In a panel discussion during the Manning Networking Conference Saturday, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer suggested that the first step in handling Canada’s economic relationship with China is electing a prime minister “that does not admire the basic dictatorship of China.”
Scheer, in conversation with Global News’ Mercedes’ Stephenson, was seemingly referring to comments made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau several years ago, suggesting that China’s authoritarian political system had contributed to their economic success.
WATCH: Scheer encourages Canadians to ‘put pressure’ on Trudeau amid SNC-Lavalin controversy
“There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China, because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime and say, ‘We need to go green … we need to start investing in solar,” Trudeau said at a women’s event in 2013.
Trudeau received criticism for his comments at the time and later took to Twitter to offer clarification.
Scheer went on to comment on the recent decision by the Chinese government to stop accepting shipments of Canadian canola oil. Earlier this month, China started blocking canola imports from Canada, citing the detection of “hazardous organisms.” International Trade Minister Jim Carr, however, denied this claim, as Global News previously reported.
The canola dispute comes shortly after comes Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on behalf of the U.S.
WATCH: Deferred prosecution is ‘not the issue’ with SNC-Lavalin controversy: Scheer
Tensions between Canada and China have increased since she was arrested, as two Canadians in China were arrested and remain detained on espionage charges. The international community has called for their release.
Scheer blames the emerging trade obstacles on Trudeau’s handling of Chinese relations.
“Farmers in this situation are paying for the mistakes that Justin Trudeau has made,” he said.
Trudeau pledged near the end of 2018 that Canada was looking to broaden trade opportunities with China, potentially leading to an eventual free trade agreement between the two countries.
Scheer, however, suggested during his conversation with Stephenson that a free trade deal may be premature, given the robustness of China’s economy when compared to Canada’s.
The opposition leader also touched on several top-of-mind topics for Canadians.
Scheer also suggested that the SNC-Lavalin scandal currently plaguing the Liberals is only contributing to tensions with China.
“A couple weeks later, there’s Justin Trudeau interfering in a criminal court case, putting pressure on the attorney general to get a better outcome for his well-connected friends. That, I believe, is a big part of why this situation with China is further deteriorating,” he continued.
WATCH: Andrew Scheer says SNC-Lavalin impacting relations with China
He encouraged Canadians to “put pressure” on Justin Trudeau to cooperate with the ethics’ committee investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair, which gets underway next week.
Since the story broke in early February, Trudeau and several close advisers have been facing accusations of pressuring the then-attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to grant a remediation agreement to the embattled engineering firm SNC-Lavalin amid charges of fraud and corruption.
Trudeau countered Wilson-Raybould’s account of their conversations, saying that he and his advisers simply hoped to confer with her about her decision rather than apply pressure. Opposition members, including Scheer, have been consistent in calling for the prime minister to resign.
Both Scheer and Trudeau are ramping up their public appearances as they kick off an election year. Recent polls suggest that amid the SNC-Lavalin affair, Scheer’s Conservatives are beginning to gain headway on the Liberal leader’s largely bruised popularity.
— With a file from Rebecca Joseph