House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chinese.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think what agriculture producers specifically and all Canadians in general are looking for is leadership, something the Liberals are failing to show. They did not even mention this in the throne speech. The throne speech was supposed to give the pathway of the government's priorities and this crisis was not mentioned.

The Liberals want to show leadership. This committee is important because it would show Canadians that we care about this issue and understand that 250,000 jobs in the agriculture sector, in canola alone, are at risk and more than $1 billion in crops.

This would show leadership by the Liberal government. It would show Canadians and agriculture producers from coast to coast that this is an important issue that we are willing to step up and address. That is why this special committee is so important.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, the People's Republic of China has a history of weaponizing trade, especially with countries in the G7. It has specifically targeted Canada for special sanctions. This is the second time it has taken action specific on canola, but it happens across the board on different types of agricultural products, whether through slowing down trade or blocking it.

I would like to hear from the member what particular subject matter he thinks this committee could look at.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Calgary Shepard is exactly right. We know the decision to block canola exports into China is politically based. Canadian producers have the highest quality canola in the world. However, this has also had an impact on pork and beef, which China has allowed back in simply because the Asian swine flu has decimated its own pork herd. It had to bring products in from other countries.

There are certainly other commodities at risk. If we do not address the issue, China can expand on the targets of their export ban, whether it is seafood, maple syrup or ginseng. We do not know what other products could be targeted.

That is why it is so important to have this special committee look at what other commodities may very well be at risk. I am sure stakeholders have approached all members about rumours that other products are at risk. These are some of the things this committee could review.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, could my friend explain why we would not have a special committee for any major issue we have to face? Ultimately, one could argue that every opposition day motion that is important to Canada needs to be debated in a special committee.

Has the Conservative Party no confidence in our standing committees? Is that the real reason it is doing this?

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, what are the Liberals afraid of? What are they afraid is going to come out of this special committee that they do not want put out to the public?

We want a forum for stakeholders, ministers and members of every party to have an opportunity to discuss the importance of our relationship with Canada and China, which many of my colleagues across the way have said impacts many different aspects of the Canadian economy, whether in trade, agriculture or manufacturing.

We understand how important this issue and this trading relationship with China is. The government should show leadership here and support our motion to form this special committee.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank the constituents of Mégantic—L'Érable who did me the honour of once again electing me to represent them in this 43rd Parliament. Over the past few years, we have been able to work hand in hand, together, with people, organizations and elected officials in my riding. People wanted us to continue on with our work, and it is with pride that I will represent them once again during this term as the member for Mégantic—L'Érable.

I want to thank my small team—Isabelle, Hélène, Jessica and Gilles—who have supported me from the beginning and throughout the election campaign, as well as all the volunteers. I also want to thank my family, Caro and my children. When we are here, we are not with them, and it is a great sacrifice for our families to let someone go away for long stretches of time, as we do. We must be grateful to them for allowing us to do the work we love to do here in the House for the good of our ridings and for the good of all Canadians.

Today, on the first opposition day of the 43rd Parliament, the official opposition is introducing a very important motion about the current crisis with China. I want to talk about the Liberal government's failure to come up with a coherent plan in the previous Parliament to protect Canadian interests, including the welfare of our citizens, to protect our commercial interests and our national security interests, and to prepare for China's emerging role in world affairs. This failure is quite simply incomprehensible.

Canadians no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister when it comes to his performance on the world stage. Here is a little history to remind us why Canadians have lost confidence in this Prime Minister. We can all remember his famous and disastrous trip to India. Then there was a series of serious diplomatic incidents around the world, including those involving our main trading partner, the United States. Our Prime Minister is well known for putting his own personal brand, and that of his party, ahead of Canada's interests.

That attitude has isolated Canada at a time when our role as a country, as a member of NATO, of the G7, of NORAD and of the Five Eyes is more important and necessary than ever. Let us therefore take advantage of the fact that we have a minority government and hold the Prime Minister to account. We have wanted to hold him to account before. We have tried to get answers to these questions before. Unfortunately, the government turned a deaf ear and pretended there was no China crisis. The fact that we have a minority government finally gives us an opportunity to hold the Prime Minister to account and make sure the government takes this situation seriously from now on.

Our motion would create a special committee to resolve the current diplomatic dispute with China and develop a specialized, multidisciplinary approach to addressing the many bilateral challenges that characterize Canada-China relations.

We invite this committee to meet in the new year and fulfill all of its duties by June 2020. Already, the time between now and June 2020 is less time than it took the government across the aisle to acknowledge that there was even a crisis with China. The committee will therefore have until June 2020 to make its recommendations. It will have the authority to call experts, key witnesses, including the Prime Minister, our ambassador to China and other government ministers, to enable Parliament to carry out its democratic duty. That is very important.

We understand that in international relations, there are sensitive issues, some of which sometimes have to be discussed behind closed doors, such as all national security issues. That is why our motion gives the committee the power to meet in camera in order to protect sensitive information related to national security and consular cases that may be more complex.

Judging from the debate since this morning, it is clear that the government does not intend to support this motion. Clearly, the government is afraid of this special committee.

What is it afraid of? We do not know. However, this government claims to be transparent and open. Since the election on October 21, it has been repeating over and over again that it will work with the opposition parties. Today, we are proposing that the government take the first concrete step toward co-operation, to enable all parliamentarians in the House to study this difficult situation between Canada and China. Parliamentarians from all parties would be brought together in a special committee to come up with a real solution to this diplomatic crisis, which is getting worse every day. The government should welcome this proposal from the official opposition, because it will allow us to explore the essential elements of Canada-China relations, which are politically quite complex.

If the government opposes this modest proposal to create a committee to discuss it, it will just be admitting that it wants to avoid talking about how it handled the crisis in the previous Parliament. It would be ignoring its role as a minority government by not allowing Parliament to create a committee to study this relationship.

Clearly, the Liberals have been having a very hard time with China. The government's first mistake was appointing John McCallum, a former Liberal cabinet minister who was ousted from his role as minister and later ousted from his role as ambassador. He only made the relationship between Canada and the Chinese government worse. After that, the Prime Minister took months to appoint a new Canadian ambassador to China, which prevented us from working on our relationship with China for months.

Lastly, when China imposed unacceptable restrictions on Canadian agricultural products, a Liberal minister thought it was a good idea to go to China to promote Canadian investments in China. This government is mismanaging this whole affair and definitely lacks leadership and vision.

As a final point, I would like to talk about canola. For too long, this government denied the very existence of the Canadian canola crisis. It wonders why we are asking for a new committee. It is because we asked the Liberals to talk about canola over and over again in the previous Parliament. We asked for an emergency debate in the House a number of times, but the Liberals refused. We asked the minister to appear before the Standing Committee on International Trade, but they refused. We had to apply constant pressure day after day for them to agree. We never were able to discuss this at the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. That is the reality.

If the government refuses to talk about the real facts, then it is only natural for the opposition to call for the appointment of a special committee to examine the Canada-China relationship so we can review all aspects and hear from every parliamentary group that has something to say about how this government might find a solution. It is clear that the Liberals do not have a solution and are not looking for one.

This special committee would help the government and allow parliamentarians from all parties to provide input on ways to help the government. What the Liberals do not realize is that our intention is to help canola producers and everyone who trades with China. Ultimately, that is what this type of committee should be used for, and it is our job to serve our constituents, our businesses and our farmers.

The time has come for the Prime Minister to take off his rose-coloured glasses and see the China crisis for what it is. He must live up to Canadian values, which are based on rights and freedoms. He must support the opposition motion, which seeks to get Canada out of this diplomatic crisis with China.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to focus on how important it is that we recognize the valuable contributions committees can make, whether it is a special committee or a standing committee, to healthy parliamentary discussions.

I was interested in what was being proposed by the Bloc party. It did not move an amendment, but I am very much interested in what thoughts the Conservatives have on this issue, as it deals with the independence of the special committees and standing committees.

Why does the Conservative Party find it necessary that the chamber dictate to a special committee, and I suspect also to a standing committee, if one follows the logic, as to who should appear? Why would we not entrust that responsibility to the standing committee or special committee? Would the Conservatives not agree that we should have confidence in those committees?

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, this government has created special committees on medical assistance in dying, electoral reform and pay equity.

Did this government establish those committees because it had no confidence in the other House committees? Why did this government see fit to create special committees? It was because special situations required a special, specific response from Parliament.

We are saying that the government has done nothing. It showed that it was incapable of dealing with the crisis for the entire time it had a majority. Today, it has a minority.

Since the government has not been able to get this done, we will create a committee and we will solve the crisis ourselves.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable for his return to the House. I sincerely enjoyed working with him in the previous Parliament on the agriculture committee, and I look forward to working with the member for Foothills on that very important subject.

When we are debating this motion, the fates of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are in everyone's hearts. In everything we do, we should have the well-being of those two gentlemen at our hearts in our deliberations.

The Liberals keep on raising the point that by setting up this special committee, we will somehow be endangering those two men. I invite my colleague to explain to the House the ways in which this special committee could conduct itself to keep those diplomatic efforts safe and secure.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I feel that this special committee will give us a chance to talk about our diplomatic relations with China as a whole, to look for ways out and opportunities for discussion, and to use all possible means available to Canada to find a solution to this situation, which has gone on too long.

The committee would even be able to meet in camera to discuss sensitive issues without hindering any negotiations that might be under way to secure the release of the Canadians, the two Michaels, who are currently being detained in China. Our thoughts are certainly with those Canadians and their families.

I hope that this committee will be able to further their cause so that they can finally be free.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is great to see you back in the chair.

I want to ask my colleague a question and go through a bit of a history lesson here on why we are raising these concerns.

The small business tax changes devastated Canadian farmers. Then we had the grain backlog and lost trade relationships with India, China and many other countries. We had the CN strike this fall. Then agriculture was not mentioned in the throne speech. Also, this summer the Liberals missed a critical deadline in applying for negligible risk status for BSE. Now our Ontario ranchers are having an extremely difficult time. Canadian farmers see the indifference from the Liberal government and how it just does not seem to care about agriculture.

I would like to ask my colleague, from whom I am honoured to take the title of shadow minister of agriculture after he had done such an amazing job over the last year, why he thinks the leadership that this special committee will show to Canadian farmers is so important.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canadian farmers and producers expect their government to show leadership.

As the member for Foothills mentioned, he will be taking over for me as shadow minister of agriculture, and I am very proud of that. I can confirm that he has always been a friend to farmers and that he was one of the people who helped me fulfill my duties as shadow minister and fully understand the situation in western Canada.

What he is saying is that, for the past few months and years, we have had a government that ignores agriculture. This government has shown no leadership in resolving the crises that agriculture is currently facing. It did not even lift a finger to address the recent crisis caused by the CN strike, when farmers in Quebec and Ontario had no propane.

If the government will not show leadership, it is entirely appropriate for the official opposition to do so, under the capable direction of my colleague, the member for Foothills.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by indicating I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga Centre.

I am very pleased to rise today to address this important motion that has been raised by the member for Durham. Obviously I want to acknowledge that it has been one year since Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arbitrarily detained in China. It must be stated that they are and remain our absolute priority as a government and as Canadians.

With perseverance, care and determination, we are working to bring them back to Canada. Our government will always raise issues that matter to Canadians with the Chinese government, including respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Canada remains staunchly committed to defending its principles and interests.

This matter that is being raised today and being debated in this chamber is not a concern just for Canada. It is also a concern for all of our allies. This shared concern has led to a broad coalition of support and we as Canadians are grateful to our many international allies who have stepped up and spoken out on these two citizens' behalf. Speaking with one voice demonstrates that we as Canadians are not alone on the international stage.

As has been referenced at different times during the course of today's debate and during question period, we know that December 10 is Human Rights Day. I want to focus a bit on human rights in the context of the debate on today's motion.

We know that human rights matter, not just for international organizations but they matter to everyday Canadians whom we engage with as our constituents, whom we have engaged with on the campaign trail. Human rights matter and our foreign policy reflects that very same issue.

We, as the Canadian government, have consistently called on China to respect, protect and promote freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of religion and belief of all Chinese citizens.

Canada is deeply concerned about the ongoing intimidation and repression of ethnic and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups in China, including Tibetan Buddhists, Uighurs and other Muslims, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, women and girls, and members of the LGBTI community.

Canada has also expressed concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in China and the troubling and continued intensification of actions against human rights defenders, like lawyers, journalists and civil society actors.

These are important issues I am speaking of, and I say this as a member of our government caucus, as a parliamentary secretary in the past Parliament and also as someone who represents Tibetan Buddhists in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. Seven thousand strong, it is the largest Tibetan diaspora in North America.

We raise these issues not just for the Tibetan people but for many different groups, including the Uighur Muslims as I have mentioned and including the various other groups that have had, and continue to have, their human rights restrained in China.

We have consistently raised these human rights concerns. Let me indicate one that has preoccupied me directly. As a member of this House, and as one of 10 Muslim members of the government caucus, members can appreciate that I am gravely concerned and preoccupied with the situation concerning Uighur Muslims in what is known as Xinjiang.

We as a government have spoken out publicly at the UN Human Rights Council, urging Chinese authorities to release all Uighurs who are arbitrarily being detained in Xinjiang. We have seen reports as recently as the past two weeks about the conditions, about the scope of the detention, about the scope of the internment and about the scope of the persecution that is happening.

As a government, we spoke out in statements in September 2018, November 2018 and March 2019. In July 2019, we stood alongside 21 other members of the international community, including Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Japan and the United Kingdom, and presented a letter to the Human Rights Council expressing these very specific concerns.

Most recently, again on this Uighur point, on October 29 the United Kingdom, on behalf of 23 countries including Canada, expressed its concern regarding the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and the deprivation of human rights in Xinjiang, China, at the third committee of the UN General Assembly with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

I will turn to another issue that is very much at the core of why I stand in this House and why I defend the rights of my constituents each day that I can. It is the issue of Tibetans and Tibetan rights being protected within China.

Today is not only Human Rights Day, which is celebrated internationally, but it also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the recognition and bestowing of the Nobel Peace Prize on His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is venerated internationally because he stands up for religious freedom. He stands for non-violence and stands against persecution and in favour of what is called the middle way approach.

Let us talk about what we have done as a government with respect to Tibetans. We have publicly voiced concerns to that same body about the Tibetan plight at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and to the Chinese authorities themselves about the intimidation and repression of the ethnic minority and religious groups in China, including Tibetans.

We made specific representations to the Chinese about the case of linguistic advocate Tashi Wangchuk. Tashi Wangchuk is a person who dared to speak out about promoting the Tibetan language in the Tibet Autonomous Region. He was charged and imprisoned unfairly. Canada has spoken up about his case and we will continue to do so.

We have also spoken up as the Canadian government about continuing to seek access to what is called the TAR, the Tibet Autonomous Region, for our diplomats, parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations and for visiting delegations. This is a concept known as reciprocal access. If a foreign government arrives here in Canada, its movements are unimpeded. We want the same access when we visit China, including into the Tibet Autonomous Region.

We have also consistently advocated for substantial and meaningful dialogue between the Chinese government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama or his representatives to work toward a resolution of issues acceptable to both sides. We did this at bilateral meetings in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and we will continue to do so at every opportunity.

This is critical to underscore because this motion is important. It is important that it is being raised by the member for Durham because it touches on the Canada-China relationship and many aspects of it.

One of the fundamental aspects of that relationship is how we respect one another, how we deal with what we call the rule of law and how we address the protection of fundamental human rights. The Tibetan plight, the Uighur plight and many others are at the core of what we must be addressing, lest I mention Falun Gong.

The member from Ottawa West—Nepean, who has been the chair of the subcommittee on human rights, has looked at this issue, among others, very closely at that subcommittee. The committee has looked at things like organ harvesting and some of the really problematic issues that have arisen with Falun Gong. We have spoken out about that and will continue to speak out about it.

Let us talk about the broader bilateral relationship now. In terms of that, we are ensuring that we have dialogue at every level. The newly entrenched Minister of Foreign Affairs was recently at the G20 meetings in Nagoya at the end of November raising these issues that I am mentioning.

We have had further discussions with the Chinese authorities about an important point that was raised by the opposition critic for agriculture, which is the issue of canola and what we are doing to ensure there is access to Canadian canola in the Chinese markets. We are speaking out loudly and clearly about climate change and about how, if this is a global problem, it requires a global solution that China has to be part of.

We have talked about health. It is part of the dialogue that we are having with the Chinese, as well as about co-operation on health issues. There is cultural bilateral co-operation occurring. All of these are critical issues, and we are exploring all of them in the context of developing this relationship.

This is an emerging global power. This is a relationship that has to be cultivated. It has to be developed in a balanced way but also in a principled way. There is no contention between us and the party opposite with respect to that issue. We must speak with principle and we must speak in a balanced framework, but we must address the relationship clearly and vociferously, particularly highlighting the issues I have raised about human rights.

It is a difficult moment. That is clear to anyone who reads the newspapers. However, what we are keeping in mind always is the safety and security of Canadians, which remains our top priority. We believe and have clearly stated that the detentions that have occurred are arbitrary and should end. We have rallied international allies to that cause. Engaging is important because it promotes Canada's interests globally, and we will maintain that communication line open and clear.

More generally, Canada will continue to stand on our principles and defend the rules-based international order that has sustained global peace and prosperity for decades. In our principled engagement with China, we will pursue collaboration where we can and defend our values and interests where we must.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Parkdale—High Park for his speech and his very obvious commitment to human rights both here in Canada and abroad.

Two of the most important functions the House serves, and indeed its committees, are oversight and accountability. We have oversight over government programs and we make sure that the government is accountable for delivering on its mandate and providing services that Canadians need.

I have heard the Liberal arguments refer to the fact that there are many standing committees that already have mandates to look into issues associated with our relationship with China, and I agree. However, one of the limitations on standing committees is that they are grasping at all these different threads and many of them have different agendas and different pressures for different studies.

I am trying to come to terms with the Liberals' reluctance to establish a special committee so that we can take all of those different threads and weave them together in a comprehensive report that will get us somewhere with the relationship that is really the trying issue of our time in international relations.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford for his comments and for his contributions to the House. It is an interesting question, but I would offer up a couple of aspects in response.

First, rarely do we have a special committee struck to study a relationship between two singular nations. We have friendship groups and parliamentary associations that sometimes deal with a particular bilateral relationship.

Second, committees are masters of their own destiny, so regardless of which committee members are on, particularly in a minority Parliament where the opposition parties have the majority on committees, they can determine what should be studied by which committee.

In terms of housing it all in one place, that is a fair point and I appreciate that contribution to this debate, but I would point out that, again, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights is where we had the most glaring study about the Uighur situation thus far done by this Parliament.

Different committees, including subcommittees, are already doing terrific work. I want to empower those committees to continue that work to shine a focus on the accountability of the Chinese government, specifically with respect to human rights.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague from Parkdale—High Park. I know that he has been a tremendous advocate working with the Tibetan community and it is wonderful to hear him speak about it.

What we have today is a motion about setting up a special committee specifically to delve into issues with the Canada-China relationship. He has said and set out quite carefully the delicate balance in some of these issues that we are talking about today.

Does he believe that what is proposed in the motion today is the best way to go about all of those issues that he has stated so well and explained to us?

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, everything I have learned in this chamber in the last five years has been about the delicacy of dealing with consular matters and the delicacy of dealing with matters that affect people's lives very severely, including when we have two people unjustly imprisoned in a foreign territory. While difficult, these are very sensitive matters that are best dealt with through consular channels between the two governments and not through public airing.

I firmly believe that to be the case. It does not mean that the opposition gets excluded from participating in this kind of endeavour. It means members can and should be included, but it needs to be done in a very careful manner that most fundamentally respects the privacy and confidentiality of the families above all else.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Morrison Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I struggle with is that the current situation with the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs has not been successful. The relationship with China is failing. We have gone nowhere. Performance is usually rated in success. I do not see any success. We have two Canadians in jail. They are going to have their second Christmas in China held in jail, yet we are not moving forward.

The proposed committee for China and Canada to build a relationship is going to be successful. It will be based on performance measures.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member to the chamber and I welcome his question. I would respectfully disagree that there has been no success with respect to the Canada-China relationship. We are going through a difficult period, but the longevity of that relationship commenced by the first Trudeau to serve as prime minister in the House is a strong one, as it needs to be.

We have always spoken clearly about the importance of equality in human rights and the rule of law in the context of developing that relationship, literally since about 1971 or 1972. That relationship is going through a brief period of some concern, but I think the relationship can and will remain strong because we are so economically integrated. We will continue that economic integration through pursuing further avenues of trade and engagement with Asia as we have done with CPTPP and as we will do with the LNG facility at Kitimat.

There are many avenues for further exchange and dialogue with the Chinese. We need to be at the forefront of that, and we will continue to do so.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I rise for the first time in the 43rd Parliament, I want to thank my constituents for once again re-electing me to this chamber. I want to thank my supporters, my friends and everyone who believed in me. I watched the unfolding of the previous election through order and peace. We have to remind ourselves of how great our country is and that we must never take our democracy for granted. I am delighted to be back here, along with my colleagues and the leadership of our Prime Minister. I look forward to continuing to serve my constituents with integrity and pride.

Today, we are debating a very important issue and motion. I want to thank my colleague for Durham for proposing this motion. I have had the privilege to serve as a parliamentary secretary for consular affairs for a period of time. I worked with my colleagues from all parties in responding to important cases where Canadians found themselves in difficult situations abroad. As well, I worked with my colleagues in the opposition in responding to those situations and I saw first-hand how complicated and difficult this process is. I saw first-hand how anxious the families are when it comes to their loved ones being stuck in difficult circumstances abroad. I could never imagine the magnitude of anguish that families and friends go through when their loved ones are in a very difficult and uncertain situation abroad.

That goes for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. This is a very important case. Both of them are very close to our government. We are seized with the situation. The Prime Minister, the previous minister of foreign affairs, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, our entire government, our public servants, our ambassador and our consular officials are following this case with incredible care. It is a priority for our government and I know it is a priority for all members of the House of Commons and for all Canadians.

I welcome the pressure from the opposition on this case. I welcome its interventions on how to deal with this case. However, I want to remind my colleagues, some of whom were in government in the past, that they know how delicate and sensitive these cases are. They know that it requires a lot of diplomacy, conversations and discussions. They know that a lot of the time excessive public partisan and hyperpartisan debate can be unhelpful to the individual cases. I know they know that, and I am not suggesting that is what they are trying to do today, so I welcome the fact they play an important role in this. However, I want to repeat my plea to my colleagues, as I have done in the past, to avoid doing something they might think will be helpful to the case that might be counterproductive. Therefore, I welcome the fact that they have a role to play, but it is highly important that we realize the sensitivity and delicacy of the situation and accept that we need to work together to find a way to bring these two Canadians back home safely and that we need to do it in a most effective way.

I also want to say to my colleagues that we can be firm and diplomatic. We can be principled and pragmatic. It is very important not to confuse diplomacy with weakness. It is incredibly important not to confuse pragmatism with lack of principle. I know that sometimes it can be seductive for partisan games to take place and to play out these issues in a public arena. I just want remind my colleagues that consular cases require persistent principle and delicate handling.

In my role as parliamentary secretary, I have seen how that type of work pays dividends. I have seen how persistent, diplomatic and consistent work with allies and like-minded countries working through multilateral fora pays dividends.

To date, it has not brought back the two Michaels, I admit that. We need to continue to look for more ways to advocate for Canadians in China and elsewhere. However, it is counterproductive to assume that increased partisan attention will be helpful in this case.

My colleagues in the opposition have an important role to play here. Even when I do not agree with them or their proposals, I recognize we must not take democracy for granted. We must cherish the role of every MP in this chamber and accept their input and feedback.

I want to remind members that it is really important to leave consular cases outside the political realm. That does not mean that we cannot work together on this case or other cases. We have worked together behind the scenes in the past, advocating for consular cases, working for Canadians, making sure they are safe and that their interests are advocated for, and working hard until we see them returned to their families and their loved ones here at home.

We are in a minority Parliament and there are many opportunities for us to work together, to advocate for good policies and to advocate for all Canadians who have elected us to the House of Commons.

We have standing committees that are asked to conduct studies, consult experts and work with stakeholders to provide recommendations to the government of the day. I see no reason why the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs cannot do the study or examine the other factors the motion is describing. The motion deals with really important issues that deserve parliamentary attention and debate. For the life of me, I do not understand why there is a need for a new committee when we already have an existing committee to conduct studies like the one the motion is asking for.

I look forward to discussing this further.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off by thanking the residents from Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge for voting for me. I am just happy to serve them in this House and in our communities.

As I listen to the members from the Liberal caucus speak, I must admit that it is very disconcerting as I keep hearing words such as, “delicate”, “we are in a delicate situation” or “it is a sensitive matter”, and “diplomacy”. It appears to me that the Chinese government has absolutely no respect for the Canadian government in the way it has mocked the Prime Minister as a “little potato”, and how it has blocked imports from Canada without fearing any repercussions, even though we import twice as much from them. The fact of the matter is that we are dealing with a bully, whether it be toward the Chinese government, their neighbours, their own people, minorities and others, or Canada.

Does the member not see that striking this committee is an opportunity to show strength and focus on this very important issue and relationship?

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to welcome my colleague to the House of Commons. I appreciate having the privilege of answering his first question.

Colleagues will not be surprised to hear me say that I disagree with some of the characterization that the hon. member included in his question. Having said that, I do not disagree that there is an opportunity for members of Parliament to have a forum to have these conversations. I also want to reiterate that people should not confuse diplomacy with a lack of firmness. People should not confuse pragmatism with being principled.

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs would be able to conduct this study and do this research. It is able to reach out to other stakeholders for the entire representation of the House of Commons, to hear directly from them and draw its own conclusions.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is right. The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs could look at this issue, as could the Standing Committee on Agriculture or the Standing Committee on International Trade. I mean that is the very point. We have a number of different standing committees that could look at different aspects of this. My argument all day long has been that it is entirely proper for this House to constitute a special committee to weave all these threads together and constitute it into a report that is comprehensive and all-encompassing.

The hon. member was referring throughout his speech to how delicate consular affairs are and he will find no disagreement on this side of the House. We very much agree.

Would the member not agree that there are ways for committees to handle themselves when discussing sensitive subjects? First of all, I would assume that all members of the committee would realize the seriousness of the issue that they are facing, but there are also opportunities for that committee to go in camera so that those delicate discussions happen behind closed doors. Would he not agree that that is an entirely appropriate avenue for a committee to go down, should it be discussing those sensitive topics?

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2019 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his re-election.

The member posed two questions to me. His first question was about why we cannot have a committee that brings together a variety of files into one committee. He knows the foreign affairs committee is mandated to deal with issues of foreign affairs. It may have different dimensions within it, but it has something to do with Canada's relationship with a foreign country. I will repeat that, in my opinion, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs is able to draw on all of these various files and study them at the same time.

I hope and I believe that many members of this House understand the delicacy of consular affairs. People will forgive me for being skeptical. All we need to do is look at question period at times to realize that there are sometimes irresponsible questions or irresponsible conduct that takes place on delicate matters. Please forgive me, but I need to do my job in reminding all of us how delicate this matter is.

Opposition Motion—Proposed special committee on Canada-China relationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.

As the party that received the most votes in the last election, the Conservative Party is working hard to lead constructively in this minority Parliament and use its increased clout to drive conversation and solutions on vital challenges facing this country. One of those is the Canada-China relationship. Recognizing that our existing standing committees often have a full agenda. are designed to focus on specific individual policy areas, and will not start their operations very likely until well into the new year, we believe that this Parliament must strike a special committee right now to study all aspects of the Canada-China relationship, and to study them on an ongoing basis. Of particular importance to me would be the way that Canada can be a stronger voice on the world stage for human rights and to counter the efforts of China's government throughout its repressive political model around the world.

China's current political model is straight out of George Orwell's book, 1984, with constant surveillance and a system of social credit where one's every action is monitored, and the ability to do any basic activity is dependent on a social score assigned by the party. All activity, all investment, all speech, all opinion, everything, is intended to be under the thumb of the state. The state does not recognize the bounds of the law or commitment, including commitments to other countries.

The Prime Minister has expressed admiration for China's so-called basic dictatorship and his hand-picked ambassador led a company which was heavily dependent on contracts from Chinese state-owned companies. I wonder if Dominic Barton and our Prime Minister read 1984 during their childhood and thought that it sounded like a great place to live.

China's repressive political system is not what the Chinese people want. It is not what the people of other Asian and African nations want, even though citizens of other nations face the increasing imposition of Chinese government-backed actors on their countries. Orwellian authoritarianism is not what Canadians want. It is not what almost anyone wants. Therefore, we must stand together against this oppressive political model. Our party stands unapologetically for the advancement of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This is in our interests and is reflective of our values.

I would like to highlight some of the key problems we see today which necessitate the engagement of this Parliament through the creation of this special committee. I will comment on the situation of Uighurs, Tibetans, Christians, Hong Kongers, students, Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners and people in neighbouring and regional countries.

The Chinese government is detaining Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. This is a further step in a long-running effort to destroy their culture and their faith. Every Ramadan, Uighur Muslims have faced repression of their right to fast in an attempt to impede this important expression of personal piety.

Under the Liberal government, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board put over $48 million of Canadian pension money into Hikvision and Dahua, companies that are working closely with China's military and playing a significant role in Uighur imprisonment. When this was raised in question period earlier this year by my colleague from Calgary Shepard, the government said that the pension board's job is to focus on return on investment, but I believe that the government should hold our pension board to basic standards of morality.

As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, I cannot accept the government's blasé attitude toward our pension fund's participation in the construction of mass detention and concentration camps in our own time. This is precisely the kind of Islamophobia that the government should be seized with.

We are seeing the escalating persecution of Tibetans, including the continuation of a long-standing policy of repression of religious, cultural and linguistic freedoms. One of the latest developments is the effort by China's government to control the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Essentially, the atheist, materialist, Marxist government purports to be able to determine the Dalai Lama's succession by knowing and identifying his reincarnation. This would be comical if it was not deadly serious. Indeed, we have seen this before with the real Panchen Lama being disappeared and the Chinese government advancing its own candidate instead. This is one of many serious violations of religious freedom that we see in Tibet.

We must not neglect the escalating devastating persecution of Christians in China. Violations of religious freedom can take two predominant forms. One form is the old Maoist way of trying to explicitly eradicate religion. The more common current model is where religious movements are allowed to maintain the external ceremonial aspects of religion but are required to always conform their teaching to the state doctrine. Essentially, they say that it is fine to be a Christian as long the teachings and attributes of Xi Jinping are put ahead of the teachings and attributes of Christ. Christian movements that refuse this conformist approach face repression.

We see repression of individual believers as well as the violent destruction of churches, such as the Golden Lampstand Church, and also the destruction of houses of worship for other faith communities. Efforts to eradicate religion and to co-opt and control religion are a serious violation of fundamental human rights. They are unacceptable in China, in Canada or anywhere else. Our defence of religious freedom must always include the freedoms of Christians, an aspect often left out.

Let us talk about the situation in Hong Kong. Hong Kong entered into the one country, two systems framework in 1997. The Government of China has repeatedly violated this agreement in so many respects, undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong. People in Hong Kong have highlighted to me how police there seem to have taken on the attributes of mainland military police instead of Hong Kong's own separate police force.

Protestors in Hong Kong are concerned about violation of the one country, two systems framework and have five concrete demands: the withdrawal of the extradition bill; stop labelling protestors as rioters; drop charges against protestors; conduct an independent inquiry into police behaviour; and implement genuine universal suffrage for the legislative council and the chief executive. We support these objectives and especially we wish to highlight the importance of meaningful universal suffrage.

Many of Hong Kong's legislators are elected in so-called functional constituencies, whereby essentially a few insider companies get to pick the legislators. On this side of the House, we stand with the people of Hong Kong and we support universal suffrage. I asked the minister twice today if she supports universal suffrage and real democracy in Hong Kong. She talked about the right to protest, but she refused twice to answer my question on the issue of universal suffrage.

I have many concerns about the state of freedom of speech at universities in Canada, but this challenge is made significantly worse when foreign governments act to undermine freedom of speech on Canadian campuses. The dependence of many universities on the revenue associated with international students and the dependence of academics studying China on visa access to China are points of significant vulnerability.

When a well-known Tibetan student, Chemi Lhamo, was elected as president of the U of T Scarborough student union, she faced an orchestrated campaign of harassment. When a student group called McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice at McMaster University organized an event to highlight Uighur abuses, efforts were made to disrupt the event. The Chinese consulate in Toronto praised this action, saying, “We strongly support the just and patriotic actions of Chinese students.” There was no response from Canada to this gross abuse of our sovereignty by the consulate.

More recently, ahead of a visit to the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, members of the Carleton International Relations Society were asked not to raise controversial topics.

University students must embrace a role that they have traditionally occupied as thoughtful provocateurs for justice. We think of the freedom riders of the civil rights movements or the students who faced down tanks during the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square.

University campuses and the presence there of many international students from China should create opportunities for free and open dialogue, dialogue which, when free and open, will lead to the advancement of freedom and democracy, human rights and the rule of law. However, this dialogue cannot happen if universities and student groups are subject to foreign pressure and manipulation. Preserving the integrity of our academic institutions is something in which there is a pressing national interest, and I hope this special committee would specifically take on the situation at our universities involving Canadian and international students who are studying there.

Taiwan, a free Chinese democracy, is a beacon of hope in the region. Taiwan is the example of all that China could be, a free and open society which preserves and celebrates China's ancient and beautiful civilization. However, unfortunately the Chinese government increasingly tries to interfere in the domestic affairs of Taiwan. Last year, Air Canada caved to a demand by the Chinese government to list Taiwan as part of its territory, with no response from Canada.

I have spoken frequently about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China and particularly about the issue of organ harvesting and trafficking, which requires urgent action.

Finally, the colonial policy of the Chinese government throughout Africa and Asia is a pressing concern of many people in those countries and many Canadians from various backgrounds. It is ironic that China's government is actually using a similar colonial approach that colonial European powers used in China in the past. The Chinese government is imposing multi-decade leases on vital infrastructure, which gives it ongoing leverage over internal affairs.

The Liberal government, by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the Chinese government-controlled Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, is not only failing to oppose this program; it is actively funding it. The government's response to our proposal of a cross-cutting committee focusing specifically on this problem is to suggest that parliamentarians or the House are ill-suited to respond to this problem. I believe that the government is ill-suited to respond to this challenge, and that is why parliamentary scrutiny is required.

We reject any admiration about basic dictatorship and we believe in the principle of parliamentary scrutiny over the executive. Thankfully, in a minority Parliament where the government got only one-third of the votes, we as the opposition have the power to assert that principle of parliamentary sovereignty and we will.