SARS victims were a consequence of people travelling to and returning from mainland China.

Canada has a strong vested interest in displaying leadership at the World Health Organization and in ensuring that Taiwan and mainland China are active participants in the World Health Organization because of the high number of ethnic Chinese living in Canada and the highly developed travel and trade between mainland China, Taiwan and Canada.

In fact, each year more than three million Taiwanese citizens travel to China. Over 150,000 Taiwanese travel to Canada and tens of thousands of visitors travel to or arrive from mainland China. It is no surprise to anyone to realize the health and economic consequences of the SARS epidemic in Canada and Asia.

On March 28 Canada listed Taiwan on a health advisory authority, at a time when Taiwan had less reported cases than Canada and had no deaths, with the rationale that Taiwan was geographically close to Hong Kong and mainland China with 20 flights a day between Taiwan and Hong Kong. Canada then took great exception when the World Health Organization issued a health travel advisory for Toronto on April 23.

Historically Canada has been very influential at the World Health Organization. The WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations created in 1948. The first director general was a Canadian. No country, other than permanent Security Council members of the UN, have been elected to more three year terms than Canada, a total of nine times.

Given this circumstance and our participation as a SARS infected and vulnerable jurisdiction, it is incumbent upon Canada to take the lead in bringing in the only remaining sizeable territory in the world whose people are excluded from the benefits of WHO engagement. Full membership was rejected for Palestine and Taiwan in recent years. The U.S. opposed Palestine's application and the People's Republic of China opposed Taiwan's application. Observer status was granted to Palestine in 2002 as an entity and Taiwan is applying for observer status as an entity. Taiwan's application is being supported once again by the U.S. and by Japan.

Japan and the Japanese minister of health, labour and welfare have recently once again demonstrated strong support for Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization as an observer. Taiwan has made annual submissions to join the World Health Organization since 1997 and the People's Republic of China has been criticized in Japan since then for annually blocking Taiwan's efforts to join the health organization. Japan has large foreign direct investment in Taiwan and China, and these countries are geographically close. Japan has a one-China policy similar to the Government of Canada, but this has in no way detracted from its position and desire to support Taiwan's World Health Organization application for observer status.

The Japanese vice-ministers decided on April 17 that in order to prevent the spread of SARS, Japan should once again actively support Taiwan's bid. This is in strong contrast to the Canadian government's position, which is not being overtly opposed to Taiwan but leaving the onus on Taiwan to deal with China in reference to its application, an impossible situation for progress on the basis of unwavering opposition to Taiwan's application emanating from the People's Republic of China. Lack of Canadian leadership on this crucial international and domestic health issue clearly is demonstrable and constitutes a public health risk.

The U.S. congress and the European parliament have not agreed on many issues recently, however the U.S. supports observer status for Taiwan at the WHO and the EU has expressed similar support. This leadership from others in the international community is in stark contrast to Canada's position and yet Canada has been more directly impacted by SARS than any other country outside of Asia.

The U.S. administration does not support Taiwan's membership in organizations that require statehood for membership and yet clearly states that Taiwan's application at the WHO meets this test, contrary to statements made from time to time by our own Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In an increasingly smaller and globalized world, where one can fly to any region or country within 24 hours, it is increasingly unacceptable to exclude Taiwan from the benefits of WHO engagement and to exclude other WHO members from the advice which Taiwan could provide through membership.

I just returned from Asia nine days ago. Our trade committee did not go to Singapore or Beijing as originally planned because of concerns about SARS. We did travel to India, Thailand and Japan.

When one is in Asia, it further concentrates the mind as to the threat from diseases like SARS. Clearly we are not involved in an academic discussion. The posture which the parliamentary secretary and secretary of state took in today's debate were weak, defensive and poorly researched. The status quo Canadian position is bankrupt and has been exposed, warts and all, through the foreign affairs committee, the efforts of individual members of Parliament from all parties, and today's Canadian Alliance motion.

As of today, the WHO website reported that a cumulative total of 8,202 probably cases, with 725 deaths, have been reported in 29 countries. New cases in the last two days were reported from mainland China, Taiwan, Canada and Hong Kong. While we must continued to report new cases in Toronto, it is anticipated that Canada is over the worst and we are getting on top of the disease. We certainly hope this is the case and we congratulate our courageous health care workers. In China and Taiwan there is an ongoing problem which cannot with certainty be predicted as to when it will be controlled. There is a real danger that a SARS outbreak in an area of poverty in the developing world could create untold tragedy and consequences.

Taiwan's health care delivery system, research and medical schools are world class. Taiwan can contribute much to the WHO and it is time that it be given this ongoing opportunity. Let Taiwan join the community of nations, the Order of Malta, the Holy See, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the PLO, as a participant in the World Health Organization.

Supply
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Vancouver Island North on his speech. I asked the previous speaker why the Government of Canada was opposed to supporting Taiwan's bid for observer status. Thinking about it some more, I may have found a reason and I would like to ask my hon. colleague if he thinks it makes sense.

The thing politicians in power fear most is precedent. If, for example, Canada threw its weight behind allowing Taiwan observer status at the World Health Organization, that would definitely be a precedent. Does the fear of a precedent justify the current position?

Let us imagine, for example, that Nunavut—where health problems are very significant and needs absolutely enormous—decided one day to ask for observer status; would Canada have to support that request? Or what if it were Quebec that asked for observer status at the WHO? I would like my hon. colleague to answer me that.

Supply
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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member from the Bloc for the question because I know everyone wonders what motivates the government to do some of the things that it does.

I believe that this is not a question that relates so much to domestic issues as it relates to the fact that there are ties between people in the government, the business community, and the People's Republic of China. There is a concern in the government and in the business community that taking an action such as supporting Taiwan's observer bid for status at the World Health Organization would elicit a negative reaction from the People's Republic of China which would negatively impact on the business of friends of the government. That I think is the prime and root cause of this issue because the government position shows a distinct lack of imagination, a distinct adherence to the status quo, and the world has moved on.

Taiwan is now a member of the World Trade Organization and is a member of APEC. Increasingly it is a major player in the Asian region. When one looks at Canada's relations with the Pacific Rim and with Asia in particular, one can only wonder at how we treat the whole region, never mind our relationship with Taiwan. Japan is our second largest trading partner and we would never know it by the way the government prioritizes its resources. That comes as close to an answer as I can provide.

Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to rise and speak on this motion which basically speaks about Taiwan joining the WHO.

I was listening to the questions the parliamentary secretary was asking colleagues on this side. It seems to me from her questions that the government has made up its mind to oppose the motion, which is a tragedy, because people on this side, and including members of her own government, are in agreement that Taiwan should be a member of the WHO.

As a matter of fact, I can say that I know the parliamentary secretary very well and I respect her extremely. I can say in all honesty that if she were not a parliamentary secretary she would be supporting the motion, but because of the government she is not.

Nevertheless, in order to answer my colleague from the Bloc who spoke just before me on the question of what the real motive of the government is in not supporting the motion, of course it is the government's one China policy. Where did the government's one China policy come from? It is tragic that this is coming down to an issue in which the basic bottom line is politics.

My colleague mentioned certain reasons as to why he thought the government, with its one China policy, was opposing the motion. He indicated economic interests. However, I would like to state from a different perspective what basically has happened. As we all know, in the past for a long time China was in isolation. It developed its processes, its country and everything in isolation under Communist rule and saw the world with a different vision, a vision of suspicion and mistrust, and I would say that insecurity still exists with the current leaders of the People's Republic of China.

This is a tragic situation, because we all know China is a land of great civilization. China has nothing to be ashamed of. It is a great, proud country. Its people are very resourceful. It has given the world a tremendous civilization and it should be standing very proudly on its achievements.

However, this insecurity seems to go on, manifested in recent years when China has taken one step toward joining the world community. We can see it in its handling of the whole Taiwan issue, the nitpicking of the small issues on Taiwan about its membership in WHO. Basically anybody looking at this issue in depth will know that it would benefit mankind, it would benefit humanity and it would benefit 22 million people living on an island.

What is the downside? There is no downside to Taiwan joining the WHO. The only downside is that it is going to hurt the pride of those old leaders in China.

Supply
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4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

What about the old leaders over there?

Supply
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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

When I was the trade critic, I was an adamant supporter of China joining the WTO. I felt that as a great nation China should be a member of the world community and I supported its application to join the WTO. As such, the world also welcomed China into the community of nations. On the other hand, there was also an expectation that China then would take on its responsibilities as a member of the world community. As a member of the world community, there are responsibilities, which include making rational decisions and not trying to be living in the old culture that it was. The SARS crisis indicates why that kind of regime cannot be and will not be accepted in the world.

China has made tremendous economic progress by joining the WTO and is now becoming a critically important member of the world community, including in that region. It will become a powerhouse in that region, but first, it cannot act as a bully, and second, it cannot still be living in a closed society, thinking that whatever happens inside China will have no impact outside China. That is not going to happen, because China is now a member of the world community, period. It is simple.

The SARS crisis has indicated that very clearly. China's reluctance to say that there was a SARS crisis in the country has spread this disease across the world. If China had taken very strong steps in the SARS crisis, as is expected of all communities, then in this whole crisis there may have been fewer deaths, who knows. But the responsibility still lies with China. It must understand that politics should be put aside, that it is now a grown nation, a powerful nation, and that it should view this whole issue with a different perspective.

What I do not understand, even now, is that for a nation that is reaching out and saying Taiwan is its province, that it wants to overtake Taiwan, there is the very strange behaviour of the government of China in stopping 22 million Taiwanese citizens from benefiting from the services of the World Health Organization. What is so political about it? Nothing. This is for the benefit of the people of Taiwan, but here is a government that wants to represent them and it is denying them all of this. This boggles everyone's mind.

Yes, I have listened to the political speeches. I know the political arguments. No one has to tell me about the political arguments. I have been to APEC meetings. I have seen how the Chinese work. I have been to Taiwan. I have talked with the academics in Taiwan. I know what they feel. I am very well versed in the politics of the whole situation. What I do not understand is the reluctance of China to let Taiwan become a member of the WHO. We have precedents. The Palestinians are there and the Holy See is there, so what is the actual motive of China in saying no?

Why do I keep repeating this? This is not a China bashing speech. I am just pointing out the facts. Why do I keep repeating this about China? It is because the Government of Canada, regretfully, is afraid to stand up to China because of various reasons, be they economic, political or whatever. The Canadian government does not want to rock the boat. Those mandarins sitting in the foreign affairs department do not want to rock the boat and have given instructions on this. It is as simple as that. Yet countries or anyone logically looking at this application cannot find a sound reason why Taiwan should not be a member of the WHO. Why should 22 million people not be able to directly participate and take advantage of the services of the WHO?

I would say that one of the reasons, which I personally agree with, is that the 22 million people of Taiwan should be the ones to decide who is going to rule them and who is going to do that. They should make the choice, not someone from outside, but that is not the debate today. The debate today is about this point-blank simple fact: Why is China stopping Taiwan from joining the WHO and why is the Government of Canada following along and not agreeing to this motion? Even its own members have said they do, with 161 MPs stating they will support this application.

In conclusion, I say to the government members that they, like the opposition, support the people of Taiwan who do not want politics at this stage. The people of Taiwan want Taiwan to be a member of the WHO so they can participate in the world affairs of health, across the world.

Supply
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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to ask the member about Canada's position on this whole arrangement. Does he see Canada's role as one that would involve supporting this application or does he see Canada's best interests being served by actually championing this application by Taiwan?

Supply
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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, Canada has a huge Taiwanese community. They are Canadians and they expect us to do something. We cannot ignore this. We cannot sit here and ignore the wishes of a segment of Canadians who happen to be of Taiwanese origin. It is the desire of a lot of Canadians, not just those of Taiwanese origin but those of other nationalities as well, who see the need for Taiwan to be a member of the WHO so its 22 million people can benefit from it. That is one reason.

Second, Taiwan is one of our major economic partners. We have to admit that this nation made up of 22 million people has made tremendous economic progress. It is our second largest trading partner. Canada also has a vested interest in seeing that the Taiwanese benefit from the WHO and from world services. At the same time, we must also see that there is the political situation of helping them. This is not China bashing. It is saying that there is a need to look at this in a different perspective. It should be Canada's responsibility to champion this cause as opposed to just staying neutral. Yes, there is a need to make an argument as to why Taiwan should be a member of the WHO.

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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, after listening to the debate today and the questions and answers from speakers on each side of the House, does the member not believe that a free vote should be held in the House on this private member's motion? There is no reason not to hold a free vote in the House. It seems to me that those who are opposing this are doing so because they do not want to lose a vote to a private member's motion and that is simply it. There is no other logical reason to vote against it.

Supply
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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, it is very simple. Over 50% of the members in the House, 161 members, signed in favour of Taiwan's application to the WHO. Obviously they cannot only be members of the opposition. It also had to be members of the governing party, the majority members. Where are those members? I hope they will vote for this motion.