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Prorogation Abruptly Ends Special Committee on Canada-Chinese Relations

The prorogation of parliament, triggered by Prime Minister Trudeau has had many ripple effects. The most well documented is that it will shut down the ethics investigation into the government’s awarding of the WE Charity contract.

  • Less discussed is that the prorogation may signal the end of the Special Committee on Canada-Chinese Relations which will now be closed as the house of commons takes its unexpected break.

The Take-Away: Since it was a special committee, it will have to be voted back into existence once parliament resumes. This consequence of prorogation has drawn the ire of both Conservative and NDP committee members, who are adamant that the committee has an important role to play in the future of diplomatic relations with China.

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The committee was created as a response to the Chinese detainment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who the Chinese claim were committing espionage.

  • Kovrig and Spavor were detained days after Huawei Executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the request of U.S. authorities after being accused of committing fraud back in December 2018.

A motion was put forward by the recently minted Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, to “review all aspects of the Canada-China relationship”.

  • The motion passed 171 votes to 148, with the governing Liberal party opposing its creation.
  • The Liberal party claimed that the committee would be largely “political theatre” and an inefficient tool to generate ideas about the Canada-China relationship.

What has the Committee done so far?

The committee had their first meeting in January 2020. Since then, they’ve hosted a number of different experts and politicians with unique insights into the future of Canada-China relations.

  • Ambassador Dominic Barton spoke in front of the committee in February, praising many elements of Chinese economy and society and offered possibilities on how Canada can work with China to defend human rights interests while respecting the “Confucian values of harmony” upon which the country was built.
  • Ambassador Barton reiterated that the release of Kovrig and Spavor are his immediate priority, and the defence of human rights in China a longer-term secondary priority.
  • The committee was suspended between March 9 and August 6 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On August 6, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibetan Administration, was invited to speak.
  • Dr. Sangay was extremely critical of the Chinese suppression of important facts related to the novel coronavirus, and spoke out against China’s attempt to “redefine human rights” through their restructuring of UN personnel.
  • Dr. Sangay also spoke out against China’s imperialist activities and forced extraction of mining resources indigenous to nearby countries, such as Mongolia and Nepal.
  • On August 11, the committee invited several native Hong Kongers, who each represented a pertinent thinktank, to speak about China’s legislative interference in Hong Kong everyday life. The invited speakers decried China’s suppression of Hong Kong’s constitutional rights.
  • The committee also discussed how China censors WeChat accounts of Chinese-Canadians who criticize Chinese state action on the novel coronavirus.

Reactions to the Dissolution

  • Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, a particularly vocal member of the Canada-China committee, said its dissolution interferes with an urgent need to issue recommendations on what Canada can do to help Hong Kong as the Chinese Communist Party suppresses democratic freedoms in the former British colony.
  • NDP MP Jack Harris is similarly incensed about the loss and has promised to resurrect the committee once parliament resumes.
  • Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos also praised the value of the expert opinions that were presented and declared he is in favour of maintaining the special committee

The Bottom Line: Canada’s relations with China are under immense scrutiny as the Meng Case continues while the two Michael’s (Kovrig & Spavor) remain in detainment. New Conservative leader Erin O’Toole made Chinese relations an important part of his campaign and will likely scrutinize the committee’s closure.

  • Members from all parties, including some from the governing Liberals, intend to resurrect the committee. However, prorogation and the possibility of a fall election brings great uncertainty in terms of when the committees work into generating ideas and recommendations about diplomacy with China can continue.


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