Canadian PM tackling challenges with competence


PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau won re-election in last year’s election, but he lost his majority and must now get help from another party, logically the New Democratic party, if his Liberals are to remain in power.

But his main challenge currently comes in the field of foreign affairs — relations with China and with Iran.

China and the US, though worlds apart in their political systems and foreign relations, have signed a trade deal that involves the end of tariffs on Chinese goods’ entry into the US in exchange for major agricultural imports from the US into China. Canada fears that the US will supply China with agricultural goods that came from Canada, hurting Canadian farmers.

Canada’s relations with China had already suffered when it was caught between the US and China. Canada arrested chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou of the giant company Huawei at the urging of the US in 2018 because of allegations that Huawei had flouted US economic sanctions against Iran.

Canada in effect became the US’ henchman and tried to justify its kowtowing by saying that it had to fulfill its legal obligations under its extradition treaty with the US. China retaliated by canceling billions of dollars of imports from Canada, particularly canola and other agricultural products. It also imprisoned Canadian businessman Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Canada appealed to the US to persuade China to bring about their release but was cold-shouldered by the US as well as by China. It now has to figure out how to get the imprisoned Canadians released and to repair relations with China. The US has indicated it has no interest in trying to help Canada. Hopefully Ottawa has learned that it should safeguard its own interests instead of relying on the US

The situation is complicated by the shooting down of Ukraine International Flight 752 by two Iranian missiles over Iran on Jan. 8 that killed 176 passengers and crew, including 57 Canadians and 29 permanent residents. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed sympathy to their families and provided financial help to meet some of their expenses. Canada is also assisting Canadians and immigrants travelling to Iran to meet relatives.

Trudeau said that Canada would give $25,000 to the family of each Canadian and permanent resident who was on that flight. He also met the families of the deceased to express his sympathy and asserted that it was Iran’s responsibility to compensate these families for their immediate and long-term needs. “Our government is firmly committed to holding Iran accountable for those who’ve lost a loved one and that includes financial compensation,” he declared.

Though Canada and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 2012, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne recently met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Muscat, Oman, to press Canadian demands.

Canada is seeking compensation from Iran for the relatives of those who perished on that flight along with full access to Iran to provide consular services, an independent and transparent investigation and Iran “assuming full responsibility” and recognizing “its duties towards the families of the victims and other parties — including compensation.”

Champagne said: Canada, Britain, Sweden, Ukraine and Afghanistan, who lost citizens in the crash, “expect and demand full cooperation from the Iranian authorities in every step of consular services, identification of remains, investigation and prosecution of those responsible.” Trudeau has stated that Tehran has been cooperating.

Trudeau also looked at the broader picture. “If there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be home right now with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and war. Innocents bear the brunt of it,” declared.

Canadians know they were caught between an erratic US president, who unleashed the crisis by killing Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, and the defiant Iranians.

There seems to be widespread support in Canada for Trudeau’s stance.

As the Toronto Star said: “The prime minister has maintained a sure and comforting emotional pitch even as his anger was palpable.... The prime minister appears to have done much more than cultivate facial hair over the holiday season. He seems to have summoned a more mature bearing and a clearer resolve.”

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and asylum judge.