Given the urgency of the situation regarding China, a serious debate is much needed on how Canada will conduct itself on the world stage and what its strategy will be in dealing with an increasingly belligerent Beijing.
During the election debates, foreign policy and China did not get much focus, which is unfortunate as the leaders’ stances should matter given the seriousness of the circumstances.
With election day fast approaching, the following is a brief assessment of each leader and his or her position, scored from 1 to 5. A score of 5 means that the particular leader is clear-eyed on the China threat and has argued for a much tougher approach with Beijing, while a 1 means the leader continues to display naiveté on the issue.
Since being elected, one of the main focuses of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy has been rekindling the relationship with China and making it a strong and valuable economic partner. In a statement prior to his first visit to China as prime minister in 2016, Trudeau said the China relationship was “essential to growing our middle class and creating new opportunities for Canadian businesses.”
Moreover, he said he would “strive for a closer, more balanced relationship between Canada and China—one that unlocks the untapped potential in our two countries’ commercial ties and advances important issues like good governance, the rule of law, and the environment.”
With the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor at the end of 2018 and then the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Trudeau has been forced to confront very quickly the reality that the communist regime in Beijing has different intentions from ours. This has led to a very inconsistent policy on China.
On one hand, the Trudeau government steadfastly continued the pro-engagement policy, as can be seen in the initial effort to strike a vaccine deal with the Chinese company CanSino that fell through, and continuing to fund collaborations with Huawei even after the security threat the company poses has become clear. He also rather notoriously skipped out on a vote in Parliament to recognize the Chinese regime’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims.
On the other hand, Trudeau has so far refused to bend to the regime’s hostage diplomacy in the Meng Wanzhou/two Michaels affair. He has also toughened his tone on China, although he has yet to back it up with any concrete action.
The issue plaguing Trudeau now is the lack of a comprehensive policy to deal with China. The Liberal platform does not reveal much, as it really only mentions China once as part of a broader group of authoritarian regimes, along with Russia and Iran, that pose a threat. Trudeau’s answers to questions regarding his government’s direction on China, particularly on how to get Kovrig and Spavor released, haven’t revealed much either.
Score: 1.5 Stars
In his role as Opposition leader and during this election campaign, Erin O’Toole has presented himself as the most hawkish on China of all of the other candidates. Through his speeches, debates in Parliament, and public statements, he has made it plain that he believes China is the most pressing security threat Canada will face in the coming decades.
As detailed in the Conservative Party’s platform, and as he said when the topic was broached during the Sept. 9 debate, O’Toole believes Canada should do more to work with its allies and be a more reliable partner. This involves making a decision on the access of Chinese companies like Huawei to Canada’s telecommunications, as our allies have, and becoming more self-sufficient in defending our security.
In his party’s platform, which contains an entire chapter on dealing with the Chinese regime, O’Toole has made human rights a central concern of his proposed approach to China, standing up for the rights of persecuted religious minorities such as Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Falun Gong practitioners. Related to this is his pledge to stop foreign interference by China, which often targets members of the Chinese diaspora community—particularly those who are activists—and his proposed measures such as a foreign registry to help stop it.
Indeed, O’Toole has proven to have a very favourable record on China. If there is a blight, it would be his defence of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement while he was parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade during the Harper years. Signed in 2012 and ratified in 2014, O’Toole and the government at the time justified the deal by saying it would help protect Canadian investments. But many of the terms clearly give the Chinese regime an unequal advantage, as the agreement does not incentivize China to open up in similar ways Canada is required to.
Such agreements should be immediately addressed by leaders, as their terms may continue to grant Beijing substantial leverage in any diplomatic disagreement that will inevitably come up in the coming years.
Score: 5 Stars
For the most part, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has shown he understands how the Canada-China dynamic has changed. Moreover, he appears to realize that Canada has to be more tactical in crucial areas such as protecting human rights and working with partners to find a solution for the two Michaels.
He said in a recent interview with Global News: “I think we have just got to continue to apply whatever pressures we can, using our diplomatic tools and working with international allies to apply that pressure on China to secure the release of these Canadians.”
In addition to this, he has stood up for human rights by supporting calls for relocating the 2022 Winter Olympics outside China in response to the ongoing genocide being perpetrated by the regime against the Uyghur population.
He also criticized the Trudeau government for not doing enough to mitigate the damage that China’s unfair trade practices have done to the livelihood of Canada’s agricultural workers. Regarding the debacle of China targeting Canada’s canola exports after Meng’s arrest, he said farm producers “need a government that will defend them and take the necessary steps to help them get through this difficult period.”
Singh has significant weaknesses, however, in that he has failed to offer a clear idea of how exactly a government headed by him would approach China and foreign affairs going forward. The NDP platform does not address the issue of China aside from a passing reference to “human rights abuses” and promoting democracy in Hong Kong. He also has not done much to rein in and discipline more radical members of his party, such as MP Niki Ashton, who has called for Meng’s release and has also voted against motions put forward by the Conservatives to impel the government to make a decision on Huawei’s participation in Canada’s 5G networks.
Score: 3 Stars
Being the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Yves-François Blanchet hasn’t been one to preoccupy himself much with questions around foreign policy, but from what we can see, his record on China has been mixed.
During the Sept. 9 debate, Blanchet agreed with Trudeau’s comment that “lobbing tomatoes across the Pacific” and excessive hawkishness wasn’t a way to bring Kovrig and Spavor home, but said “doing nothing might not be the solution either.” He also criticized Trudeau’s performance on the Taiwan question, Hong Kong, and the Uyghur issue.
In addition, his party supported the motion to recognize the genocide of the Uyghurs, and the Bloc’s presence on the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations has proven to be valuable, with foreign affairs critic Stéphane Bergeron being a principled voice on issues regarding human rights and foreign interference.
However, during the 2019 election, Blanchet emphasized the need for trade with China despite the imprisonment of Kovrig and Spavor. “When you’re facing a powerful foe like China, you don’t try to show biceps if you only have tiny biceps,” he said.
Score: 3 Stars
Annamie Paul has only been the leader of the Green Party for a short period but has been outspoken about Canada’s approach to China. With the few statements she’s made, she has demonstrated that she realizes Canada should be much more active in confronting China. During the Sept. 9 debate, she brought into question Canada’s reliability, particularly on issues like the two Michaels and the Uyghurs, saying that if “our word doesn’t count for much it makes it very hard for us to help people like the Michaels when they need us the most.”
Paul has been consistent on advocating for human rights and for Canada to have an influence on the world stage, including her advocacy for moving the 2022 Olympics outside China and using international law to address Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs. However, it is unclear what a Green Party foreign policy would look like.
Score: 3 Stars
As the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier hasn’t made the China issue a main focus of his campaign but has in the past made statements about Canada-China relations that can help gauge what his approach would be.
During his run for the Conservative leadership in 2017, he avidly promoted further trade with China on the grounds that it could help increase Canada’s exports by $7.7 million annually and make it easier for Canada to push Beijing on human rights issues.
However, after the campaign and establishing his People’s Party, which coincided with a series of diplomatic spats between Ottawa and Beijing, Bernier switched his position and said free trade with China should no longer be a priority and that he didn’t see a future in it.
There’s not much specific on China in his party’s foreign policy platform, but what can be gleaned from it is that Bernier would take an approach heavily critical of the United Nations, many parts of which China has successfully co-opted and has manipulated for its own ends.
Score: 3 Stars
Foreign policy has not been as prominent an issue in this election campaign as it should be. Nevertheless, whoever gets the privilege of forming the next government, it should be very near the top of their agenda to make sure Canada is in a position to play an influential role in holding China’s communist regime to account.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.