Liberal MPs extended a filibuster for a fourth day Tuesday to block the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, from testifying before a Commons committee studying China’s election interference, with some arguing that political staff should not be forced to appear before parliamentary committees.
MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee met during the March parliamentary break to debate an NDP motion to call Ms. Telford to explain what she and Justin Trudeau knew about Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections and what they did to stop it.
But Liberal MPs prevented a vote by reading newspaper articles, talking about their university days and overseas travel, and accusing the opposition of playing political games. Some said a public inquiry wasn’t necessary at this time or that political staff should be exempt from testifying.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper complained that Liberal MPs have been “droning on for hours and hours on a very simple motion to have the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, testify before this committee on Beijing’s interference. It really begs the question, what does this Prime Minister have to hide?”
Ms. Telford, who has been Mr. Trudeau’s top adviser since the Liberals formed government in 2015, attends most national-security briefings and would know how the Prime Minister responded over warnings from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service about Chinese election intrusion.
CSIS documents leaked to The Globe and Mail describe China’s efforts to influence the past two federal elections. The Globe has reported that, in the 2021 election, Beijing employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy that involved working against some Conservative candidates in an attempt to bring about a Liberal minority government. CSIS reports also said China interfered in the 2019 federal campaign.
Liberal MPs have argued that the documents are not a full picture of how national-security agencies have handled Chinese interference, and that cabinet ministers should be answering questions on this issue and not political staff.
Liberal Anita Vandenbeld led off the filibuster Tuesday, speaking for more than an hour. At one point, she said Canadians may want to know what cabinet knew and did to stop Chinese interference, but argued that this information should not be shared with the public.
“You know who else would like to know that?” Ms. Vandenbeld asked. “China would love to know what did we know and how did we find that out. And more importantly the next question, which is what did we do about it? These are not things that can be talked about in public and open forums.”
Liberal Sherry Romanado accused the opposition of trying to “fabricate a scandal,” while colleague Wayne Long said Canadians aren’t focused on the issue. “I am not being overwhelmed by people who want an inquiry,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau has asked two closed-door panels, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), to study China’s interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. The results of their work will be reviewed by a special rapporteur – an eminent Canadian, selected by the government.
The Prime Minister told reporters Tuesday at an event in Bridgewater, N.S., that he is still not ready to announce the name of the special rapporteur. Mr. Trudeau has promised to call a public inquiry if the special rapporteur recommends one.
In British Columbia, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters that the Prime Minister did not stop China’s election interference because the Liberal Party benefited from it.
“Now he refuses a public inquiry. I think Canadians of all political backgrounds are asking what has Justin Trudeau got to hide,” he said, and accused the government of failing to protect vulnerable Chinese Canadians from Beijing’s activities.
“There were times when Conservative candidates would knock on a door and the person asking would say ‘can we go in the backyard and leave our phones behind so we can talk without being surveilled by the regime in Beijing?’ ” he said. “It is disgraceful that the Prime Minister knew this and did absolutely nothing.”
All three major opposition leaders have called for a public inquiry into Chinese election interference. Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet also said the investigation should look at outside donations to Mr. Trudeau’s Montreal riding of Papineau.
Le Journal de Montréal has reported that 83 per cent of donations to the Papineau Liberal riding in 2016 came from outside of Quebec, including Toronto and Vancouver. Two thirds came from around 50 donors of Chinese origin, and were given in the span of 48 hours, the newspaper reported.
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