‘Emergency meeting’ called after former ambassadors allege PMO requested they “get with the program” on China
Parliament’s foreign affairs committee will hold an emergency session Tuesday after two former ambassadors to China say they were pressured by Foreign Affairs to temper comments about the communist state and deteriorating relations with Canada.
In a letter requesting the meeting, four MPs on the committee including Conservative and NDP foreign affairs critics – co-chairs Erin O’Toole and Guy Caron respectively – cite last week’s Globe and Mail reports that both David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques received calls from the same department bureaucrat.
“An official from Global Affairs Canada, Paul Thoppil, reportedly stated that he was directed by the Prime Minister’s Office to contact (Mulroney and Saint-Jacques) and request that their public statements be subject to approval by the PMO,” write the MPs.
“This non-partisan official allegedly stated that he was making the request in part, because of the ‘election environment’… it is incumbent on the committee to study these matters and ensure that Canada’s non-partisan public service is not being unduly exploited.”
The letter requests that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Thoppil, Mulroney and Saint-Jacques be invited to testify for a ‘study of undue pressure on former career diplomats’ and evokes the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
To date, Liberal majorities on Parliament’s Justice, Ethics and Defence Committees have either shut down or truncated hearings into SNC-Lavalin and the Mark Norman affairs.
While a GAC spokesman told the Globe the telephone calls were supposed to be “engagement and consultation”, Mulroney was of a much different opinion after his interaction with Thoppil.
“It wasn’t, in my view, so much an offer to consult and share ideas as to ‘get with the program.’ People in Ottawa don’t invoke PMO frequently or lightly. It is done to intimidate and obtain compliance,” Mulroney is quoted.
Relations between China and Canada have reached their nadir after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou while transiting through Vancouver last December; she remains under house arrest awaiting extradition to the United States.
In apparent retaliation, China arrested two Canadians and charged the pair with espionage, then ratcheted up economic pressure by embargoing Canadian canola, an agriculture ban that has since been expanded to include all meat exports.
Mulroney was Canada’s ambassador to China between 2009 and 2012 and in the wake of recent events, told media that Canadians should avoid the “repressive detention state.”
As for Saint-Jacques, ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, he recently tweeted it should be ‘no surprise’ that a majority of Canadians don’t want closer ties with China and Huawei 5G technology banned from our domestic telecom networks.
Canada remains the only “Five Eyes” nation deliberating whether to allow Huawei 5G on domestic communications infrastructure while the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have issued complete or partial bans.
Canada remains without an ambassador to China after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired former cabinet minister John McCallum from the China post at the end of January. The reason: telling select Chinese media in Toronto how the communist regime could fight Meng’s extradition.
Monday afternoon at an announcement to re-open Kistilano’s Coast Guard facility in Vancouver, Trudeau denied his office put pressure on Mulroney to back away from advising against travel to China.
“The PMO did not direct that to happen,” he told reporters. Freeland has also denied that she or the PMO pressured either of the men.
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development will meet tomorrow (July 30) at 1 pm EST.
Huawei’s chief financial officer faces fraud and conspiracy in the United States. The charges are related to a Huawei front company that allegedly conducted business in Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions levelled against the Islamist state’s ambitions to build nuclear weapons.