To suggest a Chinese-Canadian politician is a mouthpiece for Beijing displays a gross misunderstanding of our political system. Every politician in the country has to be aware of international politics.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on March 6, 2023.
OTTAWA—Foreign politics seems to be dominating the domestic agenda these days.
Whether it is questions about Chinese or German intervention in Canadian politics, the news of the week is focused on how other countries are trying to influence the Canadian agenda.
In the Liberals’ case, someone from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is convinced that Chinese-Canadian Members of Parliament are agents of the Chinese government.
Evidence is being leaked in drips and drabs to link the Chinese government to Canadian political influence. The latest reports including co-opting the Trudeau Foundation with donations designed to build stronger relationships between the two countries.
Years ago, CSIS was convinced that many Muslims in my Hamilton, Ont., riding were agents of foreign governments. Muslims got more visits from security agents and were automatically questioned because many had relationships with their home countries.
In a constituency with a large immigrant population, many expats retain ties with home.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress works very closely with the Ukrainian government, and even funds an internship program on Parliament Hill.
Their intention is to encourage the Canadian government to build strong links and friendships with their home country.
Multiple business associations in Canada have links with their homelands. In the case of Italians, they actually elect individuals from the North American diaspora to serve in the Italian Parliament.
Most Canadians MPs join international friendship associations with the express purpose of developing links with home countries or like-minded democracies.
The Canada-Israel Committee has a strong presence on Parliament Hill. Its intention is to influence Canadian public policy in support of the state of Israel.
Somehow, CSIS does not view these links as worthy of investigation.
Surprise, surprise: the Chinese government is trying to influence Canadian public policy.
Welcome to the world of diplomacy. Every ambassador in Ottawa is trying to make the Canadian government see the world through their lens.
And they could all be accused of taking a direct interest in Canadian domestic politics.
To suggest that a Chinese-Canadian politician is a mouthpiece for Beijing displays a gross misunderstanding of our political system.
Every politician in the country has to be aware of international politics.
When I was a Member of Parliament, I came out in favour of Croatia’s decision to leave Yugoslavia.
My boss was not very happy that I weighed into international separation politics. My southern Ontario constituency included almost equal numbers of Croatians and Serbians.
Of course, my decision cost me thousands of Serbian votes.
I was a Canadian politician who took a position. Would CSIS have investigated me if I had a Yugoslavian background? Probably.
As CSIS continues to point the finger at a Liberal relationship with the Chinese, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is being criticized for not kicking out three caucus members who consorted with a racist European parliamentarian.
The three claimed they did not know the origins of the person they were having dinner with.
That claim rings false because when European MP Christine Anderson called Trudeau a “disgrace” because of his pro-vaccine policy, she was quoted by Tory MPs in the House of Commons.
Members of Parliament do not spend their precious time going to dinner with people they do not know. They ration their agendas and assiduously review every invitation they receive.
So, the Tories knew full well that their comrade-in-arms espoused racist policies that no Canadian party could support.
Instead of kicking them out of the caucus, Poilievre issued a statement to a friendly journalist at the Toronto Sun, decrying the meeting and offering up a collective apology.
But there was absolutely no repercussion for any of the recalcitrants, and the leader did not even publish an apology in his party’s organ.
It was, at best, a nudge-nudge, wink-wink attempt to separate his party from Anderson, who was in Canada to meet with truckers and others in the F-Trudeau movement.
So neither main party did well this week when it came to foreign policy.
The Liberals are going to have to tread very carefully on their handling of the leaked CSIS allegations.
The Tories will need to do more to separate themselves from right-wing parties that can’t get any support in Europe.
The upcoming months will be focused on politics in Canada as we move toward a possible election.
But any vote in Canadian, especially in the country’s urban areas, involves a position on international politics.
To win, any Canadian politician worth their salt needs to understand multiple ethnicities in their ridings.
That includes Chinese-Canadians.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.