Alberta Politics
John McCallum in 2013 (Photo: Taha Ghaznavi, Flickr, Creative Commons).

Andrew Sheer would let Canadians rot in foreign jails before giving up an electoral edge!

Posted on July 14, 2019, 1:17 am
8 mins

I rarely paid much attention to John McCallum during his years as a federal Liberal cabinet minister under three prime ministers and, on the few occasions I did, he never left much of an impression one way or the other.

But I was shocked last week both by the specious and dishonest attacks by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s Rebel-Media-trained social media meme-makers and the way Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland immediately threw the man under the bus in response.

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Public Domain).

The proximate cause of the calumny heaped on Mr. McCallum was an interview with the South China Morning Post. In it, the former Canadian ambassador to China suggested Beijing would be wise not to punish Canada further over the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. By doing so, he argued, the Chinese Government risked helping to elect a government likely to be considerably less friendly to China than the one in power now.

In his remarks to the venerable Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper, Mr. McCallum also urged China not to inflict any more “punishments” on Canadian exports, a reference to recent official Chinese bans on imports of Canadian agricultural products such as canola and beef.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In addition, he noted the importance of Canadian business people continuing to visit China in preparation for the day when problems between the two countries inevitably blow over. He suggested this would likely happen in time for the 50th anniversary next year of prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s opening to China on Oct. 13, 1970.

This was clearly a reference to the two Canadian business people, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who are being held hostage by Chinese officials supposedly for spying in what is a transparent effort to spring Ms. Meng from Canadian house arrest.

So for looking out for the interests of Canadian farmers and two Canadians unjustly held in deplorable conditions in China because of Canada’s foolish attempt to support the lawless Trump Administration’s effort to use Ms. Meng as a bargaining chip in its own trade dispute with that country, the Conservative Online Rage Machine instantly spun Mr. McCallum’s words into an invitation to a foreign power by to interfere in Canada’s election.

Prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1975 (Photo: Rob Mieremet, Dutch National Archive).

This is patent nonsense, clearly not Mr. McCallum’s intent. Such hysteria would be amusing if three Canadians were not languishing in Chinese jails, the third being the schmuck charged with drug smuggling by the Chinese who had his sentence “upgraded” to ratchet up pressure on Canada to let Ms. Meng go.

Never mind that Mr. McCallum doesn’t speak for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, and owes it nothing – it canned him as ambassador last December, for heaven’s sake, for daring to state the obvious truth that the U.S. case against Ms. Meng is shaky and politically motivated.

Above all, don’t forget that, just as he spoke the truth in December, Mr. McCallum’s assertion a Conservative government would be hostile to China is obviously true.

Indeed, it’s worse than what he said. While Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals are embarrassingly sensitive to U.S. President Donald Trump’s whims, a government led by Mr. Scheer would be craven in its toadying to the Trump Administration, not to mention dangerously hostile to the Democratic Party administration that will likely replace it. That, obviously, is because they agree with most of Mr. Trump’s policies.

That would be bad for China, bad for Canada, and bad for anyone concerned with preserving a rules-based world trading system.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

For their part, disgracefully, Conservatives clearly would rather let a few Canadians rot in foreign jails on trumped up charges than surrender any electoral advantage in October.

As for Ms. Freeland’s instant capitulation to this transparent Conservative tactic, it seems likely she was paying too much attention to the diplomatic pros at Fort Pearson, who doubtless resented a former politician’s appointment to a prestigious diplomatic post.

Their reputation for enthusiastically representing Canadians in trouble with the law abroad is, to put it diplomatically, somewhat mixed. (Who can forget the department’s horrifying neglect of William Sampson, the British-Canadian biochemist imprisoned, tortured, raped, and sentenced to death on trumped up charges by the appalling Saudi Arabian regime; Maher Arar, handed over to the United States by Canadian police and shipped off to Syria to be tortured; or Quebec photographer Zahra Kazemi, murdered in an Iranian jail in 2003?)

Ms. Freeland would have done better to treat Mr. Scheer’s obviously dishonest claims and his cavalier disregard for the fate of his fellow citizens abroad with the deep contempt they deserve.

The Conservative success stampeding the foreign affairs minister into attacking Mr. McCallum may explain why they have now tried to crank up more hysteria with risible calls for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to investigate Mr. McCallum’s remarks. CSIS would do better, it’s said here, to investigate Conservative support for Alberta separatists, who actually pose a threat to national security.

Friends and relatives of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, not to mention independent-minded Canadian farmers, would be justified feeling grateful to Mr. McCallum for his efforts on their behalf, disgusted with Ms. Freeland for turning her back on him, and furious with Mr. Scheer and his Rebel Media minions for doing what they can to keep obviously innocent men in jail if it serves their political ends.

6 Comments to: Andrew Sheer would let Canadians rot in foreign jails before giving up an electoral edge!

  1. Jerrymacgp

    July 14th, 2019

    While what Mr McCallum said about how Canadian electoral politics might affect Canada-China relations—already dismal—might have been true, in international diplomacy, candour is often unwise: he ought not have said it publicly. However, to charge that in dong so, he was encouraging Chinese interference in the election is ludicrous. In fact, he was doing nothing of the sort, since what he was so indiscreetly suggesting does not constitute “interference”, which implicitly means illicit tampering, but simply stating a reality of politics: that when you exert unsubtle pressure on a government facing the electorate to act in a certain way towards your own country’s interests, while its opponents favour acting in a different way, the rule is “be careful what you wish for”.

    As for the Meng case, it is abundantly clear that the Chinese government simply fails to appreciate what an independent judiciary and the rule of law mean in a democracy. They think that PM Trudeau can simply free Ms Meng at the stroke of a pen—which might in fact technically be true, although I’m no lawyer, but is essentially impossible from a legal and public policy perspective—and so they are exerting intense pressure on the Trudeau government to do just that. The only hope for a resolution to this impasse is for the courts, in their wisdom, to realize independently that the US has no case and to deny their application for her extradition.

    Mr Scheer, for his part, has failed to state clearly what he would have done differently had he been Prime Minister. Would he have sprung Ms Meng, as the Trudeau government has refused to do on legitimate grounds? Would he have shipped her off to the States by now, instead of allowing the legal process to play out on its own schedule? One would have satisfied China, but have been fatal to Canada’s reputation as a reliable partner in matters such as extradition; the other would have satisfied the US but seriously pissed off China, and any Canadians in China would be in peril. But for Mr Scheer to simply rant that the Trudeau government has mishandled this file, without saying what he would have done differently, is just as vacuous as Jason Kenney assailing the Notley NDP for lack of progress on pipelines, as though there were anything anyone could have done differently in light of the decisions of the courts.

    • David Climenhaga

      July 14th, 2019

      Recall, Jerry, that the comments by Mr. McCallum that have sent Canadian Conservatives over the top were made long after he was a diplomat, after he had been humiliatingly fired from that post. As for the oft-made claim Canada is acting in accordance with the rule of law in the Meng case, I am highly skeptical. The U.S. case against Ms. Meng is so openly fraudulent, the president of the United States has stated as much. There is such a thing as realpolitik in this world. Canada would have been wiser to give Ms. Meng a nudge in the direction of the airport and than waited 24 hours before acting on the U.S. warrant. Any sensible nation, including the United States, would have done this in the same circumstances. I have always suspected that rogue elements within the national police force, knowing this and wanting to hurt the prime minister, acted without informing their superiors. Regardless, we’re stuck with this mess now, since the only thing worse for us than infuriating China would be infuriating the United States. DJC

      • Jerrymacgp

        July 15th, 2019

        “ …I have always suspected that rogue elements within the national police force, knowing this and wanting to hurt the prime minister, acted without informing their superiors…” Hmmm … interesting hypothesis, but lacking in available evidence. My view? As someone once famously said, “never ascribe to malice what can reasonably be attributed to incompetence.”

    • Darryl

      July 14th, 2019

      President Trump has used Canada
      Specifically Trudeau to create friction
      Between china and Canada. By doing this Trump opens doors for his own trade talks with China. Tudeau fell fir it. Do you think the U.S. specifically Trump would have done the same for us not a chance.

  2. Scotty on Denman

    July 14th, 2019

    We shouldn’t ever forget the incredible “liteness” of Justin Trudeau. “JT-lite” was only ever half-lighted by the niqab-black darkness of Stephen Harper from whom The Kid seized power in an improbable, come-from-behind election campaign which the rookie leader of a recently third-placed party encapsulated in his victory maxim: “Sunny ways, my friends, and sunny days.” The new PM gave us the shaft of sunlight after the red hot poker of Harper-Nacht.

    The vast majority of Canadians rejoiced in relief that the Con base was not so deep. But even low relief casts long shadows in the obliqueness of this mandate’s setting sun, and the acting CEO of the shadow cabinet now searches as frantically as a blind man in the fleeting umbra of the thin, dusky wedge, a silhouette on sable, for any opaqueness his predecessor’s better might have cast during his incredible lightness of being the Sunny Boy of Canadian politics.

    During the incredibly long election writ period Harper arranged in order to blunt potentially embarrassing news from the concurrent Mike Duffy trial, Canadians heard a surfeit of allegations that JT was “just not ready” to govern a complex country like Canada. As true as that might have turned out, the youngest contender was definitely not ready to concede to a Senate Harper-thug in the ring, nor to second-place HarperCon or first-place MulcairDipper geezers in the running whom he blew past while cheerily turning cartwheels and hand-springs (a pirouette would have been a bit too pretentious, perhaps). A deep desire for change among the electorate and a sort of endorsement from a father whose fame transcends even death certainly didn’t detract from the young candidate’s glad-handing. Nevertheless, betting on a leader of such light credentials required hedging, whence the promised legalization of Marijuana and electoral reform.

    Both promises should have been shoe-ins: the first given that medical Cannabis had already been protected by the courts and technically illegal recreational pot had been openly retailed from storefronts with relative impunity for years, was almost a throwaway cookie of relatively little political risk—and it was literally mother’s milk for the Christmas Baby, JT. But electoral reform was played very poorly. We don’t yet know what cynical politics might have come into play here, but the unworkability of JT’s campaign promise (that ‘FPtP’ would be eliminated for some other system, TBA) should have been a tell: perhaps because it was promised so early in the campaign, long before he’d started to eclipse his superior rivals, nobody really noticed actual lightness camouflaged by presumed lightness.

    Doubtless many voted for JT’s ER promise and perhaps as many will not again in their disappointment, sharpened by the notion that such an unlikely victor should have also had the capacity to implement a new electoral system forthwith, without the referendum, despite every survey suggested 75% of Canadians wanted one with ‘FPtP’ on the ballot, not disqualified as he’d so foolishly or cynically proposed. Again, the two possibilities allow lightness to be disguised as the kind of political shrewdness we too often forgive as necessary mendacity. A cynical ploy to dupe the Cons on the special ER Committee into relieving JT of his ill-considered (?) promise would at least also relieve its otherwise apparent lightness. Maybe it’s more than mere coincidence that the Cons can hardly make hay of what might be judged one of JT’s most egregious and consequential failures: they could, I guess, claim to have ‘saved Canada’ from proportional representation (or whatever it might have been), but not without looking like they’d been manipulated (when the Liberals relinquished their majority on the Committee) into the role just so JT could escape his promise as he’d planned all along. Win-win, Mr Sunshine?

    But the compensating errors of fortune have been working incessantly to show the PM has been relying as heavily on luck as he has been on the advice of others, for good or bad. Rather, he can’t show he’s capable of telling the difference and the SNC-Lavalin/Raybould/Phillpot scandal proved it.

    The Sunny Boy persona the new PM cowed to The Donald might have been as light and trite as all that, and an impolitic risk given that more than 20% of Canadians hate American politics—actually, it’s more likely 20% of each do—but making nice with tRump simply cannot be labeled as imprudent. For all his showy obsequiousness and sycophancy, JT ended up getting dirked—which doesn’t necessarily shine a light on his lightness given The Orange One had dirked almost everybody around him, anyways. Indeed, Trump’s “weakness” and “dishonesty” aspersions cast at the PM have already formed part of Con rhetoric, they doubtlessly happy it doesn’t appear too much like it’s been lifted directly from tRump’s playbook. But it remains that the Trudeau government saw to it that the C-Must-D has been nearly ratified (at least for Canada’s part) on condition that US tariffs against Canadian steel and aluminum are lifted. Most of this was the work of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland who had to endure at least as much public boorishness from the President as JT—and probably endured much, much more behind closed doors in negotiation; Her affectionate loyalties paid assiduously to, and her fierce, unstinting defences of the PM are overtly self-confident and maybe, one day, politically ambitious: she wouldn’t have been able to shine as much as she has without JT’s nod, yet she’s careful not to let her successes look like leadership flows uphill, even if it actually did in this instance. She’s content for now to let JT bask in the solar spotlight that magically refuses to reveal too many warts and wrinkles —or to fade, despite many anvil clouds scudding across the horizon.

    In pipe-liners, affirmative activists and Aboriginal leaders JT seems to trust to reveal his dependence on naive trust which, in this sense, is well matched with his main rivals and, I suppose, better than appearing paranoid like Trump or Harper. Still, it betrays a certain ineptitude about realpolitik we expect at least from the PMO, if not the PM himself. With regard the SNC-Lavalin debacle it looks like somebody didn’t know what they were doing amongst the tangle of political marionette strings— not Jody, not even the PMO, nor, for sure, JT himself. Nothing good came out of this for the PM—except, maybe, that he got rid of two insubordinates.

    But maybe some of the dirked knew what they were doing—maybe Jane did, maybe Jody— but most definitely McCallum: he knows a lot, maybe too much to be an ambassador; perhaps that’s why Chrystia was so quick to refute his astute observations. Maybe she had to do it so JT wouldn’t have learn how to.

    Nevertheless, the arrest and pending extradition of Chinese national Meng Wanzhou might be construed as incredible lightness on JT’s part—after all, it would have been so simple to explain to the Whitehouse—which, naturally, wants to trump diplomacy for tRump’s partisan gain by scapegoating Ms Meng’s Chinese company during the US-China tariff war—that Ms Meng has had to be released on a technicality discovered in the extradition filing which legally prevented Canadian border agents from keeping her in the country. We note much has changed since JT submitted to American demands to arrest Ms Meng: the PM now coughs loudly in the President’s presence, knowingly riling the infamous germaphobe—but in the sunniest way possible, knowing the Orange One has descended too far down the dark karmic ladder to retaliate much farther than against those immediately surrounding him in the Whitehouse. Sunny days, my friends—cough!

    Certainly the Harper-shadow’s shadow has seized upon this sabre-tooth in a tar-pit with foolhardy courage he won’t get trapped in the ethical goo himself. Thank goodness DJC has put paid to that faint hope.

    What nobody seems to be considering is that, sunny ways and sunny days having gotten JT this far, and no amount of “he’s-not-ready” has much dented him yet, he may elect—perhaps, as seems usual, with or without good advice—to continue his incredible lightness of being PM—and leave us wondering, still, if he, for example, simply releases Ms Meng to provoke criticism from tRump that can only help his election campaign on patriotic grounds (as did tRump’s “weak and dishonest” accusation to JT’s popularity polls) or put an electoral reform referendum question on the general election ballot at the last moment to atone for the ER debacle. JT can still do either if he wants or needs. Maybe leaving that option open is why Canadian officials simply didn’t warn Ms Meng to stay out of Canada, letting her know the extradition request would be pressed if she did enter the country. Or maybe they really wanted to cynically bait tRump to contrast in their sunny boss’s favour.

    If JT can hang on by any means, his lightness of being PM will have become credible.

    But what about the Canadian prisoners held ransom in Chinese prisons? They desperately want to see the lightness of ordinary daylight.

    • CovKid

      July 14th, 2019

      Don’t analyse to such an extent: Canadians merely wanted to get rid of the Harper/Kenney/Polievre/Clement scourge which they’d put up with (with regret) for the previous ten years.


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