Canada's NDP


November 17th, 2020

Jack Harris, MP St. John's East, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic spoke on CPC motion on Canada China Foreign Policy in the House of Commons:

Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to join in the opposition day motion presented by the member for Wellington—Halton Hills.

Without accepting everything in the preamble, the issues are set out pretty clearly. It is calling on the House to do two things, make a decision on Huawei's involvement in Canada's 5G network within 30 days, and develop a robust plan, as Australia has done, to combat China's growing foreign operations here in Canada and its increasing intimidation of Canadians living in Canada and table it in the House within 30 days. Aside from the timing, which is fairly precise for an opposition day motion, I want to say that these are true issues that have been outstanding in this country for quite some time and I think the time has come to bring them to a head.

At our Canada-China committee, we have heard lots of evidence of intimidation of Canadians by agents of the Chinese government through one form or another and the concerns that have been raised about Canada's lack of a proper response. We have also heard of the confusion that has ensued as a result of people being approached, intimidated, and sometimes threatened, whether obviously or subtly, and when they go to report this matter to the authorities they do not get a positive response. We had direct evidence from individuals passing on this information. They talked to people at CSIS and were told to go to the RCMP. When they talked to people at the RCMP, they were told to go to CSIS. CSIS then told them to go to Global Affairs. Essentially, it is the proverbial runaround.

I know there have been comments made by the Minister of Public Safety about this in the House recently, but there seems to be a lack of a coherent plan as to how to deal with this. Obviously, thought must be given to this. The agencies of government are well aware of this. The government itself is well aware of this. There seems to be something missing here with respect to the kind of response Canadians would expect to have on a matter of such great importance and concern to Canadians, particularly Canadians of Chinese descent who are living in Canada, citizens of Canada, in some cases students or international students who are here, or people who are engaged in political activities within Canada who are being intimidated in their home country by agents of a foreign country, in this case China.

It is a problem no matter who it would be. This is not particularly aimed at China in the sense that if there is a need for a response by government it should be a response that applies to any country. We are not looking for an expectation that there is a China-specific rule here. The examples that have been brought forward are related to China in this instance and should be rules of general application.

For example, it has been suggested to the Canada-China committee that legislative approaches have been taken by other countries. I know Australia in particular has been singled out in the motion, but that does not need to be the exact model. The clear point is that other countries have taken legislative action. The United States has a particular strong piece of legislation dealing with the rules of the operation of foreign missions in the United States, and action has been taken under those rules against individuals, in particular from China, using that legislation, getting a fairly quick response and showing clearly that this kind of behaviour is not going to be tolerated. We do not see examples like this within Canada. We do not see a clear indication by government that action is being taken where it is needed to ensure this kind of activity cannot happen.

The Canada-China committee was set up nearly a year ago and has been studying this. We have been looking at these questions. We have been hearing from witnesses. We have been getting plenty of information to show there is a need for an effective government response, which is lacking.

When witnesses come to our committee and say that they feel that CSIS does not have the enforcement power that it ought to have, that the RCMP, at the local level, is ill informed as to how to deal with this question and does not really have answers for people, that people felt abandoned by their government in the sense that either threats were made against them or intimidation towards them and their families who remain in China, then that is something we have to do something specifically about. People need to know that their government is prepared to respond, and that is what is missing in this picture right now.

We support the notion of seeing the government lay out a plan, and lay it out quickly, so that people can be assured that government is prepared to respond in a positive and necessary way to the kind of intimidation and interference that we are seeing, and we are seeing it at other levels as well. We are seeing interference, and potential interference, in universities. We have heard some evidence on that in the Canada-China committee, and there seems to be a growing concern that there is undue influence in that respect. However, whatever involvement there might be in terms of research support, it ought to be transparent and open and not subject to the kind of pressure and concerns we have seen being raised.

As well, the decision being talked about, thought about and clearly studied on what to do with Huawei has to be brought to a head. Clearly, the government has been looking at this, or says it is looking at it, and we would like to know the results of the investigation and the results of the concerns that have been raised. We have seen them very broadly raised internationally. We have seen other governments take action. Other members of the Five Eyes have decided that they are not going to allow Huawei to participate in 5G, and that, obviously, has to have some influence on decisions made by Canada.

I think the U.K. decided that it could get around it at one point, but then changed its mind. This is something that weighs heavily in the mix if we are going to continue to have the kind of relationship that we need at the international level and know what is happening in the intelligence world. We need to be as prepared as possible to deal with that, and if the government has a workaround on it, well it had better tell us, because it is something that the U.K. at least made a decision based on having a workaround but, obviously, changed its mind.

There is the recent change that was brought about as a result of decisions by the United States to prevent certain elements of the 5G network from being exported to China, whether for commercial or other reasons, which is perhaps relevant in some respect, but not necessarily relevant to the decision that Canada has to make if the Huawei capability is interfered with by this technical matter, and that is a consideration as well.

We also have mounting evidence of the ability of Huawei to act in a monopolistic way, and with special support from the Chinese government in terms of investment, capability and providing it with a near monopoly market within China. This allows it to grow exponentially and act in a manner in the rest of the world that is highly competitive, perhaps unfairly, really, as it has been assessed, on fair competition with other enterprises, and in a position of having control over a market that is extremely important from a strategic and industrial point of view within Canada. If we become overwhelmed and dominated by the Huawei enterprise system, then we are vulnerable to its control over the future of communications and technology to a large degree within Canada, to the exclusion of other players and a more robust interaction with different enterprises.

Mr. Speaker, I was starting to talk about the importance of the Huawei decision affecting the economic activity and investment activity in our country. I know some in the telecom industry have moved forward with other platforms and I think that is to be expected, but there are other investment decisions that may be very important in terms of getting ourselves Broadband all across this country as quickly as possible. It is again something that has been brought strongly to the forefront as a result of the COVID situation we are dealing with, the obvious need and the great divide that is occurring between people who have access to Broadband and the Internet and people who do not have it when it comes to access to education, educational materials and to working from home, to economic activity. This is something that needs to be fixed and certainty needs to be part of that.

It is something that is desirable. We see it in industrial activities whether we are talking about automobile factories and the kind of investment that might incur and will incur, but will it incur in Canada if we are not certain what the platforms are going to be. We see that in the auto industry which is extremely important for parts of Canada. I know many members of Parliament have concerns about that in their ridings and regions and it is extremely important to the economy of Canada that we fully participate in innovation in automobile technology, whether it be autonomous vehicles or whether it is advances in manufacturing techniques. All of that is dependent highly upon computers and computing technology and this type of investment is extremely important.

This has to be brought to a head. It is something that is on the table. It is already there, but a decision needs to be made and if there is a very good reason not to make the decision now, then the government should come forward and tell us what it knows so far, tell us what is a concern and bring it forward.

I will raise as a final point something that we have not heard from anyone on, particularly in some of the questioning earlier it may even be that some of the Conservative members of Parliament are not familiar with what their own government did in making a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China in 2014. I, for one, have not done an analysis of the consequences of that legislation, but I am hoping that the Conservatives when they speak will tell us what they think the consequences would be and the government should also tell us what it has determined based on an analysis of that because there seems to be the kind of protections for China that we do not receive, that is not reciprocal, that is in fact fairly secretive and not transparent, but may have negative consequences on issues like Huawei. I would like the government to explain that as well. It looks like a deterrence for us to do what we may have to do for our national interests, our national security interests and for our national economic interests as well.

Both of these issues, the issue of dealing with the interference and intimidation and activities of the Chinese government in particular, having a legislative response, having a direct response in terms of what the government plans to do to deal with this in a comprehensive way, this should be on the table very shortly. I am hoping the government can give us some outline as to what might be included in that today, but also to ensure that this happens very quickly so that Canadians can feel safe in their own country from the foreign influence and intimidation and threats from representatives of other governments. Both of these are important and I will end by saying that we support this motion.

To watch the speech and following Q&A click here