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Canada Terry Glavin: Dominic Barton's main role in bringing the Michaels home was as a flight attendant

13:46  08 december  2021
13:46  08 december  2021 Source:   nationalpost.com

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“We thank Dominic Barton for his service and his commitment to secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Monday, playing her part in the revisionist choreography attending to the ambassador’s impending departure as Canada’s emissary to China. “Ambassador Barton will be remembered throughout history as one of Canada’s great diplomats.”

Dominic Barton resigned this week as Canada's ambassador to China. © Provided by National Post Dominic Barton resigned this week as Canada's ambassador to China.

That’s clearly how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government would want Barton remembered, but only a fool will remember the former McKinsey & Company managing partner that way. It was only because of his questionable intimacies with China’s ruling class and his high profile within Trudeau’s inner circle that Barton was offered the embassy post in the first place.

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With Kovrig and Spavor safe and home, he simply had to go.

Barton was already a liability, and if he’d been kept on much longer he’d have ended up being an even more debilitating embarrassment than his predecessor John McCallum was. McCallum had to be fired for giving the distinct public impression that he was acting as much as China’s ambassador to Canada as the other way around.

And now, U.S. authorities are asserting a renewed and inconvenient interest in McKinsey’s dodgy operations in China including during Barton’s tenure as the global consulting giant’s top dog between 2009 and 2018, and McKinsey’s senior officer in China for five years prior to that. There’s a storm brewing, and Barton’s in the eye of it.

Both Democrats and Republicans are raising alarms about McKinsey’s lucrative and highly sensitive contracts with the Pentagon during the Barton years while the company simultaneously provided blue-chip services to shadowy Chinese state corporations, including the blacklisted China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which has been building heavily-militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea. It was only a few months before Barton’s appointment that Ottawa blocked the CCCC from acquiring Aecon, one of Canada’s biggest construction companies, on national security grounds.

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Just last month, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform kicked off an investigation into McKinsey’s dealings with opioid manufacturers while providing consultancy services to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. McKinsey had already been forced to pay out $573 million in lawsuits for helping Oxycontin manufacturers “turbocharge” sales while Barton was McKinsey’s global managing partner.

It was in Barton’s last year that McKinsey held its annual global retreat within walking distance of a Uyghur concentration camp in Kashgar.

The Trudeau government is having a hard enough time of it as it is in convincing the Biden administration that Ottawa is a trustworthy partner in confronting the challenge the Xi regime poses to the democratic world. Keeping Barton around would have been idiotic.

It would be churlish to question Barton’s “service and commitment” in Canada’s effort to cajole Chinese strongman Xi Jinping into releasing Kovrig and Spavor. Xi ordered them kidnapped in a tantrum over Canada’s December 2018 detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. Justice Department extradition request.

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But that effort was quixotic, it was bound to fail, and of course it did. And that failure can’t be pinned on Barton. At the same time, despite the Liberal spin machine, neither can Barton be credited with having had anything of consequence to do with the Mikes’ return to Canada after 1,019 days of captivity on September 24. His role was mostly that of a consular officer and an extravagantly-credentialed flight attendant on the Royal Canadian Air Force Challenger that landed in Calgary that night with Kovrig and Spavor aboard.

What Minister Joly would not want remembered about the whole saga and its denouement is that nothing the Trudeau government did, including the circulation of a petition among UN member states opposing hostage diplomacy (the petition didn’t even mention China) can be credited for the Mikes’ release. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration doesn’t deserve any credit for it either, but at least Biden’s people aren’t claiming any.

The facts of the matter are quite banal. Meng’s lawyers had failed in their several Hail Mary attempts to quash the U.S. extradition bid in B.C. Supreme Court, and Meng finally copped a plea, admitting guilt without pleading guilty, in a fairly boilerplate deferred prosecution agreement suspending the several wire fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy charges she faced involving Huawei’s dealings in Iran.

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That’s when Justice Department prosecutors in New York withdrew their extradition request, and so the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that it no longer had any interest in Meng, who had spent the duration of the protracted court drama under a generous form of house arrest in one of her Vancouver mansions. Once the deal was done, Xi no longer had cause to keep the Mikes behind bars.

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, explained the situation in a perfectly succinct way. “As the resolution for Ms. Meng was heading towards success, the Chinese government made its decision. And its decision was that it was no longer in its interest to continue holding the Michaels, and so they started the process in talking to our officials in Beijing about making arrangements to have the Michaels leave.”

Just as it was stupidly popular in Canada to claim the Meng affair was from the start a bright idea hatched by former U.S. president Donald Trump, it has been all the rage among the pro-Trump punditocracy to fling blame at Biden for having caved to China in some sort of prisoner-exchange backstairs deal. There wasn’t one.

The New York prosecutors’ agreement with Meng’s lawyers was “an action by the Department of Justice, which is an independent Department of Justice,” the amazingly patient White House press officer Jen Psaki explained at the time that Meng flew back to China and the Mikes came home. “This is a law enforcement matter. There is no link.”

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All this leaves little evidence for the heroic and herculean diplo-triangulation we’re all encouraged to attribute to Barton, whose reputation for discretion and decorum is likely to require rather more strenuous burnishing in the coming days and weeks.

If Barton should be remembered for anything, it’s that he played a key supporting role in Canada’s catastrophic lurch towards China — Justin Trudeau’s bright idea — that was nurtured by McKinsey even before Trudeau won the Liberal leadership contest in 2013. It was Barton who was appointed to chair Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s top-dollar Advisory Council on Economic Growth in 2016. It was Barton who was chosen to introduce Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that year.

Barton’s going to be drawing a lot of unwanted and unflattering attention in the days to come. He’s too closely associated with Trudeau’s inner circle, and with the Trudeau government’s unseemly enthusiasms for Xi Jinping’s China.

He simply had to go.

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