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Chretien blames Canada-China feud on Trump's 'trap'
OTTAWA -- Former prime minister Jean Chretien said the tensions between Canada and China are the result of a "trap" laid by U.S. President Donald Trump.
"It's a trap that was set to us by Trump, and then it was very unfair, because we paid the price for something that Trump wanted us to do," said Chretien in an interview with CTV Power Play host Don Martin, airing Friday.
Chretien was referring to Trump's decision to request the extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in December of last year. Canada's arrest of the executive in Vancouver infuriated China, which subsequently detained then arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in apparent retaliation. China also briefly banned the import of Canadian beef and pork, blaming it on a banned animal feed additive they claim was found in a shipment of Canadian pork.
Trudeau has asked the United States not to sign any trade deals with China until Spavor and Kovrig are released, though it's unclear whether Trump will heed his request. According to reporting from the Globe and Mail, China has warned that the move is "doomed to fail."
Spavor and Kovrig remain detained in a Chinese prison, formally arrested on suspicion of gathering and stealing state secrets for "foreign forces," though then-public safety minister Ralph Goodale formerly said China provided no evidence to support the arrests.
The two men have been denied access to lawyers. There are also reports of lights being left on in their cells while they try to sleep and of Kovrig's reading glasses being taken away.
Meng, meanwhile, remains under house arrest in her $13 million Vancouver mansion as her extradition case works its way through Canada's legal system.
"That could take years, before all the proceedings will be over," Chretien said.
"So this lady will not go to America for a long, long time. And during that time, we have two Canadians who are sleeping now with the lights open in the room. So I'd like to find a solution, but you know, I'm not there."
Some, including former prime minister Brian Mulroney, have called for Chretien to help massage the Canada-China relationship.
In a CTV Power Play interview broadcast on Thursday, Mulroney told host Don Martin that someone high-level should step in to deal with China on Canada's behalf.
"Chretien knows all these fellows, as I do and as other prime ministers do, on a personal basis. And he gets their attention, as opposed to a delegation of parliamentarians or something who will deal with people at the range of assistant deputy ministers. You don't want that. This has to be dealt with on a high level," Mulroney said.
However, when asked about the possibility during his Friday interview, Chretien ruled it out.
"I don't want to be the Monday morning quarterback for anybody," Chretien said.
NATIONAL UNITY NO WORSE THAN PREVIOUS YEARS
Tensions are also brewing within Canada as Alberta toys with ways it can seek increased autonomy. Following Alberta's rejection of all Liberal candidates in the October federal election, some residents have even been calling for the province to separate from Canada.
Still, Chretien said the brewing frustrations are nothing new.
"We always have problems in Canada...but I don't think we're in a worse position than we were before. On the contrary, when I came to politics there was bombs in Montreal," Chretien said, referring to the violent side of the Quebec separatism push.
He acknowledged that Alberta is going through a trying time with its economy, but said that's a market issue – not a political one.
"The price of oil is 50 dollars. If it was 100 dollars, there'd be no complaints. So it is the reality of the market, and every part of Canada had to go through things like that," Chretien said.
The economic downturn in Alberta has been patially blamed on that province's challenges getting its oil to market, something that could be solved in part by a boost in pipeline infrastructure. Chretien said separatism won't do anything to solve the problem.
"Just blaming somebody, you know, talking separation, Alberta will not be closer to the ocean because of that."
He added that no one would fight against Alberta if it wanted to seek increased autonomy in areas like immigration and pension plans, but he wondered whether such moves would actually solve the issue.
"Nobody will prevent that. I don't see any constitutional problem for that. But I'm not sure that they will be happier after, that's another problem. Change for change, sometimes, is not the best," Chretien said.
With files from The Canadian Press