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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a healthcare funding announcement at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in Langley, B.C., on Mar. 1. An Angus Reid Institute poll released Wednesday said that two-thirds of Canadians believe China sought to sway the 2021 election, and seven-in-10 believe 'the federal government is afraid to stand up to China.'DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

With public trust evaporating, an arm’s-length inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian elections might be the only thing that could save the integrity of our electoral system and Justin Trudeau’s political skin.

Such an inquiry could help protect future elections from outside interference. For the Prime Minister, it could smother the political fire over his passivity in the face of Chinese efforts to influence the 2021 vote.

There is something about this affair that seems to bother Mr. Trudeau in a way most things don’t. His responses to questions about electoral interference have taken the form of ad hominem attacks against the press and those who are leaking information to it.

When The Globe’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase broke the story of efforts by the Chinese government to secure a Liberal victory in 2021, the Prime Minister took it as “a sign that security within CSIS needs to be reviewed.” Those who agree that the leak, not foreign interference, is the real problem should Google “Pentagon Papers.”

After Global News reported that the Liberals had ignored warnings from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service of Chinese efforts to secure the election of a Liberal MP, the Prime Minister blamed the allegation on “anti-Asian racism.”

Chinese community leaders said Mr. Trudeau should spend less time alleging racism and more time addressing concerns of interference.

“He should be more concerned about national security, he should be more concerned about sovereignty,” Bill Chu of the Chinese-Canadian Concerned Group on the Chinese Communist Party’s Human Rights Violations told the Toronto Star.

Mr. Trudeau, when cornered, often lashes out, as he did when Mr. Fife and Mr. Chase reported on the Prime Minister’s interference in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution in 2019.

Now he’s doing it again, blaming the media for revealing information that his government sought to suppress.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday his government is looking at recommendations that have been made in an independent report that reviews protocol designed to inform Canadians about election interference. Trudeau says it's important to get the tools right in order to protect democracy.

The Canadian Press

No wonder an Angus Reid Institute poll released Wednesday said that two-thirds of Canadians believe China sought to sway the 2021 election, and seven-in-10 believe “the federal government is afraid to stand up to China.”

(Online survey from Feb. 23-25 of 1,622 adults, with a comparable margin of error within 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

A report by senior public servants released Tuesday stated that “national security agencies saw attempts at foreign interference, but not enough to have met the threshold of impacting electoral integrity.”

That’s good to know. But the fact they tried points to the need for the inquiry – which, again, would be in Mr. Trudeau’s political interests.

After all, it would take months to set up the machinery of the inquiry, including finding a judge to chair it, followed by a year of evidence-gathering and testimony, much of which would be in secret, and then further months to write up the report. By the time the inquiry reported, who knows what the political lay of the land might be?

Liberals have always sought ever-closer ties to the regime in Beijing. Pierre Trudeau recognized Communist China in 1970. In 1994, Jean Chrétien led the first Team Canada trade mission to China.

Under Justin Trudeau, the Canadian government sought to negotiate a free-trade agreement with China. Beijing received high-profile ambassadors, including former cabinet minister John McCallum and former McKinsey managing director Dominic Barton.

Our reward was to have China blatantly kidnap Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in response to Canada’s legitimate detention of a Chinese executive after an American extradition request.

China seeks to influence the outcome of Canadian elections. China has been spying on Canada by air and in the waters of the Canadian Arctic.

It seemed logical, once, for the Canadian and other governments to seek to integrate a rising China within the global economic and security order. But either China changed, or we were deceived. Under President Xi Jinping, the country has become increasingly adversarial.

A public inquiry, while necessarily keeping some information secret, could tell us about how China goes about interfering in Canadian elections, how successful it has been and what we can do to stop it. The inquiry would help restore trust among Canadians in the electoral system.

Whether it would restore trust in the Liberal Party and its leader is another question. Such trust, once lost, is not easily regained.