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Nova Scotia Tory leader critical of access agreement with Chinese province

Tim Houston speaks to reporters after being elected the new leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party at the PC leadership convention in Halifax on October 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Ted Pritchard

Nova Scotia’s Opposition leader is criticizing a new agreement between the province and the Chinese province of Fujian, saying the timing is wrong given two Canadians are still being detained by China.

Tory Leader Tim Houston said Tuesday in a statement that while he understands Premier Stephen McNeil has put a lot of work into the partnership agreement, “there comes a point where governments should know when to walk away.”

Houston said Nova Scotians deserve to know whether McNeil, who retires from politics in early February, advocated on behalf of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig “while packing up his office.”

The two Canadians were detained by China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest in 2018 of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted in the United States on fraud charges.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia to build ‘100% China-friendly’ website, navigate censorship in bid to grow commerce

The premier’s office confirmed the agreement with Fujian in a news release issued late Monday. It said the agreement will allow Nova Scotia companies, educational institutions and cultural groups pursuing opportunities better access to the province of 39 million people on China’s southeast coast.

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“Even as Canadians from coast to coast struggle with being separated from their families at Christmas, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor continue to be held arbitrarily,” Houston said Tuesday.

“We have no assurance that if any Nova Scotian set foot in Fujian, China, that they would have any protection from random imprisonment at the hands of the Chinese government.”

McNeil said in an emailed statement Tuesday that “China is an important part of a diversified global market for Nova Scotia companies and we need those markets to help build our economy post-pandemic.

“The issue of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig is a national government to national government issue. I am confident in the work our federal government is doing to gain their release.”

Monday’s agreement was formally signed in a virtual meeting between McNeil and Fujian Gov. Wang Ning. Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton; China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu; and departmental and university leaders from both provinces also attended the virtual event.

READ MORE: China’s ambassador makes second trip to Nova Scotia, calls McNeil ‘great friend’

The premier’s office said Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell signed a memorandum of understanding to further develop business opportunities, including new in-store lobster promotions leading up to Chinese New Year celebrations for 2021.

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According to the province, exports to China were valued at almost $1 billion in 2019, making that country Nova Scotia’s second-largest trading partner after the U.S.

Exports totalled $994 million in 2019 compared to $197 million in 2013, with Nova Scotia seafood accounting for more than half the total value.

Nova Scotia signed a twinning agreement with the Chinese province of Guangdong in 2018.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020.

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