The game is called: What Do You Do?
What Do You Do when your largest trading partner says no and your second-largest says yes?
What Do You Do when one of your intelligence agencies says sure and another one says surely not?
What Do You Do when the general public says you’re crazy to do so and two major companies say you’re crazy not to do so?
Yes, you can delay, study, consult, reflect, assess, examine, scrutinize, consider, appraise, confer, ponder, ruminate, contemplate, mull, evaluate, defer, cogitate, brood, weigh, gauge and 20 other things to avoid, sidestep, duck, elude, eschew, avert, dodge, shirk, equivocate, evade, vacillate, dither, waver, dawdle, hem, haw, shun, balk, hesitate and hang.
But you are the federal government, this decision involves some of the world’s largest companies, the economic implications are almost countless, the technology is revolutionary and there is deep, deep division in the land about it.
You have punted the 5G decision so often that the football is deflated and your foot is inflated.
You reluctantly have in custody Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., on Trumped-up allegations. She is enduring the threat of extradition in one of those $13 million Shaughnessy fixer-uppers, just down the street from the U.S. Consulate that would take her possession in a successful court case now destined to stretch into 2021.
Meanwhile, in all gravity, two Canadians are retributively in prison as bargaining chips.
The Americans have feebly blacklisted Huawei and muse about a cyberwall if Canada gives the all-clear to a company whose country wants to upbraid U.S. tech supremacy. China is expressing ultra-clear displeasure. Our Canadian Security Intelligence Service sides with America and Australia; our Communications Security Establishment says Canada can mitigate any problems.
The sad truth nearly a year hence is that Canada has figured out it was pawned by America in Meng’s mess. China seems to have been, too. The Donald is no amateur.
Huawei as a metaphor for China cannot be overstated, and it is the job of its Canadian executive on government relations to stickhandle the company’s preferred end game in Justin Trudeau’s first major minoritygovernment move.
So: What Do You Do?
Morgan Elliott is Huawei’s vice-president of government affairs, and few would want his job at any price. He concedes he thought long and hard about taking it seven months ago. He concedes his gut guides his belief he knows the truth – that is, the truth about whether Huawei will use its 5G technology to infiltrate our infrastructure and steal our secrets.
Either he is right, he asserts, or China is pulling off one of the all-time capers. There is some money bet on the latter.
Elliott is no stranger to political navigation. He has been an aide to three, count them, deputy prime ministers: Anne McLellan, John Manley and Herb Gray. He was an executive in a Canadian company, BlackBerry, all too versed in protecting and securing our information – to the annoyance of the very security agencies here and elsewhere now fretting about Huawei’s imperialist and interventionist possibilities.
He fielded questions onstage last week at the Canadian Club Vancouver without breaking out in beads of sweat, no matter how I tried. He has that open-book, front-stage behaviour that dispelled many doubters in the crowd about what Huawei portends. He contended that Huawei doesn’t like China’s detention of the two Michaels – Spavor and Kovrig – now in un-Shaughnessy-like surroundings for nearly a year.
His message seems to be: Let them go, let Meng go and let’s go.
But the mousey Trudeau government is caught between two restless elephants and there is no sleep to be had in the perilous bed. Both Telus and Bell Media have bet on Huawei, which, whaddya know, last week produced a report suggesting its economic input exceeded $700 million in Canada in 2018. Some of those funds are part of a $50 million investment in university research this decade at University of British Columbia and elsewhere.
Not that that’s a threat. Not that Huawei would desert us. Not that there aren’t consequences, though, as the Trudeau government offends one superpower and appeases the other.
So Justin: What Do You Do? And how about doing it soon? •
Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, at Glacier Media.