The House

Diplomat in training: Ralph Goodale talks Huawei, China and trade as he takes up London posting

Ralph Goodale spent his final years in the federal cabinet as Public Safety minister, handling the most serious national security threats facing the country. Now, as he takes up his new post as Canada’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, he tells CBC News that one of those critical, unresolved files from his cabinet days is in someone else's hands.

Goodale tells CBC that the decision on whether to ban Huawei from 5G is in other hands now

Former Public Safety minister Ralph Goodale is still undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine at the official residence in London, U.K. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ralph Goodale spent his final years in the federal cabinet as Public Safety minister, handling the most serious national security threats facing the country.

Now, as he takes up his new post as Canada's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, he tells CBC News that one of those critical, unresolved files from his cabinet days is in someone else's hands.

Goodale told CBC's The House in an interview airing this weekend that a decision on whether to join with the British and other allies in banning Huawei from 5G networks is still being reviewed.

"The questions will need to be answered by the Government of Canada in due course," he said. "We have said for several years that we will examine all of the dimensions of this question and make a decision that is in the very best interests of Canada, based on national security, front and centre."

Canada is alone among the so-called Five Eyes nations in not banning Huawei from emerging 5G cellular networks or restricting its involvement in them.

The U.K. government did so nearly a year ago, ordering British telecom companies to remove all of the Chinese firm's equipment from its networks by 2027.

Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor, right, were arrested by China in the wake of charges against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and remain detained. (The Canadian Press, The Associated Press)

Canada's position is more delicate. The Chinese continue to imprison Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — a clear act of retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Huawei's critics argue the company is an arm of the Chinese government and poses a significant security risk in any country that allows its equipment into the new 5G networks.

Huawei denies the allegation.

Ralph Goodale, a long-serving Liberal cabinet minister, sits down with host Chris Hall to discuss his new job as Canada’s High Commissioner to the U.K.

Keeping Ottawa in the loop

Goodale said he expects that security issues such as Huawei will amount to one of his more active files after he finishes his mandatory 14-day quarantine at the official residence in London.

"My job is to keep both governments informed, to make sure that the government in the U.K. has the answers to any questions that they may ask about Huawei or any other issue that they wish to raise," he said.

"And to make sure that I'm feeding back to the national capital in Ottawa the most up-to-date and accurate intelligence about the U.K. position, so at the final analysis, the Government of Canada can make the very best decision for Canadians. That's the ultimate responsibility — to assist and support and facilitate the best decision-making in Canada by Canadians."

Liberal Regina-Wascana candidate Ralph Goodale greets a room full of supporters on Oct. 21, 2019 in Regina. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Goodale spent four decades in politics, losing his seat in Regina in the 2019 election when voters in Saskatchewan and Alberta showed their displeasure with the Trudeau government's climate change policies by defeating every Liberal candidate.

It was a stunning setback for Goodale, who has held numerous cabinet posts over his career. Foreign affairs wasn't one of them, and while he admits the learning curve could be steep in his new post, Goodale — the politician — isn't so far removed from the rookie diplomat.

The American historian Will Durant is credited with describing diplomacy as the art of saying nothing when speaking. Goodale was well known during his days in Parliament for his ability to say very little in as many words as possible.

'It's a shift in gears'

Goodale chuckled when asked about the difference between politics and diplomacy.

"It's a shift in gears," he said. "It's a change in role and function, but it's one that I'm looking forward to because this post in London, from Canada's foreign affairs and international relations, this is a strategic location. It's a listening post for a great portion of the world."

He's more forthcoming on questions about negotiating a new trade with the U.K. post-Brexit.

"The U.K. used to be covered by the trade rules of the European Union. It no longer is. We have a temporary deal in place that came into effect on April 1 following Brexit," he said.

"But both countries want to negotiate a new trading arrangement that will be larger and even more successful. And we're looking forward to getting those negotiations started in the course of this coming year."

The London posting ranks with Washington, Paris and Beijing among the most visible and important diplomatic gigs. Previous governments have appointed former politicians many times, signalling to the host country the priority the Canadian government places on the post.

Goodale was asked if that's one reason Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped him for the role.

"Well, I have a very good working relationship with the prime minister and with many ministers in the government, and having that direct access, that quick ability to communicate in very candid terms without a lot of filters getting in the way," he told The House.

"I think that that's clearly an asset that would say to the United Kingdom that Canada treats this posting in a very serious way. The relationship is already big. It's extremely important. It's very strategic. It's based on common interests and common values that we have shared with the United Kingdom for hundreds of years. And obviously, we want to make it as strong and as vibrant as it can possibly be for the future."


Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998. Follow him on Twitter: @chrishallcbc

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