Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today about a subject very close to my heart, which is the contribution that Taiwan could make to global discussions around health.
The report we are debating and seeking to concur in reflects a motion proposed by my colleague from Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. I want to congratulate him for his excellent work on the health file and in supporting Taiwan's contributions when it comes to global health conversations. I know he is a strong advocate in the House and a great friend of Taiwan.
I want to focus my comments today on two specific points. First, I want to speak to Taiwan's own success in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how Canada and other countries could have benefited from engaging with and listening to Taiwan more.
I recognize that our engagement with Taiwan, and pushing for its inclusion in these kinds of COVID discussions is, in part, out of a commitment to support Taiwan and its democracy. It is also in our own self-interest when we engage with and learn from Taiwan. If we hear its experiences and perspectives, we are better off. When we trade more with Taiwan, it helps to create jobs and opportunities here in Canada. There are various other examples.
I am going to speak first to Taiwan's success with COVID-19 and how we could all benefit, but I want to spend some time as well addressing some of the current issue of escalating threats from the mainland government towards Taiwan. We can learn from our failure to deter the Russian invasion of Ukraine to talk about the steps we need to take now to respond to the threats that are being made toward Taiwan.
Let me talk about Taiwan's success in response to COVID-19. Right when the COVID-19 pandemic started to be a major issue here in Canada, all of us as politicians were trying to grapple with what we should do about it. We were wondering what things we should have been proposing and what things we should be have been talking about.
The discussion quickly shifted to support measures to support Canadians and businesses through those circumstances. Those were important conversations, but in a way, a prior conversation was about how we minimize the impact of the virus. How do we manage the public health side of it so that more people can continue to work, and be out and about if possible?
My approach was to look around the world at the data from different countries on the impact of COVID-19 on those countries and to ask which countries are doing the best in the world when it comes to responding to the pandemic, then bringing those insights to the House and saying to the government that we are able to observe that infection rates and death rates are lower in certain places than others and asking if we could we try to emulate the approach being taken by countries which have been more successful at responding to this pandemic.
Looking at the numbers at the time and since, it was very clear that, in particular, it was some of those East Asian democracies, particularly Taiwan and South Korea, that had been extremely successful in their response to COVID-19, both in the early days and since. Notably, these East Asian democracies are much more densely populated than Canada, and they are much closer to the epicentre of the outbreak of the pandemic. Just considering those factors, one might assume that they would be more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. However, these places had very effective strategies in their responses.
At the time, I asked the then health minister, and I think members of my side have repeated it, recognizing how successful these East Asian democracies had been in responding to the pandemic, if we could learn from their experience. Of course, they were learning from past experience. These countries had dealt with, to a much great extent than we did, previous SARS outbreaks.
It was clear from the data that Taiwan was succeeding. The government of Taiwan was pushing the message internationally that Taiwan could help if we were to recognize Taiwan's participation in international conversations around health. It was about including Taiwan and giving it the opportunity to participate on an equal basis, as it should. It was also about recognizing that Taiwan had been so successful in its response to COVID that it could contribute and share its insights. If we had been more prepared to push for the inclusion of Taiwan, and if the global community had included Taiwan in more of these conversations and listened to them, many people would be alive today who are tragically not. The concrete benefits of Taiwanese inclusion, I think, were very clear.
What were the strategies that Taiwan deployed? Right from the beginning, the Government of Taiwan was encouraging masking as a tool for responding to the pandemic. Right from the beginning, Taiwan had in place strong border measures. There were mandatory quarantines for those who were coming from elsewhere. Taiwan did not take the information that was coming from the Government of China at face value. Taiwan had enough experience to realize that there was a high risk of misinformation from a Communist government. That should not be a particularly novel insight. It should be fairly obvious that authoritarian Communist regimes pushing misinformation and disinformation is part of what they do, but I think when it came to issues of health, we were a bit too naive on that. Taiwan had strong masking and strong border measures.
Also, for our East Asian democratic partners, moving quickly on putting in place testing protocols and tracing were parts of a successful toolkit, which included being critical of information that was coming out of the mainland, masking, border measures, and testing and tracing. It is easy to forget perhaps, but right at the beginning those insights were very different from what was being pushed by members of the government. A representative of the government, the chief public health officer, had implied at committee that it would be bigoted to impose border restrictions in response to the pandemic. That led to a slowed-down response.
Of course, the irony with the government is that it put in place the wrong measures at the wrong time. We should have had strong border measures at the beginning. We did not have those strong border measures, and then the government persisted in having ineffective border restrictions much later, even after the point when the virus was already in different parts of the world and most Canadians were vaccinated. The border measures were particularly important at the beginning to try to keep the virus from getting here, to try to delay its arrival on our shores, but once the virus was actively very present in all countries, border measures obviously had less utility.
If we had listened to Taiwan, and if we had learned from Taiwan's insights, we would have been able to respond earlier and respond faster. It is also easy to forget that public health authorities in Canada and the United States were discouraging mask use at the beginning of this pandemic at a time when, of course, the science was there about the value of masks at that time because, again, Taiwan and other East Asian democracies were using masks and supporting the use of masks.
It was perplexing to a lot of people when we were told by the government to trust what public health authorities were saying, yet public health authorities of similar stature in other countries were saying different things. The science on the pandemic should not have been different from country to country. What I and other members of our caucus suggested at the time was to look at what the public health authorities are saying in those countries that had been the most successful and effective in their response to the pandemic.
We should have been listening to Taiwan. We should have been moving quickly to have those testing and tracing border measures in place early. Had we done that, I think we would have been able to avoid devastating lockdowns that significantly exacerbated mental health challenges for many Canadians and caused many businesses to go under.
If we had taken that strategic approach, learning from Taiwan, South Korea and other partners in East Asia, we could have done so much better, which speaks to the value of including Taiwan and the benefits to Canada for including its perspective on public health.
Let us recognize that Taiwan donated a significant number of masks to Canada and other countries in that early phase, but I think, unfortunately, some of the initial incorrect information alleging the masks did not work from the government may have reflected the fact that it did not have enough masks available for those who needed them. At the time, when there was a shortage of masks, Taiwan really stepped up to try to support other countries around the world.
As well, broadening the conversation a bit, there are so many benefits for Canada associated with the inclusion of Taiwan and more international organizations and active engagement with Taiwan on the trade front. I am proud to represent an energy-producing riding in western Canada. Many of our partners in East Asia, and Japan is another example, do not have the same steady, certain access to energy from like-minded countries that we take for granted here in Canada. We should be working to export more of our energy resources and build partnerships where we can sell our natural resources to Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and other East Asian democratic partners. I think there is an immense opportunity to expand our trading relationship with Taiwan. Energy is one example, but I think there are many other examples as well.
Of course, we could talk about the positives, about how Taiwan can help with the global response to future pandemics and other health conversations that may come up about how increasing trade between Taiwan and Canada would be very beneficial for our economy. We need to recognize, alongside those positive opportunities, the storm clouds that are on the horizon as well. We have seen escalating threats and very menacing behaviour from the Government of China toward Taiwan, and this comes in the wake of the illegal genocidal invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin's regime.
I very much think that the Government of China has been watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine and contemplating its own actions with respect to Taiwan, and we can see the close partnership between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin as well as how some of the same kinds of rhetoric are being used toward Taiwan that was and continues to be used toward Ukraine. If Xi Jinping is observing and learning, we should also note what has happened with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and do all we can to prevent a repeat situation, where authoritarian power invades a neighbouring democracy and denies it its right to exist and the right of its people to self-determination.
What are the lessons we can learn? One is that we need to be clearer and firmer upfront in trying to deter that invasion. I think a big part of why Putin chose the path he did was because we were not effective enough at deterring that invasion. Signals were sent from certain western powers that suggested to Putin that Ukraine would be on its own if it was invaded. Many countries have stepped up to supply weapons and apply debilitating sanctions and the Ukrainian army has been very successful thus far, so the war did not go the way Putin expected it to go, fortunately. However, if we had been able to send stronger signals earlier about the supports that would be there, then we might have been able to deter this aggression in the first place.
We need to be willing to pursue peace through strength. That is, in the case of a prospective invasion of Taiwan by China, we need to send clear meaningful signals about what we would do to support Taiwan. The goal of sending those signals is, of course, to prevent the invasion in the first place. If we want peace, we have to be strong and firm in deterring aggression.
The risk is that Putin's invasion of Ukraine kind of sets a precedent. It changes norms in the world, such that other countries start to think they can get away with using force to take territory within what they consider their historical sphere of influence. Therefore, defeating Putin in Ukraine is important for Ukraine's sake and for Russia's sake, as we hope for a free and democratic Russia to replace the Putin regime, but it is also important in terms of the precedent it sets for the world.
I hope that, in the context of the bellicose rhetoric toward Taiwan that we have seen, we would be clear and firm in standing with Taiwan in terms of our preparation for the possibility of aggression, but also be clear in standing with Taiwan in terms of the everyday opportunities to include Taiwan in international conversations, in the World Health Assembly, in ICAO and in international conversations around a broad range of issues, and by recognizing the contributions Taiwan can make in terms of trade with Canada. There are many different ways we can collaborate with Taiwan, and we should pursue that collaboration to a much greater extent. The Canadian government needs to step up more and do more to support our friends and allies in Taiwan.
If I can make a couple more points going back on the issue of Taiwan's COVID response, some of the commentary coming out of COVID recognized a bit of a scattered response in certain western countries, and certainly in Canada, and the lack of preparedness from the government for this crisis. Some people said maybe China handled this better than democratic countries and asked if this was another case where supposedly the authoritarian model was more effective. Then, we look at the success of Taiwan, South Korea and other East Asian democracies, and it becomes very clear that democracies actually handled the pandemic better. If we look at comparable areas, in terms of experience with pandemics, geography and other factors, it was democratic countries that were more effective in their response.
We continue to see that today, where Taiwan, and I think this is characteristic of democracies, is adapting its approach. It has moved away from a COVID-zero approach and now it is adapting to more of a “living with the virus” type of approach. It has been appropriately able to respond to the virus and also adapt in response to new information, whereas the Government of China has been really calcified in its response, and we are seeing a very brutal application of a COVID-zero policy on the mainland.
I think it is an important point to reflect on how Taiwan's adaptability and success really outshines the response on the mainland and it outshines many other countries. This underlines the importance of engagement with Taiwan, of strong relations, of learning from Taiwan and also of supporting fellow democracies by building partnerships with Taiwan and with other democracies all over the world.