OTTAWA — Canada’s House of Commons unanimously passed a motion Wednesday in support of the Halifax International Security Forum’s decision to honor the president of Taiwan with a prestigious award.
“President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan is a well-respected international leader, female president of Taiwan and a strong global advocate for democracy,” Conservative MP Michael Chong said as he introduced the motion, which he said was created in consultation with all political parties. “She would certainly be an ideal fit for this award.”
The symbolic, nonbinding motion also calls on the Canadian government to maintain its funding of the international defense forum at current levels, even if its flagship John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service is presented to President Tsai Ing-wen.
The motion comes a few days after POLITICO reported that Canadian officials told HFX organizers that the government would pull its support from the event if the John McCain Prize went to Tsai. Canada is a top sponsor of the forum.
Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan has since denied that the Trudeau government threatened to withhold funding over the organizers’ plan for the award.
Sajjan, however, declined to answer Monday when pressed by Conservative lawmakers to say if he would endorse Tsai for such a prize. The minister told a committee hearing that HFX is independent and was free to make its own decisions when it comes to awards.
He was also asked whether he would commit to continuing to fund the forum regardless of whom the HFX chose to receive its prizes. Sajjan said he would take a look at the funding request as he does every year.
For several days, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has also faced questions about the story in the House of Commons.
Earlier Wednesday, Trudeau was pressed by Chong during question period to commit to maintaining HFX funding, even if organizers awarded the John McCain Prize to Tsai.
Trudeau replied, “the government has supported and provided funding to the Halifax Security Forum throughout our time in office, and the minister has participated every year and will continue to.”
The prime minister continued by saying that he has always supported Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in multilateral international forums.”
“Canada continues to have strong and growing trade and people-to-people relations with Taiwan,” he said.
Trudeau ignored the preamble to Chong’s question in which he referenced details from POLITICO’s story. “The government’s attempt to silence those critical of China is shameful and it plays right into China’s desire to silence its critics abroad,” Chong said.
Ottawa has avoided provoking Beijing after bilateral relations plunged over two years ago. In December 2018, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the U.S.
Beijing, angered by her arrest, has demanded her release. Meng, accused of breaking U.S. international sanctions against Iran, has denied any wrongdoing and is fighting extradition.
In an apparent retaliation, China arrested two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — just days later and has since charged them with spying.
Multiple sources familiar with the matter told POLITICO that HFX organizers decided to give the 2020 award to Tsai. Cindy McCain, a member of the forum’s board of directors, approved the decision to honor Tsai with the prize named after her late husband.
When Canadian officials learned of the plans, they made it clear if organizers gave the award to Tsai, the Canadian government would yank its support — and funding — from HFX.
During Monday’s committee hearing, a testy exchange suggested that Sajjan has concerns about the organization behind the forum.
The back-and-forth started when Conservative MP John Williamson asked Sajjan what he thought about HFX.
“I want to make sure you’re talking about the Halifax International Security Forum, not their office that they have in Washington. Is that correct?” Sajjan asked before getting an affirmative answer from Williamson. “Good, so just the event itself, not the office and not the employees that are former Conservative staffers that actually work in that office? Is that correct?”