Ottawa—Conservative leadership contender MP Pierre Poilievre, in the campaign’s first leadership debate on May 5, insisted that fellow candidate former Quebec premier Jean Charest reveal how much money he made doing lobbying work for Huawei Technologies, but he did not get an answer.
Close to an hour into the 90-minute event, Poilievre grabbed the chance when moderator Jamil Jivani announced open rebuttal time for candidates to speak on comments other candidates just made on how they would approach American cultural wars and what Jivani described as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s eagerness to import them into Canada.
“If we’re going to unite this country, we have to come clean. Mr. Charest needs to come clean with how much money he got from Huawei,” Poilievre said.
“This is a company whose software and hardware has been banned from the 5G networks in four of the Five Eyes countries because of allegations—in many cases proven—that they have used it for espionage.”
Charest was part of a team at McCarthy Tétrault, a law firm Huawei hired in January 2020 to provide strategic advice on the Meng Wanzhou case, The Globe and Mail reported at the time. Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of the telecom giant’s founder, was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition request on fraud charges related to violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The Globe said Charest was also counselling Huawei in its bid for approval to sell equipment to Canada for construction of the country’s 5G networks. The revelation reignited calls for Ottawa to enact foreign interference laws to require former cabinet ministers and others to register with the federal government if they subsequently engage in work for foreign entities.
Shortly after Meng’s arrest, Beijing detained Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in a move widely seen as retaliation against Ottawa. Charest has maintained that he worked to free the two men and has been vocal in criticizing the communist regime for their arrests.
At the debate, Poilieve asked Charest: “How much money did you get from Huawei when you were working for them, either directly or indirectly. Just a number please, how much?”
Charest tried to defend himself, and a back-and-forth ensued, with Poilievre asking again and again “how much?”
“We are not a student council here, Pierre, this is not a student council here,” Charest responded.
To that, Poilievre said: “This is the security of the country, Mr. Charest. It’s not a laughing matter. How much did you get from Huawei? Answer the question.”
Charest then argued that Huawei was welcomed into Canada by the Conservative government back in 2012.
“I am proud of the fact that I also worked to free the two Michaels, and to bring them back home. If you need evidence of that, ask the wife of Michael Kovrig,” Charest said.
“Have you got some swamp land to sell us in Florida too? How much?” Poilievre asked.
“Can I talk? Is this the country you believe in, where people aren’t allowed to talk,” Charest said.
“Just the dollar amount,” Poilievre asked again.
The moderator then declared that Charest had the floor.
In the end, Charest never answered the question.
Speaking with reporters following the debate, Charest was asked if he thought his work with Huawei is now a political liability in his attempt to win the Conservative leadership.
“I did not hear that issue anywhere when I travelled across the country,” Charest said.
The event was hosted by the Canada Strong and Free Network as part of an annual conference in Ottawa and was not deemed an official leadership campaign.
Five of the six candidates took part: Roman Baber, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis, Pierre Poilievre, and Scott Aitchison. Patrick Brown declined to participate, with his campaign stating he was focused on selling memberships before the June 3 deadline.