Canada’s elections are not the private property of the Liberal Party of Canada. That rather simple fact seems to elude Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who continues to refuse to take the needed step of calling a formal independent inquiry – with cross-partisan support of its composition and mandate – to investigate China’s election meddling in the elections of 2019 and 2021.
Instead, Mr. Trudeau insists on controlling the form and direction of any line of questioning, be that the neutering of the Commons committee probing the issue or his proposal on Monday to name an “independent special rapporteur.”
It’s an impressive sounding title, to be sure, but it is just a new brand name for an increasingly threadbare Liberal strategy since The Globe and Mail and Global News last month brought to public light the extent of China’s efforts to corrupt Canada’s democratic process.
The Globe has reported, based on Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents, that Beijing illegally intervened to tilt the election toward the Liberals, with the aim of ensuring Mr. Trudeau won a minority mandate in the 2021 vote, including the use of disinformation campaigns against Conservative candidates and illegally aiding preferred candidates with undeclared cash and with volunteer workers.
The Conservatives have said those efforts may have cost them up to nine seats, although they are not asserting that election meddling changed who formed government.
Mr. Trudeau’s response over the last month – and Monday’s announcement is no exception – has been deflection, delay and ducking accountability, all in the hope that the public will eventually lose interest.
There is deflection, in the form of a foggy mandate for the rapporteur to examine foreign interference and how to protect “Canadians’ faith in our democracy,” as Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Monday. Yes, the broad issue of foreign interference, and how to guard against it, is of concern. But more pressing is the question of precisely what China did to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections, how that aided the Liberals – and what the Trudeau government did about it.
And yes, Canadians’ faith in our democracy has been corroded over the last month. But Mr. Trudeau does not need a rapporteur to figure out why: he need only glance at a mirror. The prime minister’s inaction, and attacks on those who have raised questions about China’s meddling, have only served to heighten legitimate concerns about the state of Canada’s electoral system.
There is delay, yet again. The independent special rapporteur is to begin their efforts within weeks. Then at some later point, there will be reports to the government. Perhaps, eventually, the public might even be apprised. More to the point, the existence of the rapporteur is an all-purpose excuse to deflect any further questions from the press or the opposition and any further calls for action.
Similarly, the government is choosing the smallest possible increment of action on the matter of a foreign-agent registry to track those paid to influence Canadian governments on behalf of other countries. On Monday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the government would launch consultations on the “potential creation” of such a registry. Translation: The Liberals are still refusing to create a registry.
And the Liberals continue to duck the accountability that would come with real scrutiny of their efforts, rather than the scrutiny-lite of a hand-picked rapporteur. To make matters worse, Mr. Trudeau has apparently ceded his power to call an independent inquiry to the special rapporteur. However that unelected person decides, Mr. Trudeau will abide.
The prime minister did say that he would consult the opposition parties for suggestions on who could be the independent special rapporteur. In making that half-offer, Mr. Trudeau demonstrates that he still does not grasp that the safeguarding of the electoral system cannot be left up to the decisions of one political party.
The opposition parties continue to push for a formal public inquiry, with the head of that effort agreed upon by the major parties. If Mr. Trudeau insists on a rapporteur, the opposition wants that person to be jointly agreed upon as well.
If the Liberals reject that consensus approach, they leave themselves open to accusations that their chief interest is partisan advantage. And they run the risk of deepening, rather than dispelling, Canadians’ concerns about the integrity of the electoral process.