The Conservatives kicked off the first full week of being back in the House of Commons by urging the government to ban Huawei from the 5G network.
And in response, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said naming any one firm as a security concern is “entirely inappropriate.”
Throughout question period on Monday, the Tories pressed the government for answers about the future of the Chinese telecommunications firm and whether it will be allowed into the Canadian 5G network over the coming years, despite allies banning it from their own networks over fears of spying.
“China is known to have hacked Canadian companies and governments and spread misinformation in our own country,” said Conservative MP Glen Motz.
“China is not acting like a friend or partner. We know that Huawei is a real threat to compromise our internet communications. When will the Liberal government finally make the decision to ban Huawei?”
Blair stood to respond, suggesting the Conservatives should not be naming any one firm.
“Mr. Speaker, while it’s entirely inappropriate to speak of a particular company, a very thorough examination of the associated security and economic considerations in the 5G decision is well underway,” he said.
“We want to make sure Canadians have access to the most beneficial 5G technology, and at the same time, that Canadians are safe, that their systems will not be compromised.”
Conservative MP Steven Blaney pushed back, noting Canadian allies have also expressed concerns about what security experts have described as the potential for Huawei technology to be used as a backdoor for spying, given a Chinese law that requires Chinese companies to comply with state-ordered requests to spy.
“On the contrary, Mr Speaker, it’s very relevant to talk about Huawei because our partners from the Five Eyes excluded this Chinese company from development of 5G because they suspect Huawei is a national security problem and will intrude into personal data. The US, Australia, UK — they all excluded Huawei,” Blaney said.
“What are the Liberals waiting for to exclude Huawei or would they prefer that Canadians’ personal data end up in China?”
Blair pointed to a review underway by Canadian national security agencies that is looking into all threats posted to the development of the upcoming 5G network, often described as the next generation in internet connectivity with faster speeds than what exist right now.
But he noted that security won’t be the only factor in the decision.
“Mr Speaker, our government takes the security of Canada’s telecommunication networks very seriously,” he said.
“We’ll continue to work with telecommunications service providers and the vendors through this collaborative program to mitigate the security concerns. We will examine all the security, economic and global considerations in making this determination.”
Conservative MP Tamara Jansen pressed again, asking whether the government will follow the lead of its allies.
Blair did not give a clear answer.
“Our government respects the scientific integrity but we will continue to listen carefully to the advice of our public security officials as we make this important decision for Canadians,” he said.
As those questions were happening, the Conservatives also put out a press release from both Motz and Pierre Paul-Hus, who is the Tory’s critic for public safety.
In it, they urged the government to finally make a decision to give certainty to the private sector.
“Canadians expect answers on why this decision has been, and continues to be, delayed. As we stated earlier, Canada is a G7 country and its government must govern itself accordingly,” the statement said.
“On behalf of Canadians, the private sector and other stakeholders, we appreciate your attention to this matter. We await your response.”
Former public safety minister Ralph Goodale had promised earlier in the year that a decision would come before the federal election.
However, the Liberals moved that timeline and it is now unclear when any decision will be made.
Canadian telecom companies are expected to head to an auction for a key spectrum in the future 5G network in either 2020 or 2021.
The bans by Canadian allies targeting Huawei have ranged from blanket bans with exemptions to more selective bans restricting the use of Huawei technology on government or critical infrastructure.
The U.S. has the most extensive ban, a sweeping executive order barring the company’s use by American telecom companies as well as on infrastructure networks deemed critical or essential.
That ban, however, has several exemptions for use in rural areas.
Australia and New Zealand also have broad bans on Huawei for their 5G networks.
Japan bars the company from public procurements while the U.K. has yet to make a decision on the future of Huawei there.
A leaked report earlier this year suggested British leaders were eyeing allowing Huawei only restricted access to non-critical parts of the 5G network.
Several European countries are also still considering whether to ban the firm, including Denmark, and India is also still weighing the matter.
But among the countries that have green-lit Huawei access to their 5G networks are Hungary, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.