by Chris Hannay (Originally featured in The Globe and Mail on July 30, 2019)
The House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee is holding an emergency meeting this afternoon to discuss whether to study an issue first uncovered by The Globe and Mail last week: Two former Canadian ambassadors to China, David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques, say they were called by a senior bureaucrat who said that, on orders of the Prime Minister’s Office, it was requested that they speak with “one voice” when commenting on the government’s China policy.
“I am deeply concerned about the way foreign policy is being managed, and don’t wish to be silenced or co-opted,” Mr. Mulroney told The Globe last week.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not deny that the calls took place, but said they were merely part of outreach with foreign-policy experts.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his first public comments yesterday, denied that he or his staff ordered the calls to happen.
“We are a government, as many people know, that has engaged extensively with stakeholders," Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver. "We believe that an approach that involves expert third parties on a broad range of issues is the approach that is going to help Canadians best. But I can confirm the PMO did not direct that to happen.”
Of course, when The Globe broke the SNC-Lavalin scandal in February, Mr. Trudeau’s first comments then were quite similar: “As I’ve said, at no time did we direct the attorney-general, current or previous, to make any decision whatsoever in this matter.” And when former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould later testified at the justice committee, a very different picture emerged.
The meeting, held at the request of opposition members on the committee, begins at 1 p.m. ET in Ottawa. We will find out then if the Liberal majority on the committee is open to spending precious summer time on the issue – or whether they would like to go back to the barbecue circuit to warm up for this fall’s election.