Foreign policy focus in new session should be on China, U.S., and human rights, say Parliamentarians
As Parliament returns for another session, MPs and Senators say they want to see a foreign policy focus on Canada’s fraught relationship with China, the ever-important relationship with the U.S., and the declining human rights situation around the world.
“It is time for Canada to assume—or reassume—its leadership role in the world,” said Liberal MP Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, B.C.), who served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the last parliamentary session.
She said more has to be done to fight authoritarianism around the world and protect human rights, including by strengthening multilateral institutions.
“You are seeing what is happening with Belarus. You are seeing what is happening with Hong Kong. You’ve seen what is happening in other parts of the world. And Canada needs to do more, I think, than saying, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. We don’t agree with it.’ We need to actually be looking at what steps we can take with other countries to put an end to it and to ensure that human rights and safety of those who are victims now of the kind of new world changes that are occurring,” Ms. Fry said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee could bring together experts and analyze how Canada can meet the global challenges, she said.
“We need to show that we don’t just talk the talk, but we walk the walk,” she said. “This is urgent. We’re talking about urgency right now. You just have to look around the world and see what’s going on.”
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) has condemned human rights violations in Belarus, as well as the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Canada is working with members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to investigate human rights violations in Belarus.
Ms. Fry said more has to be done to protect those being subject to human rights abuses while migrating throughout the world.
“We need to stop looking at ourselves and our vested self interest, because our vested self interest lies in the global self interest.”
Former Canadian ambassador Gilles Rivard, president of the Retired Heads of Mission Association, said Canada needs to take care of multilateral institutions.
“We are in quite a dramatic period,” said Mr. Rivard, who served as Canada’s deputy permanent representative at the UN from 2010 to 2013. “We seem to forget that we have these multilateral institutions because everyone is looking into their own courts to fix the solution.”
He said Canada needs to rebuild its “credibility and leadership” in strengthening multilateral organizations, Mr. Rivard said, especially if it wants to win a seat on the UN Security Council in the future.
Restarting the Canada-China Relations Committee
NDP MP Jack Harris (St. John’s East, N.L.), his party’s foreign policy critic, said his top priority is on restarting the Special House Committee on Canada-China Relations.
“We need the Canada-China Committee to be reinstated as a special committee and able to carry on its work, and include the evidence that has already been heard,” said Mr. Harris, adding that the committee has to be able to meet virtually.
Mr. Harris said the Canadian government should be open to receiving migrants from Hong Kong and broaden family reunification. He also said Canada needs to work with other countries to put pressure on China through Magnitsky sanctions.
Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Ottawa needs a new policy on China that both the Liberals and Conservatives can get behind. He said it should be based on “realism,” and avoid “paranoia or complacency.” He added that it is his hope to see the Canada-China Committee restarted.
Former Canadian ambassador Jeremy Kinsman, who served as Canada’s envoy to Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, said while Canada does not want a new Cold War with China, it needs to be communicating with concerned partners “about how to ensure China and others play by universally agreed rules.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) has taken a tougher stance on China, which includes pitching a divestment from the Chinese economy and pushing to expel Chinese officials who “intimidate Canadians.”
New Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) wasn’t available for an interview last week.
Before the prorogation of Parliament, the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights heard testimony about China’s Uyghur minority, a large part of which has been incarcerated by the Chinese government. The committee was set to release a statement on the testimony it heard when Parliament was prorogued.
At the time, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta), his party’s human rights critic, said the subcommittee heard “clear-cut” evidence of genocide taking place.
NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s representative on the subcommittee, said it is “pretty universally agreed upon” that more needs to be done.
Activists and human rights experts encouraged Parliament to recognize the persecution of the Uyghurs by Chinese authorities as a genocide.
Canada-U.S. relationship remains No. 1 priority: Sen. Boehm
As the U.S. presidential election approaches on Nov. 3, Canada’s relationship with the United States will still be of central concern, despite the removal of U.S. national security tariffs on Canada aluminum exports and the new North American trade pact being in force, said Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario), a former career diplomat.
“The No. 1 [foreign policy] priority is our relationship with the United States—it’s always our No. 1 priority—but as we get closer to the U.S. election, there will be the to and fro of the campaign and how we figure in that,” he said.
The top issues between the two countries will be the Canada-U.S. border and everything related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Canadian and American economies, he said, and the movement of goods and services across the border.
“The government is going to have to watch that very closely, and as committees are struck and reconstituted this will be a subject of some analysis, I would expect,” Sen. Boehm said.
If the Nov. 3 election produces a new administration, Sen. Boehm said the two countries will continue to have disputes over international trade.
Mr. Rivard echoed Sen. Boehm, agreeing that the Canada-U.S. relationship is the most important priority.
“There are so many issues that [the relationship] has be our [first] priority,” he said, noting the economy, the pandemic, and the border as examples.