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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 6.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Liberal MPs mounted a filibuster Tuesday to stop the opposition from calling the Prime Minister’s top aide to testify before a Commons committee studying Beijing’s election meddling, frustrating efforts to delve deeper into what the government knew.

Last week, Justin Trudeau repeatedly cited the work of that committee as one reason not to set up a public inquiry into Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. Instead, he announced on Monday that there will be two closed-door probes into the matter.

But the work of the Commons committee on procedure and House affairs ground to a standstill Tuesday, when Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs tried to pass a motion to force the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, to testify about what she and Mr. Trudeau knew about China’s interference operations, and what they did to stop them.

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 seriously the Prime Minister took warnings from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service about Chinese interference.

Whistle-blowers have leaked CSIS documents to The Globe and Mail and Global News that describe China’s efforts to influence the outcomes of 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 Conservative candidates in an attempt to bring about a Liberal minority government.

Liberal MPs ran out the clock at the procedure and House affairs committee’s Tuesday morning session, and did not show up for an afternoon session. Without quorum, the afternoon meeting was unable to proceed.

“It is evident that they have received their marching orders from the [Prime Minister’s Office] to do everything possible to block the committee from hearing from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff,” said Conservative MP Michael Cooper, a member of the committee. “She is key to getting to the heart of this scandal. That is, what did the Prime Minister know, when did he know about it, and what did he do about it, or fail to do about Beijing’s interference in our elections?”

NDP MP Rachel Blaney, who also sits on the committee, expressed her disappointment with the Liberals’ obstruction tactics, saying Canadians want “to know what is happening to make sure we protect institutions from all forms of foreign interference.” The NDP wants to hear not just from Ms. Telford, but also from senior staff in other parties, she told reporters.

Ms. Blaney said the Liberals have not provided a strong enough rationale for not calling Ms. Telford before the committee. She said normally she draws the line at calling political staff. “But we’re sort of past that line, with so many CSIS leaks and the public becoming increasingly concerned.”

Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who led off the filibuster, said in a statement that he opposed the move to summon Ms. Telford because he feels it is inappropriate to call political aides before committees. “Political staffers are offside. Ministerial responsibility is a longstanding parliamentary tradition,” he said.

Hours before the Liberal move to shut down committee business, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre had accused Mr. Trudeau of playing into China’s hands by rejecting a public inquiry into election interference.

Mr. Trudeau announced Monday that two closed-door panels, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), will 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.

This is not the same as a public inquiry, which would conduct most of its business in the open and report its own findings. The Prime Minister said he would accept the special rapporteur’s recommendations, even if they include a call for a public inquiry.

Mr. Poilievre and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet called separate news conferences to say the Prime Minister’s announcements fall short of what is needed, because the two panels hold all their meetings in secret.

NSICOP, which reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office and is chaired by Liberal MP David McGuinty, will study China’s interference in the past two elections. NSIRA, which oversees the RCMP and federal spy agencies and is chaired by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, will examine how investigations into Beijing’s election meddling have been handled.

“We want an open and independent public inquiry to get to the truth and make sure it never happens again,” the Conservative Leader said.

Mr. Blanchet said Beijing “must be slapping its sides” after hearing Mr. Trudeau has opted for a secretive process.

Mr. Poilievre speculated that the national-security whistle-blowers must have been frustrated with Mr. Trudeau’s unwillingness to take China’s election interference seriously.

“They have been warning him about this for years and what has he done? He has covered it up,” Mr. Poilievre said. “So, they are so concerned about how the Prime Minister is acting against Canada’s interest and in the interests of a foreign dictator that they are actually releasing this information publicly.”

He argued that Mr. Trudeau doesn’t want an independent public inquiry because such an investigation might expose that the government ignored CSIS’s warnings. The Prime Minister countered that Mr. Poilievre is undermining Canadians’ faith in democratic institutions.

“It is upon all of us as leaders to ensure that even as we are strengthening our capacity as democracies and institutions to respond to [foreign interference], that we are not falling into the trap of weakening Canadians’ confidence in those institutions by leaning heavily on partisan accusations,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters during a news conference in Kingston with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters Tuesday he still believes a public inquiry is the best course of action. But Mr. Singh, who has agreed to back the minority Liberal government until June, 2025, also said he is open to other options, as long as the process is “independent and public.”

“I’ve opened up the door as to how this is met,” Mr. Singh said. “But we need to see a process that’s independent and public.”

“With the appointment of a special rapporteur, it will qualify as independent, but I still remain concerned about the public element of it … That’s why I believe the public inquiry is the best path.”

Separately, the Canadian Coalition for a Foreign Influence Registry, which says it represents more than 30 civil society groups, called on the Trudeau government Tuesday to create a registry that could combat foreign interference by keeping track of people in Canada who are working for other governments. Australia and the United States already have such registries in place.

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