OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s opposition leader on Tuesday attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being too soft on China and said there needs to be a “total reset” on relations with the Asian powerhouse.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer spoke amid an escalating diplomatic dispute that has followed Canada’s arrest of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the United States in December.
After Meng’s arrest, China demanded her release and Chinese police later detained two Canadian citizens. Now the country has started to block some imports of Canadian canola and pork.
Scheer, 39, said he would file a formal complaint against China at the World Trade Organization and end a C$250 million investment in the Chinese-owned Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank “if their trade blockades persist”.
“If this government isn’t willing to stand up to China when two Canadians are unlawfully imprisoned and billions of dollars in trade is under attack, it never will,” Scheer told supporters in Montreal.
“I will not allow Chinese state-owned enterprises, solely focussed on the political interests of Beijing, unfettered access to the Canadian market,” he added. “Canada’s relationship with China needs a total reset. Nothing can happen until such time.”
Scheer spoke just five months ahead of what is shaping up to be a tight election race against his rival, Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau.
Trudeau has not filed a WTO complaint or said whether or not Huawei technology can be used for construction of an ultra-fast 5G wireless network. Recently, Canada has been leaning on the United States to do more to help settle the dispute.
Liberal lawmaker Pablo Rodriguez said Scheer “would put Canada’s economy and our place in the world at risk with his reckless and divisive foreign policy.”
Scheer’s 11-page speech was the first of five that he has said he will deliver in coming weeks on issues including the economy and immigration. Since taking over as leader of the federal Conservatives in 2017, Scheer has struggled to become a household name.
Now he is trying to build on the slim lead that he has on Trudeau in opinion polls. On Tuesday, a Nanos Research poll showed 34.5 percent of Canadians preferred Scheer compared with 31.8 percent for Trudeau.
The Meng arrest has sandwiched Canada between the United States and China amid an escalating trade dispute. While the United States is Canada’s closest historical ally, Trudeau has had a rocky relationship with President Donald Trump, especially during North American trade talks last year.
Scheer, on the other hand, appeared to reach out to Trump in saying he would be willing to join the ballistic missile defence programme and “modernize” the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) if elected.
“The Canada-United States relationship transcends the personalities of those who occupy each respective office. And its longevity is crucial to our respective peace and prosperity,” Scheer said. “It must be strengthened.”
Reporting by Steve Scherer