August 20, 2008
OTTAWA -- Former prime minister Jean Chrétien's criticism of Canada's current China policy reflects his personal financial interest in clients who do business there, not Canada's interest, Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney says.
And Mr. Kenney, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, asserted that when he was in office, Mr. Chrétien's China policy was influenced by his post-politics business plans, and the interests of rich and powerful friends.
On Monday, Mr. Chrétien delivered an indictment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's conduct of relations with China, saying that Mr. Harper's failure to attend the Beijing Olympics and his meeting with the Dalai Lama threatened good ties with the rising economic power.
Mr. Kenney noted that Parliament unanimously voted to make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen, and said it is disturbing to think that Canada would let a foreign power dictate whom it should honour.
"I think it reconfirms that Mr. Chrétien and the Liberals have always pursued a policy in this area calculated to their own personal financial interests and those of rich and powerful friends," Mr. Kenney said yesterday.
"It's no mistake that Mr. Chrétien was calculating his retirement income in his relations in this area. [It was] a few weeks after he left the premiership that he was being signed on as a consultant to multinational companies with commercial interests in this area. ..."
Mr. Kenney was clearly referring to Power Corp., the conglomerate founded by Paul Desmarais Sr. His son, André Desmarais, now the co-CEO, is married to Mr. Chrétien's daughter, France, and Mr. Chrétien's long-time campaign manager and adviser, John Rae, is a senior Power executive.
Mr. Chrétien travelled to China two months after leaving office accompanied by Power executives, and has returned several times to represent business clients.
In office, Mr. Chrétien pursued a policy of active engagement with China, and led missions there to develop trade.
Mr. Chrétien's former communications director, Senator Jim Munson, called Mr. Kenney's comments "very unkind."
"Mr. Chrétien was just stating the obvious. He believes in engagement with China, just as the Canadian business community believes in engagement," he said. "Whether it's human rights or business, it's better talking with China than insulting Mr. Chrétien."
At a Canadian Bar Association gathering on Monday, Mr. Chrétien said the fact that the Prime Minister skipped the Olympics opening ceremony and that the Dalai Lama was made an honorary citizen are slights the Chinese will remember, and that Canada is "at the bottom of the ladder in terms of having any influence with China."
In Hamilton yesterday, Mr. Harper said Mr. Chrétien's criticism of his decision not to go to the Beijing Olympics is "a bit hypocritical" because the former PM went to the Olympics only once while in office.
Mr. Kenney said that because the vote on the Dalai Lama was unanimous, Mr. Chrétien is criticizing Liberals, too.
"The approach Mr. Harper has taken is that our foreign policy, in general, will be governed by Canada's values and interests. He doesn't sit around calculating anybody's financial interests for himself or close friends when deciding to do the right thing," he said.
He argued that the Conservative government has pursued strong relations with China, and that Mr. Harper has met Chinese President Hu Jintao three times at summits. And while critics have noted that Mr. Harper has not travelled to China, Mr. Kenney said Conservative cabinet ministers have visited 14 times.