Madam Speaker, this feels a bit like Back to the Future or Groundhog Day, as we keep reliving the same thing over and over again. Of course we have always been in favour of creating a committee to examine the relationship between the People's Republic of China and Canada. It is no different today; we have not changed our minds. We believe it is still relevant to have a committee to take a closer look specifically at this matter.
There is no denying that the People's Republic of China is a military, political, and economic superpower. It was a real Eldorado for the Liberal government of the 1990s. Everyone said we should relocate all our businesses to China and take advantage of China's cheap labour. By doing business with China, we would eventually help raise the standard of living there, which would inevitably advance democracy and help it blossom like a flower in the spring.
A few decades on, we have become a little disillusioned with the logic and narrative that the Liberal government of the day was trying to impose. Nevertheless, the fact remains that China is an undisputed economic power.
We need to recognize that relations between the People's Republic of China and Canada were excellent for decades. We can think of the time when Canada provided wheat to contribute to famine relief in the People's Republic of China or the influence Dr. Bethune had during the Chinese revolution. There is also the fact that former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was among the first western heads of state to establish relations with the People's Republic of China.
Relations between our countries were always extremely positive until they faltered significantly with the request to extradite Meng Wanzhou, followed by the illegal detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. I thought it was important at that point to take a look at what could have happened and how we might try to restore relations.
Then something happened that had me completely shocked. I was floored. We came to realize that the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations was not the least bit interested in finding solutions to improve relations with the People's Republic of China. It had become a partisan political tool to try to put the government in a tough spot. I will not get into details because we will probably have an opportunity to come back to it. The whole thing was abruptly interrupted when an entirely unnecessary election was called unexpectedly last fall.
In the meantime, thanks to the election of a new government in Washington, a solution was found that, although somewhat questionable, made it possible to resolve the problem of the U.S. request to extradite Meng Wanzhou, which then led to the almost immediate release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
After the election results were announced, we came back to the House and, lo and behold, the Conservatives decided that they needed a new toy, a new tool with which to play partisan politics. All of a sudden, now that the two Michaels had been released, they felt there was no longer a need for the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Now, the Conservatives wanted a special committee to examine the disastrous Afghanistan evacuation. Our Conservative friends were convinced that this would win them political points. They no longer needed the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations at that time.
We criticized the fact that the Conservatives were abandoning the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Obviously, we were not against creating the Special Committee on Afghanistan because, admittedly, some missteps and bad decisions were made, and we needed to try to identify any problems in advance just in case we should ever find ourselves in another such situation.
Incidentally, the late premier Jacques Parizeau often said that we must never underestimate the federal government's ability to disappoint us. In this case, it seems as though the federal government never learns from past lessons. Although we have to hope that the federal government will learn from what happened in Afghanistan, I must admit that it may disappoint us again this time.
In any event, we put pressure on the government to bring back the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. However, for their own reasons, the Conservatives were not ready for the committee to be reinstated at that time. I will let my colleagues speak to the reasons why they may not have wanted that committee to be re-established.
Let us see where we are this morning. The Special Committee on Afghanistan is wrapping up its work. The Conservatives' new political toy or tool will soon be a thing of the past. What issue has become their new political football? They have suddenly proposed a special committee on the relationship between Canada and the People's Republic of China. That is rather extraordinary.
Our Conservative friends did not think it would be useful to bring back the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations even though the world has changed profoundly in the months since the election, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Now their priority is suddenly to reinstate the committee, so what made them change their minds?
I want to make it clear to my colleagues that we agree. We have always believed that this committee served a purpose. However, I sincerely wonder about why our Conservative friends are bringing this proposal forward now. It was relevant after the election, but they were not at all interested. Suddenly, now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, they find it relevant again, with the Special Committee on Afghanistan a few weeks away from wrapping up.
I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I think that if someone suspected partisan motives were behind this proposal, they might be right. In any case, we must acknowledge that it certainly seems that way. However, as I have said from the beginning, even though I have serious doubts that our Conservative friends' motives are honourable, we will vote in favour of this motion because we believe and always have believed that this committee served a purpose.
I would now like to take some time to talk about the wording of the motion moved by my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills, whom I salute. It is always a pleasure to work with him.
I want to draw my colleagues' attention to one of the points early in the motion: “(iii) the distinction between the people of China and the Chinese state, as embodied by the Communist Party of China and the government of the People's Republic of China”. I think we can essentially all agree on that one.
I think the next line is worthy of a little commentary. It states, “(iv) that authoritarian states, including the People's Republic of China, increasingly pose a threat to the rules-based international order”. The Conservatives seem to have discovered that there are authoritarian states in the world. It may come as a shock to some, but less than half of our fellow humans on this planet live in democracies.
Given Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the People's Republic of China's threats against Taiwan, I understand this sudden desire to highlight the fact that “authoritarian states, including the People's Republic of China, increasingly pose a threat to the rules-based international order”, but I simply want to point out that this is not new.
Authoritarian states are not new. Because of some kind of agreement or tacit alliance between the two countries, the authoritarian states of Russia and the People's Republic of China may constitute a threat to the international order established after the Second World War.
I remind members that when the United Nations was created, we appointed the five largest powers at the time to maintain balance within the international system. The invasion of Ukraine, however, has highlighted the limits of this system, as one of the five powers meant to help maintain international order has gone out of control.
We find ourselves in a situation where neither the People's Republic of China nor Russia are what one might call democratic states. It appears that they have decided to collaborate, and we fully understand the threat that poses to the world order as we knew it, until recently at least.
Let me digress for a moment to share another fascinating point. By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin thought he would discourage all states from wanting to eventually join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. However, the exact opposite has happened. Do not forget that under Donald Trump's administration, President Macron described NATO as being virtually brain dead.
There were questions about the usefulness and relevance of NATO, but Vladimir Putin has made the organization relevant again—so much so that states that have traditionally been neutral for decades, such as Finland and Sweden, are now considering joining NATO. Vladimir Putin has pushed countries into NATO's arms by trying to prevent Ukraine from joining the organization.
Moreover, after Brexit, some European countries, such as Poland and Hungary, started questioning the point of the European Union. After the invasion of Ukraine, people stopped questioning whether the European Union was relevant or useful. In response to the Russian threat, the European Union, like NATO, closed ranks like never before.
We may agree with our colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills that this kind of tacit alliance between Russia and the People's Republic of China represents a significant threat to the international order as we knew it until very recently.
Even so, that does not take away from the problems we are seeing inside and outside the People's Republic of China as acknowledged in point (iv) of the motion. One example is the new silk road, China's move to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in Africa and ultimately render former colonial powers, such as France, and even countries without a colonial past, such as Canada, irrelevant. Canada had a notable and noted presence in Africa for decades, but it literally missed the boat.
While China was investing heavily in Africa, Canada withdrew from that continent, especially under the influence of Stephen Harper's Conservative government. This opened Africa's doors to the Chinese. We missed the boat, and the Chinese are emerging as the power to be reckoned with in Africa. Russia is doing the same thing in Mali now. As the French pull out, the Russians are moving in. As point (iv) indicates, this contributes to a possible destabilisation of the international order.
I was talking a moment ago about the incredible and surprising solidarity shown by NATO and EU states in the face of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. We all thought about our friends in Taiwan, because we know that China is keeping a close eye on what is happening right now. Xi Jinping has made no secret of the fact that he would like to bring Taiwan back into the fold of mainland China. There have been concerns about the repercussions this would have.
At a reception in Taiwan's honour last night, it was noted that Taiwan is Canada's 11th largest trading partner, the fifth largest in Asia. This is significant. Taiwan is inextricably intertwined with the global economic system. However, if the People's Republic of China were to invade Taiwan, given the influence of Chinese banks on assets in Europe, would Europe be able to show the same level of solidarity in imposing sanctions on China, which is even more inextricably intertwined in the international economic system than Russia is?
What is happening right now is extremely concerning. It is not a matter of if the People's Republic of China will invade Taiwan but when, and the question is how the international community will be able to respond to this new transgression of international rules.
It is important to create a new committee on Canada-China relations. We think it appropriate to support this motion even though, once again, I highly doubt the good intentions of our Conservative friends, who moved with this motion at such an odd time, after Russia invaded Ukraine and a few days after the Special Committee on Afghanistan wrapped up its work, which did not give the Conservatives the political dividends they were hoping for. Now they are turning their attention to something else, and it seems that the political panacea for the Conservatives today is to reactivate the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.
We will step up. We will do what we can to ensure that this committee does not become another partisan circus, and that we can lay the foundation for a better understanding and, we hope, better relations with the People's Republic of China, given the country's significance in the international system.