All parties in the House of Commons agreed to rise for the summer Wednesday despite there being no formal announcement of a public inquiry into foreign interference.
Opposition parties had been demanding the government call the inquiry before the end of the spring session and it was being used as some leverage against allowing the House to rise earlier than the planned summer break date of June 23.
But Wednesday evening that changed, and the opposition parties all backed a government motion that meant after Wednesday, the House will not sit again until September.
But the talks for an inquiry continue and a deal still could be announced before the end of the week.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc is leading the discussions with the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois about how to move forward on the foreign interference quagmire that has clouded the government and this parliamentary sitting for months.
Numerous allegations have been made that the Chinese government attempted to influence the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, and was targeting specific MPs it deemed unfriendly to China’s interests. In May, Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat believed to be behind some of that targeting.
The Liberals, however, resisted repeated calls for a public inquiry and instead appointed former governor general David Johnston as special rapporteur to advise on the matter and decide if an inquiry was warranted.
His initial report May 23 advised against an inquiry, which drew the ire of the opposition parties who accused Johnston of being too close to the Liberals. He announced June 9 he would resign his position at the end of June, citing a “highly partisan atmosphere” surrounding his work.
A day later, Leblanc began negotiating with the opposition for the next steps and some kind of public process on foreign interference that could include an inquiry.
Government House Leader Mark Holland said Wednesday the talks were moving forward.
“At this point in time, it is fair to say that they’re being very constructive and positive conversations that I do expect will yield results very soon,” Government House Leader Mark Holland said mid-afternoon.
Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said Wednesday morning that the Bloc and the Liberals were possibly just hours away from agreeing on the terms for an inquiry, though he later said it could also still be several days. He suggested the Bloc was closer to agreeing with the government than the NDP or the Conservatives.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday he was “not confident about the timing” of an agreement on an inquiry, but said he had seen more openness from the government to calling one.
“We are not going to let up pressure,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “We are feeling hopeful but cautiously hopeful.”
The biggest stumbling block seemed to be between the Liberals and Conservatives. The former wanted the opposition parties to form a consensus on what they would back in an inquiry to avoid another situation like the one that arose following Johnston’s appointment.
That included putting forward names of people they would support as to lead an inquiry.
But Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has refused to do that, saying his party would only suggest names after the government announced an inquiry would happen.
“We’re ready to provide names and mandates as soon as the Prime Minister announces that a public inquiry starts,” Poilievre said in French during question period.
He also said the government has asked for a meeting with all parties on Thursday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s glad opposition parties are ready to work together to find a consensus, but said he’s wary given “how opposition parties behaved in the last months” towards Johnston.
“We want to make sure that everyone agrees on the framework, the people who will participate and we don’t want to fall back into personal attacks, which will undermine Canadians’ confidence in their institutions,” he said in French.
All parties agree that the 2019 and 2021 federal election results were not compromised. But opposition MPs say a public inquiry on foreign meddling attempts is the only way for Canadians to feel confident in the electoral system.
Three motions calling for an inquiry have passed since March, the most recent put forward by the NDP on May 31.
It sought an inquiry headed by a commissioner backed unanimously by the House of Commons, who would have the power “to review all aspects of foreign interference from all states, including, but not limited to, the actions of the Chinese, Indian, Iranian and Russian governments.”
Per the NDP motion, that commission would present its report and recommendations before the next federal election.
The Liberals voted against all three motions.
– With a file from Emilie Bergeron