Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters following an announcement in Cornwall, P.E.I., on Aug. 21.Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of stalling on launching an official probe into foreign interference, eight weeks after talks between the Liberal government and opposition parties began on the matter.

“Only Justin Trudeau has the authority to call a public inquiry,” Mr. Poilievre told reporters Monday.

He said the Conservatives submitted names of proposed Canadians to head an inquiry, as did other parties. And, he said, the Conservatives agreed to a draft terms of reference for the probe.

“We gave him names. We gave him a mandate. And we’ve been waiting ever since.”

The Conservative Leader said a government led by him would launch a public inquiry and a foreign-agent registry – a measure Mr. Trudeau pledged earlier this year he would enact.

Mr. Trudeau, speaking to media on the sidelines of a cabinet retreat in Charlottetown, said he intends to proceed with an inquiry.

“We continue to work very closely with all opposition parties on making sure that the terms of reference, the person who will be leading it, and the work that is done is in the best interest of all Canadians,” he said. He added that the government wants to ensure the person who leads the inquiry can work without the previous “partisan toxicity.”

“We know that a robust inquiry into foreign interference of all different types is really important for democracy and that’s why we’re moving forward with that.”

A guide to foreign interference and China’s suspected influence in Canada

Asked if the inquiry hadn’t been announced yet because the government can’t find someone to lead it, Mr. Trudeau said “no.”

He was asked why opposition party leaders are not being granted full access to the confidential national-security documents that former governor-general David Johnston reviewed before wrapping up his aborted probe into foreign interference.

Green Party Co-Leader Elizabeth May, the first party leader in the House of Commons to gain access to secret documents reviewed by Mr. Johnston, has said she is disappointed at the lack of detail provided to her. She found it frustrating that she was not provided with the actual national-security documents Mr. Johnston reviewed – only summaries and footnotes to the primary material.

Ms. May has asked the government to make the actual documents available, saying she doesn’t have the resources at the moment to judge whether Mr. Johnston’s conclusions were sound.

Jean-Sébastien Comeau, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, said the Liberals don’t decide what documents are made available.

“Officials at the Privy Council Office and Canada’s security agencies determine which documents are legally able to be shared with opposition party leaders. If, following their reading of the annex, they should request further access to specific documents referenced by Mr. Johnston, we will ensure our security agencies work with them on appropriate next steps, as we will do with respect to Ms. May’s request,” Mr. Comeau said in a statement.

Mr. Comeau declined to say whether the Liberals have had trouble finding judges to serve as a public inquiry commissioner. “We will not be commenting on the ongoing talks.”

Sebastian Skamski, director of media relations for the Opposition Leader’s Office, accused the government of “slow walking” the process.

“These negotiations have now been going on for nearly two months. We have negotiated the terms of reference and provided potential names – all in good faith,” he said in a statement. “It is critical that opposition parties agree to the individual, but it is ultimately only the government which can formally make the job offer. It’s incumbent on the government to stop dragging its feet.”

The NDP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The governing Liberals initially resisted launching an inquiry this spring despite three votes calling for one in the House of Commons by opposition parties, who hold the majority of seats.

Instead, Mr. Trudeau had tapped Mr. Johnston to investigate Chinese government interference in the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns.

But Mr. Johnston abruptly announced his resignation in June, citing a “highly partisan atmosphere.” This followed revelations that a crisis communications firm, Navigator, hired by Mr. Johnston to help with his probe, had previously worked for MP Han Dong, whose conduct was part of the investigation.

Mr. Johnston was criticized after it was learned that his lead counsel in the probe, Sheila Block, donated $7,593.38 to the Liberal Party between 2006 to 2022 and attended a private Liberal fundraiser in 2021, where Mr. Trudeau was the guest of honour.

Opposition parties had adopted a motion calling for his resignation, saying in their majority decision that Mr. Johnston was unfit for the job because of his long-standing friendship with the Trudeau family and his connection to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

A public inquiry would follow months of reporting on Chinese foreign interference, including revelations reported in The Globe and Mail that Beijing targeted Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong – attempted intimidation that the MP was not told about. The disclosure of this meddling prompted the Canadian government to expel Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei in May.

The Globe and Mail produced more than 15 stories based on national-security sources and secret CSIS documents. These range from a February story relying on CSIS intelligence reports that described a concerted strategy by Beijing to disrupt the democratic process in the 2021 election campaign, to a May story about Mr. Chong and his family being targeted by the Chinese government after he spearheaded a parliamentary motion in 2021 declaring China’s repression of Uyghurs to constitute genocide.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe