The Official Opposition Conservative Party of Canada has fielded an impressive set of members to this Committee. Leona Alleslev is the Deputy Leader and a former military officer. Chris Warkentin is the current Caucus-Leader's Office coordinator and has previously been Deputy House Leader, Chair of 5 Parliamentary Committees, Vice-Chair of 3 Parliamentary Committees and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. Dan Albas has been Vice-Chair of a Parliamentary Committee and Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board.
Of interest is who Andrew Scheer will name the Critic of the Foreign Affairs portfolio. Currently, that position is held by Erin O’Toole, however, he is expected to announce his candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative party in the coming weeks and will be stripped of his critic role (as will all sitting MP’s who run for the Leadership and have critic roles). It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Scheer will allow leadership candidates who sit as MP’s to be used as substitutes if CPC members of the Committee need to be relieved from time to time.
The Liberal government has put forward a serious group of members to serve as competent and steady participants in the committee’s study. But just as important for a minority government with fewer votes than their opponents, an experienced and respected group that will serve as a bulwark that will try to blunt the opposition’s effectiveness in making the government uncomfortable. This is evident in putting forward the former Speaker of the House, Mr. Regan, who will be able to deftly manage the rule and procedure bound committee; while the Parliamentary Secretary to the foreign minister, Mr. Oliphant, leads the government’s game-plan to politically manage the committee, protect government’s diplomatic and economic interests, and be seen to be working in good faith to get this one right.
Mr. Oliphant is also deeply experienced on special committees in a minority, having served as an opposition member on the long-running and contentious 2009 committee examining the Afghanistan detainees issue. MP Peter Fragiskatos will be a leading member, bringing relevant committee experience as a member on the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee, and its Subcommittee on International Human Rights. Additionally MP Jean Yip is a member of the Canada-China Legislative Association, has served on fiscal-oversight committees, and represents a riding with significant and established Chinese-Canadian communities.
The Bloc Quebecois’ sole member, MP Stéphane Bergeron, entered the meeting projecting an intention to act as a conciliating force in this process, proposing compromise positions when the Liberals and Conservatives were becoming entrenched in harder-line disagreements. This reflects the broader strategy of the Bloc to be flexible and extract wins in working with the government or opposition, when it meets their interest. With the government side only in need of one additional vote to fend off the conservatives on the committee, the BQ has positioned itself in the middle – a player with options, and parties on either side who need their vote (and potentially their proposed compromise) to carry the day.
Due to the epic snow storm in Newfoundland, St. Johns NDP MP Jack Harris was unable to attend his first meeting of the committee, and was substituted by Rachael Blaney who actively contributed to the debates Monday. With an impressive list of committee memberships, including National Defence and Justice and Human Rights, Mr. Harris is a respected veteran parliamentarian, and like Mr. Oliphant, brings key experience as a key member of the past Afghan Detainees special committee. The NDP’s single vote is also in play for the Liberals in a pinch, and it remains to be seen if the NDP will follow a similar path to the flexible Bloc Quebecois, or be more inclined to use the opposition’s majority to challenge the government side.
Two debates consumed the most time in the Committee meeting. The first lengthy debate revolved around how decisions would be made in the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure. The Government put forward the position that decisions in the Subcommittee should be decided on a consensus basis. A lengthy semantic debate on the merits of this decision-making method ensued. The BQ, as the voice of reason, suggested that decisions be arrived at collaboratively. This approach was agreed upon. It makes little difference, as all decisions in the Subcommittee must be voted on in the main Committee regardless. This type of debate proves that in a Minority Parliament no detail is too small to debate.
The second debate of note followed from the CPC motion that the Canadian Ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, be called as the first witness to the Committee on Monday, January 27, 2020. The debate developed around who was best placed to provide an introductory briefing to Committee members on the state of the relationship between Canada and China, the Ambassador or Departmental officials. After much debate on the subject, including a 15-minute break in the proceedings, it was decided to invite Ambassador Barton to appear no later than February 7, 2020. The Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure will meet later this week to decide the agenda of the first tranche of meetings. This will likely mean that officials will appear January 27 and the Ambassador on February 3. Given the Parliamentary Calendar, the mix of sitting weeks and Constituency Break Weeks, it is highly unlikely that non-government witnesses will be called to the Committee before the second half of March 2020 or early April. This is also a demonstration of partisanship early in the life of this Committee as the appearance of the Government's hand-picked Ambassador to China on the first sitting day of the new year would be used to embarrass the government.
During the first meeting, it was decided that the planning sub-committee, formed during the session, would meet for the first time before Friday, January 24th to discuss witnesses to come and a work plan for the committee going forward. While this meeting will take place in a private setting, it is expected that details of the sub-committees’ decisions will become known soon thereafter.
Also, during the meeting, the committee passed many routine motions required at the start of the formation of a committee. Included in those was a motion to allow the committee to travel as a part of their work. While it should be expected that the committee will travel as a part of their work at some point, it remains an open question if that will include any travel abroad, including to China itself. Finally, during the meeting, a template for the format to be used by the committee for witnesses' testimony was passed, similar to the one used in most House of Commons committees. After discussion at the meeting, it was noted that with the unanimous consent of the committee itself alternate formats could be used on a case-by-case basis for potential VIP witnesses.
Formally no date has been set for the next meeting but based on the discussion and debate during the last meeting on the topic, Bluesky expects it will likely be on Monday, January 27th, 2020.
The Subcommittee on Planning has been directed to meet by the end of the week to finalize the agenda for the first series of meetings.
The committee has agreed to meet for briefings from Global Affairs and other officials prior to Ambassador Barton’s appearance. Expected to cover consular, diplomatic and legal issues, some testimony is likely to be requested to be in-camera for confidentiality or security reasons, with potential challenges from committee members to push as much testimony into public hearings as possible.
Bluesky Strategy expects the most likely date for Ambassador Barton’s appearance is Monday, February 3, 2020. The committee has passed a motion for the Ambassador to appear no later than February 7, 2020.
Bluesky Strategy expects the committee will focus on calling the witnesses named in the founding House of Commons motion, including the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Public Safety; potentially ramping up the political heat in the opening months of this committee.
Power Play: View from The Hill
Jan. 20, 2020
Evan Solomon chats with MPs about Ms. Meng’s ongoing trial, ‘the Michaels’, and Canada’s newly formed Canada-China Special Relations Committee. MP Dan Albas, Conservative MP, says the committee was formed to line up and take a fresh look at the hot button issues surrounding the Canada-China relationship. Rachel Blaney, NDP representative says it’s to address the urgency and multitude of issues arising and sharing how the committee members can collaboratively make recommendations on Canada’s next steps and present them to the Government.
The Hill Times, Neil Moss
January 20, 2020
A House committee that was formed in the first Commons vote since the federal election will meet on Jan. 20 to elect its chair. Its members were announced on Jan. 15. The special committee has six Liberals MPs and six opposition MPs to deal with Canada’s troubled relationship with China.
National Post, Ryan Tumilty
January 20, 2020
The Liberals agreed Monday to have Canada’s Ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, speak before a new parliamentary committee examining the relationship between the two countries. Conservatives on the committee on the Canada-China relationship initially wanted Barton to appear next week, but Liberals instead called for a delay of a few weeks to allow the committee to receive briefings from bureaucrats. After some back and forth, the Conservatives agreed to delay Barton’s appearance but insisted it occur before Feb. 7.
The Hill Times, Beatrice Paez
January 21, 2020
The Canada-China Relations House Committee elected former Speaker Geoff Regan as its chair. After some wrangling, the committee agreed on Monday to call on Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, to testify before the committee “no later than Feb. 7.” Some opposition MPs were pushing for the ambassador to appear as early as next Monday when the House returns, but parliamentary secretary Rob Oliphant said Members would be better positioned to ask questions if they were first briefed by government officials on the situation. Formed last month, it has the authority to call the prime minister, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and Mr. Barton “from time to time as the committee sees fit.”
In Ottawa & proud to support my @CPC_HQ colleagues at 1st mtg of the Special Committee on #CACN Relations. As the relationship w our #2 trading partner erodes further, CDN’s at home & abroad cont to suffer. Sadly there is no sense of urgency from our Liberal colleagues. #cacn
1/2 On @CTV_PowerPlay @Rob_Oliphant asked what the @CPC_HQ would do differently when it comes to China. Here are a few examples: 1.) Not appoint John McCallum as ambassador to China 2.) Not wait 120 days to take China to the WTO over canola
2/2 3. Pull funding from the Asian Infrastructure Bank 4. Not wait months to appoint an ambassador to China We’ve been proposing, not just opposing Rob. Time for a government that stands up for our national interest.
ICYMI - The View from the Hill MP panel weighs in China calling for the release of Huawei CFO Meng Wangou as the extradition trial begins. #ctvpp #cdnpoli
Conservative members of the Special Committee on Canada—China relations intend to table a motion today to have the Canadian Ambassador to China appear as the committee’s first witness as early as Monday, January 27, 2020.
Over the past four years, Canadians have lost confidence in Justin Trudeau on matters related to foreign affairs. Nowhere has this been more evident than during the diplomatic crisis with the Chinese government. Canadians deserve transparency and accountability on this issue.
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