OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer lamented Taiwan's exclusion from key meetings of the World Health Organization, and he's branding the Liberal government as a Johnny-come-lately to that global push — one that has angered China.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated Tuesday the government is not shying way from holding China to account, albeit when the COVID-19 crisis has subsided, for its conduct in the early weeks of the pandemic.
The domestic political clash occurred as Canada, the United States and six major allies were unable to win access for Taiwan at the World Health Assembly meetings this week, after arguing its early success at controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus qualified it to participate as an observer.
The eight countries told the WHO that its ongoing exclusion of Taiwan created a serious public health concern during the COVID-19 crisis.
China vociferously objected to Taiwan's participation in the organization because it views the island as a breakaway province. In recent days, Beijing has accused countries involved in the pro-Taiwan push as supporting Taiwanese independence.
Scheer said Canada's efforts on behalf of Taiwan, as part of an initiative led by the United States and Japan, only came in the last few weeks after loud calls by his party.
"We have been raising the alarm about this government's failure to stand up for Canada, its policy of appeasement to the regime and the PRC (People's Republic of China), and it's only now after they see some polling data that they've started to change their message on that," said Scheer.
Noting that China has imprisoned two Canadian men — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — Scheer said China is exerting undue influence on the WHO, as he lamented the decision not to include Taiwan at the World Health Assembly this week.
"I think it's a shame. I believe that Taiwan being excluded from organizations like the WHO does not help anybody," he said.
"China's foreign policy should not have so much influence on other organizations that the people of Taiwan are excluded from the participation."
The Trudeau government has made clear that it supports Taiwan's inclusion in the WHO even though it is navigating its own political crisis with China. But that support has other implications because of the ongoing imprisonment of Kovrig and Spavor, who were arrested in December 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.
While Taiwan was excluded from the World Health Assembly, the WHO did back down and allow an independent investigation into how it managed the global response to the unfolding pandemic.
Canada supported the call from dozens of countries for a comprehensive "lessons learned" exercise, one that China said it would accept.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to completely withdraw all American funding of the organization because he believes China under-reported the scope of the pandemic to the WHO earlier this year.
Trudeau said Tuesday Canada would continue funding the WHO, as it joined the push for answers after the crisis, even as China remained a major donor to the UN agency.
"There are always going to be reflections about the relationships between the largest donors to multilateral institutions and the functioning of those multilateral institutions," said Trudeau.
In the future, the global community will have to ask questions "about the independence and the strength" of important international organizations that are charged with ensuring the safety of the world, he said.
"That balance does need to be looked at carefully," said the prime minister.
"There will be some real questions around China, of course, in the coming months and years that need to be answered, and we will be part of that."
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said the WHO is only as strong as the countries that are its members, and "how we all intersected with it" will form part of the international assessment of its response.
"We can make it stronger and better as part of our international response to future pandemics. But there is no doubt that all of us have something to learn," she said Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2020.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press