In the first vote of the new parliament, a Conservative motion to create a committee on Canada-China relations passed despite Liberal opposition.

The Bloc Québécois and the NDP joined the Conservatives on Monday to support the creation of a committee to study the diplomatic and economic ties between Canada and China.

The motion, voted on exactly one year after two Canadians were arrested in China under questionable charges, passed 171-148.

The sponsor of the motion, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, said before the vote that if the Liberals voted against the motion they would be admitting Canada-China relations have broken down under their leadership.

“If the Liberal government opposes this modest proposal, it is a recognition that they simply want to avoid scrutiny of their handling of this diplomatic crisis over the last year,” he said.

All 148 Liberals in parliament on Monday voted against the motion.

Over the past several years Canada-China relations have significantly worsened. Throughout 2019, China placed trade restrictions on Canadian agricultural products, most notably a ban on Canadian canola. 

For over a year, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have remained in a Chinese prison, deprived of basic legal rights. Their arrests are largely seen as revenge for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last December on an American warrant.

Since the arrest of Meng, China has threatened, bullied and insulted Canada. The Canadian government largely ignored these transgressions.

If created, the committee may require the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs to appear as witnesses.

Conservatives in the Senate are also looking to see Canada get tougher on China. Conservative Senator Leo Housakos recently put forward a motion to allow the government to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

“We have tried soft diplomacy over the last year, more than a year. It has given us zero results,” he said.

“If anything appeasement and kowtowing to them has shown they take advantage of weakness. We have leverage. We are an important economic player in the world and we need to send a statement.”