Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate, and especially pleased to speak after my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton.
We are here to discuss a bill that relates to national security, the trade relations Canada must engage in with other countries and the possibility of investors from other countries buying Canadian companies.
Let me make one thing clear right off the bat. China is going to come up a lot during this debate and in my speech. However, there is a big difference between the people who live in China, Canadians of Chinese origin and China's Communist government. These are completely different things, and anything negative we say about China's outsized ambitions relates to Communist China, not to individuals and certainly not to Canadians of Chinese origin.
This is about international trade. We welcome everyone who wants to invest here because we also want Canadians to be welcome in other countries. We are a free trade nation. Canada has more free trade agreements than any other country—over 40 in total.
Following an election in 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was mandated by the people to sign the free trade agreement with the United States. The famous agreement between “the three amigos”, the United States, Canada and Mexico, followed a few years later.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my colleague from Abbotsford, who has been the architect of literally dozens and dozens of our free trade agreements with other countries. The member for Abbotsford was the minister of international trade for over six years. He was the longest-serving minister of international trade in the history of this country, and thank goodness for that, because we have great relationships with Asia, Europe and the Americas. That is the legacy of the member for Abbotsford.
As members will recall, when this government was elected in 2015, it shelved a few agreements, only to eventually renew them on the cheap, which is too bad. Still, Canada today is the land of free trade.
No one can claim to support free trade and say that Canada should go abroad but that our doors here in Canada should be closed. The doors must be closed in an intelligent way. That is why we have a number of concerns about this bill, which is essentially about tightening up security measures when it comes to national security reviews of foreign investments.
This bill basically provides for seven important changes to improve the national security review process for foreign investments. It also seeks to give the minister a lot more authority in certain circumstances.
The Conservatives do not disagree with the principle. However, as with anything, the devil is in the details, and that is where we need to do our job as parliamentarians. In principle, we agree that we need to revise the national security review process for foreign investments, but Bill C‑34 is seriously flawed, and we are going to talk about those flaws.
First, let us remember that the government's track record on foreign investments from China over the past seven or eight years is poor and fails to live up to expectations. In the early 21st century, China was not under the harmful influence and control of the current Chinese government. However, the situation has deteriorated since then and we are now paying the price.
In 2017, the industry minister did not ask for a full national security review prior to the acquisition of Norsat International, a communications company based in British Columbia, and its subsidiary, Sinclair Technologies, by Hytera Communications, a Chinese company belonging in part to the People's Republic of China.
In 2020, the Minister of Foreign Affairs awarded a contract to a Chinese firm, Nuctech, which was founded by the son of a former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, to supply X-ray equipment to 170 Canadian embassies. In a national security review, that checks off all the boxes. We are talking about X-ray equipment in our embassies and a contract was given to a company founded by the son of a former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.
In January 2022, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry did not follow his own guidelines when he expedited the purchase of the Canadian company Neo Lithium Corporation by the Chinese state-owned company Zijin Mining without a national security review.
Much of the automotive industry is going electric. Private companies around the world, manufacturers, are investing $500 billion in this shift. Electric cars require lithium. Canada has lithium. Now, however, the government has decided to let a Chinese company take over this natural resource that is essential for economic development in the 21st century. That is a huge loss.
I want to talk about another company that was mentioned earlier: Hytera Communications. In December 2022, the RCMP awarded a sensitive contract for communications systems hardware to Sinclair Technologies, which used to be a Canadian company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Norsat International. Norsat International was founded and based in Richmond but was acquired by Hytera Communications.
That is where things stand today after all these years of Liberal governance. Whether it is lithium, X-ray machines in our embassies, or security equipment for the RCMP, critical items are being funded by investors from China, a Communist country, need I remind the House.
There is a big difference between Communist China, Chinese people and Chinese Canadians. Shame on anyone who makes a connection between those elements; there is none. It is the Chinese government that is to blame.
Let us talk about Hytera Communications, which belongs to the People's Republic of China and is a major supplier to China's national security department. In December 2022, we learned that the Canada Border Services Agency used Hytera's communications technology equipment in 2017. Let us remember that Hytera is facing 21 espionage-related charges in the United States and was banned by President Biden himself. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Pressure has mounted in recent years as companies tied to the Chinese communist regime have strengthened their positions here in Canada. The government has been slow to act on that, which is why it introduced Bill C‑34.
Essentially, Bill C‑34 gives the minister more powers, but the minister needs more still. Here are some ideas we are going to put forward during the committee's clause-by-clause study to improve this bill. First, all acquisitions subject to a net benefit review or a national security review must get cabinet approval regardless of the outcome of the investigation.
The bill also does not provide for the preparation of a list of autocratic countries that are banned from having Canadian companies or assets. I am talking here about China and Russia. The bill also does not include a net benefit test, or a measure of attempts to take control of key industries through acquisitions under the investment thresholds. Finally, the bill does not make any changes to the legal definition of a state-owned enterprise, which some consider to be too vague.
Let me be clear. We are in favour of free trade. Free trade means trade with other countries. That means that we can invest in other countries and other countries can invest here. Let me be clear, when it comes to China and the Communist Party that is currently in power there, we need to be incredibly vigilant. We need to recognize that they are not our natural friends.
We therefore need to enhance security measures to prevent mistakes, such as a lithium company ending up in the hands of the Chinese government, Chinese-controlled X-ray equipment in our embassies, and RCMP communications ending up in the hands of the Chinese government, from ever happening again.
Limits must be set, and that is what we want to do by improving this bill.