Charest’s Consulting Work for Huawei Reignites Calls for Canadian Foreign Interference Laws

Charest’s Consulting Work for Huawei Reignites Calls for Canadian Foreign Interference Laws
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver on Oct. 2, 2019. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)
Omid Ghoreishi

The revelation that former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who is contemplating running for Conservative Party leadership, is advising Chinese telecom giant Huawei on the Meng Wanzhou extradition case and participation in Canada’s 5G network has reignited calls for Ottawa to require more transparency from former government members working for foreign entities.

“A cross-section of people who have served at the highest levels of Canadian government are acting, directly or indirectly, on behalf of a state that is hostile to Canada,” David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China, said on Twitter.

The Globe and Mail reported that Charest—who was leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party in the 1990s and also deputy prime minister under former prime minister Kim Campbell—along with former privy council clerk Wayne Wouters are part of a law firm hired by Huawei to help in Meng’s extradition case as well as sell products for use in Canada’s 5G network.

Meng was arrested in late 2018 in Vancouver at the request of the United States on fraud charges related to violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Since then, China has issued stern warnings to Canada to release Meng; arrested two Canadian citizens, who have been detained for over a year; and blocked Canadian imports. In documents filed with the British Columbia Supreme Court last week, Canada’s Department of Justice said the fraud allegations Meng is accused of in the United States would be considered criminal in Canada as well, meaning that her case meets the requirements of extradition.

Charest’s role in helping Huawei in Canada would be at odds with the official position of the Conservative Party, which holds that Huawei shouldn’t be allowed to participate in Canada’s 5G network due to the company’s close links to the Chinese communist regime.

In response to news of Charest working for Huawei, Mulroney said that “we will be told that top people won’t serve unless they can cash in after retirement. But that argument is self-serving, potentially dangerous, and undermines public confidence. Let’s at least require greater transparency around work for foreign states and their proxies.”

Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former policy director to Canadian foreign ministers and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI), said on Twitter that it’s “hard to square how one leads Canadian interests with integrity, after counselling a foreign entity acting against the interests of Canada and Canadians.”

Several former high-ranking Canadian politicians with ties to organizations that have strong links to China have taken positions favouring the release of Meng and/or Huawei having a role in Canada’s 5G network.

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien has floated the idea that Canada’s justice minister use his legal authority to halt Meng’s extradition to the United States, the Globe reports.

Chrétien formerly sat on the board of a subsidiary of Power Corp., which journalist and author Jonathan Manthorpe describes in his book “Claws of the Panda” as “the premier gatekeeper of [Canada’s] formal relations with China.” Chrétien’s daughter is also married to André Desmarais, president and co-CEO of Power Corp. Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, who worked as a lawyer for  André’s father Paul, the former CEO of the company, has called on the government to name Chrétien as a special envoy to negotiate the release of the arrested Canadians.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day, who is on the executive board of the Canada China Business Council, has praised Huawei and its founder Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army, and argued that Canada shouldn’t ban the company from its 5G network.

In a paper written for the MLI late last year, David Mulroney said China’s rise has added “special urgency” to the issue of foreign influence and interference in Canada. He added that Canada should enact legislation similar to Australia’s recently introduced foreign interference laws, which require former cabinet ministers and others working for foreign entities to register with the federal government.

“The Australian government’s action is largely in response to an increasing number of incidents in Australia that point to clandestine efforts by Chinese state actors seeking to influence or interfere in Australian politics and governance,” he wrote.

Ahead of Australia’s new laws coming into effect last year, two former Australian cabinet ministers and a former Australian premier quit their positions with China-linked companies.

“We need to signal to foreign governments that any former Canadian official they hire has, by definition, stepped away from his or her role as a privileged adviser to governments in Canada,” Mulroney wrote.

Conservative Senator Linda Frum was one of the earliest politicians to call for Canada to consider Australia’s new laws when they were first introduced in 2017.

“This is essential. It’s critical. It’s essential for Canadian political sovereignty that we examine this very, very closely,” Frum told National Post columnist Terry Glavin at the time.

With files from The Canadian Press