Opposition MPs are tasked with poking and prodding the government to find weaknesses, which, in an ideal world, would bring about changes in policy to address those shortcomings.
And so we have seen a lot of debate over what Canada should do to address China’s intransigence in the current trade dispute, but the opposition has largely contented itself with lobbing peanuts.
In response to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December for extradition to the United States, China has arrested two Canadians, sentenced two more to death for drug trafficking, and has refused to accept Canadian canola seeds — a trade worth about $2.7 billion annually. A recent move to reject Canadian meat is thought not to be tied to this dispute.
The Liberal government is generally following the advice of the canola working group, which consists of industry officials, farmer groups and senior government representatives.
China has made it clear there is no resolving the issue — no negotiations — until Meng is released, so the Liberal government’s strategy on canola appears to consist of market diversification attempts and financial support for farmers.
Still, Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer — when asked recently how he would get Chinese officials to the negotiating table — said he would withdraw Canada’s $256 million contribution to the Asian Infrastructure Bank, file a World Trade Organization complaint and fill the vacant ambassador position in Beijing.
Other opposition members have jawed about the government not having a plan. Gerry Ritz, who was agriculture minister in the Stephen Harper government, said the Liberals do not take Canada’s relationship with China seriously, and John Baird, who was foreign minister in the Harper government, said Canada should “stop making it worse,” though he did not explain how that was happening or what he would do to end the dispute.
No one has. In fact, the position among the Conservatives is that the whole thing is the Canadian government’s fault, though no one, including Scheer, has said they would release Meng.
Others have advocated removing the visas from students of Chinese diplomats.
The Liberal government appears to be trying not to poison the relationship with China over the long term so that once this dispute is over, the two countries can embrace each other again. Hence the decision, for example, not to throw diplomats’ kids out of the country. There is an argument for making a WTO complaint, since ultimately China would have to explain how its reasons for rejecting Canadian canola are based on science, which would be interesting to watch.
Canada invested in the Asian Infrastructure Bank in the hopes of getting contracts for massive building projects. (It has met with limited success.) Pulling out would not affect China’s position in the dispute, but neither is it likely to poison the relationship over the long term.
And China has to approve any new Canadian ambassador, which isn’t likely at the moment. Canada’s chargé d’affaires in Beijing, Jim Nickel, is believed to be performing well.
China’s former ambassador, Shaye Lu, is moving to France. He has been hard-nosed on the issue, claiming that Canada has lost its sense of justice, but has recently softened his rhetoric. Said Lu: “The current difficulties facing China-Canada relations are only temporary…. The Sino-Canadian friendship has a deep, profound history, a history that is unstoppable.
“Thick mountains could not stop the river from flowing into the sea.”
Canada’s decision not to throw what would amount to peanuts at China may pay off in the future, but that may not be enough to help the Liberal government politically. It will take years to see the results of this strategy. In the meantime, the opposition’s contribution to the issue amounts to no more than noise.
Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.