Welcome to Jean Charest's world: the backstory on the Conservative Party's would-be messiah that he'd really rather you not know.
Providing services to Huawei's Meng Wanzhou. Guiding Xi Jinping's "national champion" telecom through Canada's national-security roadblocks. Supplying megaphone services for Beijing's disinfo ops. . .
It’s official. After a long hiatus from the internecine comings and goings at the jet-setting apex of Canada’s political class, Jean Charest is already being touted as the frontrunner in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
It was only on Thursday evening that Charest officially launched his candidacy for Erin O’Toole’s old job, and straight away he demonstrated something rather less than forthrightness, you could say, about what he’s been up to all this time.
Because of these things I thought it was about damn time to provide some deep backstory that might be useful to subscribers of this newsletter, because it’s of a particular kind that isn’t always readily available in the regular press, and especially not now. (I’ll go into the some of the inside stories about all that in a section towards the end of this special weekend edition of The Real Story that’s for paying subscribers only Sorry, but come on, it’s only $5 a month).
Back to it then. There’s a lot going on in this newsletter, so to borrow a line from an old Tom Waits’ tune: Just close your eyes, son, this won’t hurt a bit.
Among other things, while Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were languishing in their dungeons in China, for 1,005 days by my crude math skills, Charest was blue-chipping a generous retainer as a strategist and advisor to Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei Technologies Company heiress and chief financial officer who was biding her bail-conditions time all the while in one of her lovely Vancouver mansions. I expect you will all be aware that it was Meng’s December 2018 detention at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. extradition warrant that prompted Xi Jinping to kidnap the Mikes and hold them hostage in the first place.
Much of that section of Charest’s curriculum vitae is on the public record thanks to Bob Fife and Steve Chase over at the Globe and Mail. Less noticed: Charest’s services to Xi Jinping’s “national champion” surveillance-and-espionage telecom that involve strategic advice on how to navigate through the Trudeau government’s political and bureaucratic paralysis, by way of the blank spaces between the cybersecurity mandates of the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
UPDATE: Here’s Global News’ Alex Boutilier. It turns out that Charest really was quite a bit less than forthcoming about what he’s been up to all this time. Chinese telecom Huawei says Conservative leadership hopeful Jean Charest focused predominantly on the company’s participation in Canada’s 5G networks and not the extradition case involving Meng Wanzhou.]
And you have to hand it to Charest and to his globe-spanning law firm, McCarthy Tétrault, where Charest is a top partner, because they deserve at least some of the credit for Huawei having placed Canada at risk of being cut off from the transnational “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing protocols (the other partners are the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand).
UPDATE II: He keeps on digging. Fair play to Vassy Kapelos at CBC’s Power & Politics, who makes an effort here to get Charest to explain himself. Charest is sufficiently greasy that he almost slithers out of the tangle he’s woven for himself:
Canada remains alone in the Five Eyes partnership in failing to exercise any degree of national-security vigilance that would formally restrict Huawei from the emerging fifth-generation (5G) wireless communications standard in Canada. Late last September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a decision would be made “in the coming weeks,” which, by my crude math, was more than five months ago.
A not-unimportant digression: McCarthy Tétrault provides a variety of services to at least 20 Chinese corporate giants, including enterprises directly owned by the Chinese Communist Party regime in Beijing. Among those entities are Chinese banks currently engaged in a roaring money-lifeline trade with Russian enterprises in Moscow that have found themselves in a bit of bother with the NATO-member countries now that those doomsday financial sanctions have been kicking in after Vladimir Putin began his brutal war of conquest in Ukraine February 24.
Those enterprises are now blacklisted in the banking networks of Canada, Europe, the United States and pretty well everywhere else except China. I’m sure McCarthy Tétrault will make the necessary adjustments in its due-diligence processes so that the firm won’t be implicated in the services its Chinese clients are happily providing all those Russians.
Clients like the Agricultural Bank of China, and the China Construction Bank (with operations in Moscow and Toronto), the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (with branches in Canada and Russia). I see the Chinese state-owned Shandong Gold Mining Company is still on McCarthy Tétrault’s list of China clients more than a year after the company was barred from Canada’s arctic under the national-security provisions of the Investment Canada Act. Can’t win them all, I guess. McCarthy Tétrault freely admits: “We have deep experience in representing large state-owned Chinese companies."
Anyway, did Charest account for any of this when questioned by reporters at his coming-out party Thursday night at the Wildrose Brewery in Calgary? Of course not. “What we did in Huawei, I’m very proud of what we did in helping to sort out the situation of Ms. Meng Wanzhou. I worked with the family of Michael Kovrig, so that we could free the two Mikes, and we worked with them very, very closely from the whole process, and I never would have done anything that was contrary to the interests of my country. So in fact, we were very, very active in helping to resolve that matter and helping to bring the two Michaels home.”
We’ll come to the claims Charest makes for himself in that less-than-illuminating boast in a moment. I don’t want to lose sight of some rather important things that seem to have escaped proper attention.
Here’s a big thing. Charest and former privy counsel clerk Wayne Wouters - the lead lawyers on the McCarthy Tétrault team handling the Huawei files - would be obliged to register their names on any sufficiently robust version of the Conservative Party’s own long-promised federal registry of senior public office holders who go on to take up paying gigs with foreign governments.
An Australian-style registry would include politicians and senior bureaucrats who take up sinecures with governments, with state-owned enterprises, and with shadowy global operations like Huawei. Founded by Peoples Liberation Army deputy regimental chief Ren Zhengfei, who’s still the corporation’s CEO, Huawei’s oblique chain of command involves roughly 300 Chinese Communist Party branches in its decision-making structures and 12,000 party members the company counts in its workforce.
If Charest ends up the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, will he continue to push for that registry, as his predecessor O’Toole did? Would Charest agree that he should be named in it? Two years ago, two former ambassadors to China specifically cited Charest and his Huawei service as a prime example of why just such a registry is necessary.
I asked Charles Burton about this, because Burton knows what he’s talking about and he’s a longtime advocate of a registry like this. A former counselor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing and former Brock Universitry professor, Burton is now a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. “I judge it important that Mr. Charest voluntarily provide a full accounting of any monies or other benefits he has received directly or indirectly from foreign sources immediately,” Burton told me.
Charest should also promise that he won’t work for foreign clients or accept any benefits from overseas sources again, or work with law firms that rely of business with agents of foreign states, Burton said. It would help allay perceptions of any conflicts of interest should Charest win the Conservative leadership race, because he’d be in a position of trust when addressing Canada's foreign affairs as Opposition leader, and certainly as prime minister.
Wouldn’t it be just too weird if this Disco generation three-term Liberal Quebec premier whose government somehow survived scandal after scandal at a time when Quebec came to be called the most corrupt province in Canada ended up as Conservative prime minister - and he also shows up in a federal registry as a Canadian politician who accepted work with an arm of the Chinese police state that kidnapped Canadian citizens?
Maybe not. Before he was a Liberal Quebec premier he was a federal Conservative cabinet minister and later the leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives. But it should still matter that Beijing is pursuing what the federal Conservatives and almost all the MPs from the other parties agree is a deliberate policy of genocide to disappear the entire Muslim Uyghur culture in Xinjiang. Among the Xi regime’s many outrages against decency and international norms, Beijing has now effectively annexed Hong Kong by force, in defiance of a treaty registed with the United Nations.
Could a Charest government be counted on to bring in legislation to establish such a registry in the first place? It seems unlikely, and this is kind of a big thing. It’s also the little things, and speaking of Hong Kong, Charest’s daughter, Amelie Dionne Charest, is the chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. One ordinarily shouldn’t bring family ties into these kinds of things, but, again, to stress, Amelie Dionne Charest is the chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
Canadian parliamentarians, led by Charest’s own Conservative party, have chafed in their consternation with the Trudeau government’s reluctance to sanction so much as a single Chinese official for Beijing’s brutal persecution of Hong Kong’s democracy movement and its systematic “National Security Law” decapitation of the movement’s leadership by arresting and jailing opposition candidates, journalists, and civil-rights activists.
So, that, too, would be awkward.
Fenella Sung, founding convenor of Canadian Friends of Hong Kong, told me that Charest’s rise to Conservative Party leader would be profoundly disturbing, let alone his possible elevation to the Prime Minister’s Office. She called Charest yet another member of Canada’s political elite that has been effectively “captured” by the the Chinese Communist Party’s influences in Canada.
Sung’s colleague Ivy Li, says she has been deeply worried about the Conservative Party ever since O’Toole failed to revive the House Special Commitee on Canada-China Relations last December. Li says a Beijing-inspired disinformation campaign that undermined the Conservative Party in several ridings with outcome-determining diaspora populations during last September’s federal election appears to have dissuaded the Conservatives from sticking to its principles on the Chinese Communist Party’s malign influences in Canada. And Charest’s rise may be evidence of that, Li said. “The election meddling no doubt has given the Conservative leadership a big lesson by the CCP to behave.”
Whatever untapped vote bloc the Conservatives hope to harvest with Charest in the comfy chair, the Charest crowd sure isn’t counting on the votes of the overwhelming majority of Canadians who have had quite enough with Ottawa’s win-win relationship with Beijing, or the votes of Taiwanese-Canadians, Hongkongers, Uyghurs, or anyone else who has fled the People’s Republic to find freedom in Canada.
But back to Charest’s Thursday night boast about how “proud” he was of what he says were his efforts to “sort out the situation of Ms. Meng Wanzhou,” and how he worked with Kovrig’s family in the effort to free both Mikes, and how he would never have done anything that was “contrary to the interests” of Canada. And that we should understand his role as “helping to resolve that matter and helping to bring the two Michaels home.”
To be specific, Charest did not work for Kovrig’s family, no matter which family members he may have spoken with during Kovrig’s incarceration in China. Charest worked for Meng Wanzhou. His advice was to the purpose of directly challenging the “interests” of Canada. Meng’s lawyers specifically challenged the Attorney-General of Canada in a series of monkey-wrenching stalling tactics that went on for nearly three years, each of which were tossed out by B.C. Associate Supreme Cout Justice Heather Holmes.
The point of those legal ambuscades was to drag out the Mikes’ ordeal, to wear down the Trudeau government, and to drive a deeper wedge between Canada and the United States by strong-arming Ottawa to yield and abandon its “rule of law” relationship with Washington, embodied in the Canada-U.S. Extradition Treaty.
That has been Beijing’s long game for years, to pull Canada away from the American orbit and into Beijing’s constellation of Belt-and-Road satellites. It was during the Obama years that the U.S. State Department’s alarm about Huawei was first relayed to Ottawa, and was stupidly ignored, as the public record would go on to amply demonstrate.
One of Beijing’s key disinformation tactics through the entire Meng-and-the- Mikes ordeal was to try and pin it all on a White House bullying strategy targeting China’s high tech sector. A popular Beijing-authored propaganda fiction, parroted by Charest himself, was that it all came down to the profoundly unlikable U.S. President Donald Trump, playing Canada against China.
“Our policy toward China has been hijacked by Donald Trump,” Charest told a trade panel hosted by the Empire Club in Toronto on November 5, 2019. “We should not be kowtowing to another government with regard to our relationship with China.” Here’s Huawei’s Steve Liu, vice-president of public affairs and communications, three weeks later: "We know the Trump administration put Canada in a very difficult situation."
It was all very exciting, but a cursory fact check would show that there has never been any evidence that Trump even knew that a years-long investigation begun during the Obama years had produced enough evidence for presecutors in New York to draw up an arrest warrant naming Meng by August, 2018, or that he knew the warrant would be executed under Canada-U.S. extradition rules in December, 2018.
As for Charest’s boast that he somehow played some role in securing the release of Kovrig and Spavor - a feat of derring-do the Trudeau Liberals also tried to attribute to their scandal-troubled Canadian ambassador to China, Dominic Barton - the claim doesn’t withstand any scrutiny. It flies in the face of the straightforward and consistent explanations from U.S. Justice Department officials, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki, and Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Katherine Hillman.
All that happened was that once the jig was up, once Meng’s legal team had run out of leg-pulls and the B.C. Supreme Court had run out of patience, Meng Wanzhou signed a deferred prosecution agreement the New York prosecutors had drawn up.
The deal required that she admit to her culpability in the 13-count indictment against her - wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to conceal her sanctions-dodging dealings in Iran and so on - without formally pleading guilty. With that out of the way, she was released and invited to fly home to Huawei HQ in Shenzhen.
Xi Jinping saw no further use in keeping the annoyance of his hostage-taking in play, so a trumped-up story was set in motion to the effect that the Mikes had been “granted bail” on compassionate grounds owing to their ill health, and were permitted to fly home to Canada. There was no prisoner swap, and no hostage exchange. For the millionth time.
And now for the reasons why Charest gets cut so much slack about the company he’s been keeping, and why he’s armoured against the flack he’d otherwise be catching from the Liberals for all this. And some inside story on why that much-maligned institution routinely referred to as “the mainstream media” hasn’t been able to make much of it either.
It’s paid subscribers only beyond this point. . .