The House of Commons Resumes Sitting—Question Period—Canada-China Relations, What Happened and the Future
House of Commons Resumes Sitting
Between today and when the House is scheduled to rise for the summer recess and the call of a federal election, if that has not happened sooner, there are 69 scheduled sitting days. These are days for the government to have its legislation debated, a debate on the 2019 budget and days set aside for both the Conservative Party and NDP to raise issues in opposition days where the designated party can have its own issues as the subject of debate.
Included in the scheduling for those 69 days will be debate on amendments from the Senate on legislation it received from the House. There are two such bills on the House Order Paper today.
For the government, the task is to squeeze as much legislation as it can through the House in the shortest amount of time. Observers should be looking for the government to introduce ‘time allocation’ on particularly troublesome pieces of legislation so that at least all parties will know how long it will take to get particular bills through the House. While the opposition parties may complain, this isn’t the worst thing that can happen, as once time allocation on a bill has been established , parties know how many speakers they will be putting up on a particular bill and it helps all parties with scheduling.
The period in front of members is the run up to the federal election which will be held as scheduled in October or earlier depending on the decision of the prime minister. There is nothing in the Fixed Election Date act that fetters the discretion of the executive to advise that parliament be dissolved prior to the scheduled voting date.
Given the circumstances facing the Trudeau government and its Whack-a-Mole approach to issues management, it would not be surprising if at some point between now and June, the Prime Minister decides to go to Canadians early on the pretext that his government needs a new mandate to deal with some unexpected issue. This could range from economic issues, such as an approaching recession, a schism in the country touching federal-provincial relations or a matter of foreign policy, creating an unexpected crisis.
On the Senate side there are two bills which will face strong resistance, at least from the Conservative opposition; Bill C-48 which imposes an oil tanker ban off the northern coast of B.C. and Bill C-69, commonly known as the “no more pipelines bill” which establishes a new environmental assessment regime which would particularly affect major projects such as proposed pipelines. If indeed these two bills pass out of the Senate, they will be returned to the House with numerous amendments, with debate taking up valuable House time.
And these are the issues we know about now, realizing there is always the unknown lurking out there ready to disrupt a planned legislative schedule.
Given that the starter’s pistol has already sounded in an informal way to begin the 2019 election campaign, we can expect that everything will be couched in the rhetoric of the campaign with no quarter asked or given.
In addition to what we know, there are two significant unknowns at this point; will Jagmeet Singh lead the NDP into this election and what will be the drawing power of Max Bernier’ s Peoples Party of Canada.? The answers to both questions could have a profound effect on the outcome of the upcoming election.
The best advice for those watching and commentating over the next few months would be ‘buckle up.’
Canada-China Relations, What Happened and the Future
While there are numerous issues confronting Parliament today as question period resumes, at least for today, and the next few days and perhaps weeks, Canada’s relations with China and incidentally the United States, will be front and center as the extradition process involving Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou plays out.
Given the events of last week there are serious questions to be asked as to what is the Government of Canada’s policy on this matter and the larger one dealing with the future of Canada-China relations. Last Thursday, former Ambassador to China John McCallum signed on to a press release issued by Global Affairs saying that at the media availability he held on Tuesday predominantly for Chinese media in Canada, he misspoke.
The release stated “I regret my comments with respect to legal proceedings of Ms. Meng have created confusion. I misspoke. There has been no political involvement in the process.” It went on to say “I play no role in assessing any arguments or making any determinations in the extradition process.”
This was going to be a difficult position for the government and McCallum to hold but with luck and ‘radio silence’ it might have sufficed until McCallum got back to China. This must have been the calculation of Trudeau, Freeland and the folks at the upper end of the PMO and its issues management group. The problem with the release from Global Affairs was that it didn’t match up with reality. On Tuesday an invitation had been sent to selected journalists from primarily Chinese media to attend a briefing by McCallum. At this 40 minute briefing McCallum delivered a specific message on the political aspects of the extradition process involving Meng and advice as to why her defence should be successful.
Yesterday on Evan Solomon’s Question Period, Liberal Parliamentary Secretary Mendicino said that the PMO knew that the Tuesday media availability was taking place.
The “misspoke” release may have worked, but on Friday McCallum went back to the Tuesday talking points. In Vancouver he was quoted as saying “from Canada’s point of view if [the US] drops the extradition request, that would be good for Canada.” He then added “we have to make sure that if the U.S. does make such a deal, it also includes the release of our two people, and the U.S. is highly aware of that.”
Perhaps one can misspeak once within four days but not twice in without suffering grievous consequences. In the first instance McCallum may have been delivering quietly and to a select audience, new and perhaps more China friendly talking points, but by Friday he had no cover for his comments.
With his resignation sought and received by the prime minister, the question is where do we go from here?
There seems to be little disagreement among former diplomats that McCallum had to resign and as Conservative leader Andrew Scheer pointed out, it should have come earlier, on Tuesday. Former diplomat Colin Robertson said that “freelancing is not what ambassadors are supposed to do, especially public freelancing.” He had an interesting suggestion that now that Canada will be appointing a new ambassador, perhaps it is time for China to do the same.
CBC’s Chris Hall writing about this matter said “it’s a devastating setback for Canadian diplomacy in China.” The gains that McCallum was to deliver as a result of his appointment were not realized.
Former Ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques is quoted as saying “this crisis is the worst we have seen with China since we established diplomatic relations in 1970.” His view is that Canada needs a new ambassador soon as there are three detained Canadians and the Meng case to be dealt with.
Former Ambassador David Mulroney in his comments looked to the future. He said “the real challenge for us this time is to do some hard thinking about the relationship, to see China for what it really is. While we shouldn’t and can’t ignore China, we don’t need to embrace it uncritically as a close friend and democracy in the making.”
The problem is as Nathan Vanderklippe of the Globe points out is that the Chinese believe as reported in the China Daily that “McCallum was merely stating the truth when he observed that Meng has a strong case against extradition which he rightly stated was politically motivated.” There is also the threat that matters could get a lot worse for Canada if it chooses to accede to the U.S. extradition request.
So how does all of this play out in question period?
The basic question is what is Canada’s policy towards China and the U.S. in relation to the extradition proceedings involving Ms. Meng? But before that it would be interesting to know from where last week’s China policy originated? Who authorized McCallum’s statements on Tuesday as we now know from Mendicino that the PMO knew he was holding a media availability? Who wrote the talking points? Has the prime minister spoken to President Trump about the confusion Canada caused last week and has the prime minister given assurances that there will be no political interference in the extradition proceedings? If it wasn’t time before now to speak with the President of China, is now the time for Trudeau to place that call and what will he say? When will the new ambassador be appointed?
There is also the situation with Huawei and the 5G network. When will the government announce its decision on this and has the prime minister spoken to the other four members of the five eyes about this matter?
Those asking questions on this matter will be met with answers that claim anyone questioning the government is putting petty partisan politics above the safety of Canadian hostages.
In the next few days, The Morning Brief will review the many other issues that will be on the QP agenda over the next few months.
--today, Mr. Schellenberg is to launch an appeal in his case in China
--January 29, Brexit vote
--January 29-30, U.S. Fed meets
--January 30, U.S. to file its request for extradition
--January 31, CMHC to release its housing market assessment
--January 31, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada Carolyn Wilkins to deliver a speech to the GreaterToronto Board of Trade
--January 31, GDP numbers for November to be released--bc