Members of Parliament voted 171 to 148 in favour of a creating a special committee to re-evaluate virtually all aspects of Canada’s relationship with China.
The motion, which was presented earlier in the day by the Official Opposition, initially wasn’t expected to pass and is the latest push from the Tories to urge the government to take a firmer stance.
All opposition MPs from the Bloc Quebecois, NDP and the Greens supported the motion to establish the committee. Former Liberal cabinet member and lone independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould also voted in favour of the committee, which would consist of six Liberals, four Conservatives, one Bloc Quebecois and one New Democrat.
The combined opposition members would outnumber government members as a Liberal would have to chair the committee, and would only be allowed to vote in the event of a tie.
The committee would also be authorized to order Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne and Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, to appear as witnesses “from time to time” as it sees fit.
It comes on the one-year anniversary of China’s detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, which many have said appeared to be in retaliation for Canada honouring its extradition treaty with the U.S. in arresting Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters earlier Tuesday that both Kovrig and Spavor’s cases were transferred to prosecutors, hinting at an upcoming trial for the two.
Their cases, which were sent for “review and prosecution in accordance with the law,” are often carried out behind closed doors. In past cases, convictions were seen as a virtually certain.
Both Kovrig and Spavor have not had access to both lawyers and contact with family members, while Meng has been living under house in one of her two Vancouver mansions.
Two other Canadians have also been sentenced to death while imports of Canadian canola have been stopped by China.
On Monday, the Conservatives pressed the government in question period about why it has not yet made any decision on whether to ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G network.
The auction for a substantial part of that new network is expected next year.
But the Liberals have delayed the decision after initially promising that it would come before the election.
Tory MPs continued pressure during question period on Tuesday, as well, eventually culminating in the motion being put forward.
“Today the House is debating the most challenging foreign policy relationship Canada has at present — China,” said Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole.
“The government has made serious missteps on security and trade issues with the Chinese government and is avoiding tough decisions when it comes to Huawei and other issues, so will the prime minister agree to a specialized all-party committee to review all aspects of the Canada-China relationship?”
The Liberals have since said that Canada’s relationship with China is “incredibly important,” but that they were exploring all issues pertaining to human rights, democracy, trade and national security.
“They are and will remain our absolute priority. We will continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release and to stand up for them as a government and as Canadians,” said Minister of International Development Karina Gould during question period Tuesday.
“We are grateful to the many countries around the world that have expressed support for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.”
— With files from The Canadian Press