The CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain, called on parliamentarians to back off on calling for sanctions for Chinese officials last month, according to a copy of a letter obtained by CTV News.
The letter, which was obtained by Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Power Play, was sent last month from McCain to Senators Leo Housakos and Than Hai Ngo. It was in reference to a motion introduced in the Senate by the pair that called for Magnitsky Act sanctions for human rights abuses against Chinese and Hong Kong government officials in relation to the ongoing protests and treatment of Muslims in China.
“On behalf of Maple Leaf Foods and the entire Canadian livestock and meat industry I appeal to you to withdraw this initiative. In making this request, I am not making any judgment on the issue of human rights abuses in Hong Kong or in China. But the simple fact is that Canada acting alone on this ensures two certain consequences: (i) Chinese human rights policies will not change and (ii) Chinese retaliation will be uniquely directed to Canada,” McCain wrote.
Going on to cite his industry’s dependence on exports and the jobs potentially at stake, McCain referenced comments from China’s ambassador to Canada stating that sanctions would result in further trade retaliation. While Maple Leaf turned a profit in its most recent quarter, McCain cited global trade as a drag on the company's performance.
Canadian beef and pork producers were shut out of the Chinese market for months last year after the country halted imports, a byproduct of in what remains ongoing strained relations between Canada and China over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver more than a year ago.
“It is no exaggeration to say that there are thousands of livelihoods at risk if your motion triggers action by the government,” reads the letter.
Copies of the letter were also sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Agriculture and Agri-Food minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Senator Don Plett.
The motion has not yet been voted on in the Senate, and while it’s common for industry representatives to send similar letters advocating for or against parliamentary measures, Housakos tweeted about the letter today, questioning McCain’s “consistency.”
Referencing the letter, Housakos said that McCain “cited concern for his employees, ie the impact on their jobs. He didn’t seem overly concerned about human rights then and he didn’t seem overly concerned about his employees and their jobs last night.”
This comes after Sunday night when, in a series of tweets posted to his company’s main account, McCain spoke out against the U.S. government and President Donald Trump in relation to the Iranian plane crash.
In the thread of what he called “personal reflections,” he said he was “livid” because a colleague’s wife and child were two of the 57 Canadians killed when Iran shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, on Jan. 8 in Tehran. The plane was downed accidentally according to Iran, as they prepared for retaliation for filing missiles as Iraq bases housing U.S. military.
McCain called it a “needless, irresponsible series of events,” and called Trump a “narcissist,” and alleged that U.S. officials “concocted an ill-conceived plan to divert focus from political woes.”
In a statement, Housakos said that while he sympathizes with the “enormous loss being felt by Mr. McCain’s colleague” and “shares Mr. McCain’s anger over the atrocity that was committed against everyone on that flight and those they left behind,” he believes there have been “valid” points raised about the appropriateness of McCain’s comments.