NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his party will “use all our tools” to push for an independent public inquiry into China’s election meddling. He should reach for the one closest at hand: scrapping his parliamentary alliance with the Liberals, as a clear warning to the government that it cannot continue to ignore the will of Parliament.
Fourteen months ago, the Liberals and NDP struck what they called a “supply and confidence agreement,” a deadly dull bit of jargon that in reality described a major change in how the minority Liberals could govern. No more dickering with opposition parties over every vote, and no more wondering when those parties might gang up to force an election. Instead, the NDP pledged its (conditional) support through to June, 2025. A parliamentary alliance was born.
That agreement has allowed the Liberals to ignore the majority vote, 172-149, on a motion to call an independent public inquiry. That vote is non-binding since, under the Public Inquiries Act, only the government can initiate such an effort. It nevertheless is a crystal-clear expression of the will of MPs, but the Liberals have been able to ignore Parliament, secure in the knowledge that Mr. Singh has committed to support them under their agreement.
Mr. Singh should remove that security by ending his alliance, thereby increasing the pressure on the Liberals to launch a formal public inquiry. Such a move would not trigger an election. The Liberals would continue to govern – but with the minority mandate they won in 2021, rather than the quasi-majority they have enjoyed for the past year.
Brian Lee Crowley: Inquiry or not, foreign interference in Canada’s elections is part of a new Cold War that we cannot hide from
The need for a full, independent inquiry has become all the more compelling since former governor-general David Johnston released his initial report this week. Most of the material he examined remains classified, off-limits to the public.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gleefully brandished Mr. Johnston’s recommendation that opposition leaders, after being sworn to secrecy, be allowed to read the unredacted version of his report. (Mr. Singh has conditionally agreed to do so, while Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet have refused.)
Those closed-door briefings would be no substitute for a public inquiry. For one, opposition leaders would be limited to rifling through Mr. Johnston’s report, without the ability to range further. More fundamentally, the Prime Minister’s offer of secret briefings misses the entire point of why a public inquiry is needed: a full airing of what the government knew, when it knew it and what it did about it. Only that can begin to repair Canadians’ damaged confidence in our institutions.
Mr. Johnston, wrongly, states that he has already answered those questions in his initial report. He has not. Genteel questioning is no substitute for a public inquiry with the ability to compel sworn testimony (and the ability to penalize those who commit perjury).
Instead, Mr. Johnston proposes a fact-finding mission for the second part of his mandate, with hearings that would examine the broader issue of foreign interference, and what policy and governance improvements are required.
That work is critical. But before MPs and Canadians can agree on how to fix the problem, a complete understanding of what went wrong is needed, as is accountability for those in government who may have failed to act. Mr. Johnston does not, and perhaps will not, see this point.
John Ibbitson: Sorry, Mr. Johnston: Public hearings into foreign interference are inadequate to the task
There is no substitute for a full and independent public inquiry. All three opposition leaders continue to say that they remain convinced that such an inquiry is needed, a reminder of the overwhelming vote by Parliament.
Indeed, Mr. Singh repeated his support for an inquiry in the letter he sent Thursday to the Prime Minister accepting the offer to view Mr. Johnston’s full report. “As I have stated publicly on many occasions, I believe the only way for a full accounting and to restore the trust of Canadians is to launch a full public inquiry,” he wrote.
Mr. Singh can show the sincerity of his belief by ratcheting up the pressure on the Liberals, by scrapping his parliamentary alliance.
Anything less than that will demonstrate that the NDP is not serious about ensuring public scrutiny is trained on Beijing’s meddling and Ottawa’s inaction. Anything less will show that the NDP thinks that wringing a few more dollars out of the government is more important than safeguarding Canada’s electoral system from China’s malign influence.