A veteran of Canada’s diplomatic corps is urging the creation of a federal registry, modelled on one in Australia, to shed light on the work Canadians, including former senior public officials, are doing on behalf of foreign governments.
David Mulroney, who worked for 32 years in the Canadian foreign service, including as Canada’s ambassador to China, said there’s an increasing risk today that foreign governments are using Canadians to mould public opinion and lawmaking here.
“It is not being alarmist to suggest that foreign countries continue to seek influence in Canada and that some are even willing to interfere covertly in Canadian affairs. If anything, the threat is growing,” Mr. Mulroney said in an interview.
What he’s proposing is that Canadians paid to lobby or communicate political messages on behalf of foreign states or enterprises owned by a foreign government would be required to disclose their activities in a federal registry. He said his proposal goes far beyond the scope of the existing federal lobbyists registry, which he says has loopholes that do not capture all activity he believes should be brought to light.
Mr. Mulroney said the rise of China as an economic and geopolitical power has added urgency to the question of foreign interference and influence. “China’s Communist Party has well-developed mechanisms for influencing political opinion in foreign countries,” he said.
He said he was unwilling to comment on individual cases, but stated that, under his proposal, virtually any work undertaken by former Canadian officials for China’s state-owned corporations would need to be disclosed in a registry.
New foreign-influence transparency laws took effect recently in Australia. The rules came in response to concerns about Chinese government influence in Australian politics.
Under Mr. Mulroney’s proposal, former cabinet ministers would be required to register almost all work – not just lobbying – that they are doing for foreign governments or related entities. Mr. Mulroney argues that international work promoting Canadian values and interests – such as humanitarian work – would remain exempt, but all other employment in which a foreign state is seeking to benefit from the knowledge, experience or contacts a former minister gained while serving Canada would need to be reported. The obligation would last their lifetime.
Former senior public servants, including deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and ambassadors, would face the same high bar for registration, but only for 15 years.
Mr. Mulroney is publishing his proposal in a paper through the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank.
Ward Elcock, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and former deputy minister of National Defence, said he supports Mr. Mulroney’s proposed registry.
“There are foreign governments who did have an interest in influencing Canadian public policy in one way or another and, yes, I think transparency is required,” he said.
However, Mr. Elcock said a registry won’t help if former politicians or senior bureaucrats attempt to hide their affiliation with foreign governments or state-owned enterprises.
Richard Fadden, another former director of CSIS, said he broadly supports Mr. Mulroney’s proposal.
Mr. Fadden, who was also national security adviser to prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, said he thinks however that China is “far from the only country for us to worry about” and would like to see the registration requirements also apply to Canadian military ranks down to the Canadian Armed Forces equivalent of an assistant deputy minister.
Mr. Mulroney is proposing two extra measures on top of what Australia has done.
Any Canadians serving on federal government boards, agencies, foundations or councils in Canada would be prohibited from working for foreign governments or related entities for the duration of their appointment. It would also require Canadians to relinquish membership in what is called the Queen’s Privy Council, which is a lifetime designation granted to prime ministers, cabinet ministers and chief justices of Canada.
Mr. Fadden doesn’t support requiring Canadians in the Queen’s Privy Council to relinquish membership if they work for a foreign government.
He said if a former senior public official is, for instance, working for Britain to help promote a bilateral trade deal with Canada they shouldn’t be forced to give up the P.C. designation.
Stockwell Day, a former Conservative cabinet minister and vice-chair of the Canada China Business Council, a lobby group, said the proposed registry is not needed given existing rules against lobbying that remain in place for half a decade after leaving office.
Mr. Day said he could see the registry becoming a “nightmarish bureaucratic overburden trying to report working arrangements of individuals 15 years after they have been in office” and predicted the law would almost certainly also be challenged in court "as an unconstitutional restriction on the right to work.”
Mr. Mulroney said however that existing lobbying registry rules do not cover the sort of disclosure he’s proposing. “Think about the possibility of a former, or even a current politician taking talking points from a foreign government. ... If you are speaking or disseminating information on behalf of a foreign entity, you need to be clear about your sources. Otherwise you mislead Canadians.”