Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top adviser will testify at a House of Commons committee on foreign election interference after Liberals ended their obstruction and acquiesced to a narrow probe proposed by the NDP, over a sweeping study pushed by Conservatives.
Katie Telford, who has been Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff 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.
The climbdown came Tuesday after Liberal MPs spent days filibustering an NDP motion that included calling Ms. Telford to answer questions at the procedure and House affairs committee. She is being asked to explain what she and the Prime Minister knew about Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections and what they did to stop it. She will testify the week of April 10.
Opposition parties have strongly criticized the Prime Minister’s response to a series of reports in The Globe and Mail based on secret and top-secret CSIS documents detailing meddling from the Chinese government and its proxies in Canadian elections. In response to their calls to immediately strike a public inquiry, Mr. Trudeau instead appointed former governor-general David Johnston to advise him on whether he should launch one.
Mr. Trudeau has also 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 Mr. Johnston.
The government also announced Tuesday that Mr. Johnston will have until May 23 to make a recommendation on whether to call a public inquiry. Mr. Trudeau has said he will accept whatever Mr. Johnston suggests. The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois disagree with the choice of Mr. Johnston, saying he lacks the independence required for the sensitive file because of his close ties to the Trudeau family.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office also released the mandate for Mr. Johnston’s work. He will assess the extent and impact of foreign interference in Canada’s elections and identify “outstanding issues requiring attention.” He is expected to complete his review and provide a final set of recommendations by Oct. 31.
Just before the Prime Minister’s Office announced Ms. Telford would testify, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters if the Liberals didn’t end their obstruction at the procedure and House affairs committee, the New Democrats would support the separate Conservative motion. That proposal would have shifted the study to an opposition-controlled committee and forced dozens more senior ministers, officials and advisers to testify on foreign election interference.
Because Mr. Trudeau conceded to the NDP, the fourth-place New Democrats helped the Liberals defeat the Tory proposal in the House 177 to 147. The Bloc supported the Conservatives.
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Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer accused Mr. Singh of breaking with the approach taken by past NDP leaders, such as Jack Layton, and “selling out long standing principles” in exchange for “who knows what.”
“The NDP decided to help their friends in the Liberal Party to keep the cover-up going,” Mr. Scheer said, noting the differences in scope of the different parties’ motions and the fact that Ms. Telford will now be allowed to testify before a committee chaired by the Liberals.
Mr. Singh maintained that the NDP offer rendered “the Conservative motion useless which is very much on brand for a party that has been pretty useless.”
He dismissed the Tory motion as a “game” and said a question about whether the NDP was giving the minority Liberals cover was a “Conservative narrative.”
“We have consistently been the ones to try to protect our democracy,” he said.
Under Mr. Singh, the NDP has agreed to keep the minority Liberals in power in exchange for policy and spending concessions.
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.
Postelection reports have determined that the meddling did not have a material impact on the election result and political leaders, including the Conservatives, have said they accept the outcome of the last campaign.
The Liberals used procedural tactics to try to prevent Ms. Telford from testifying, but also accuse the Conservatives of acting in their own partisan interest as opposed to the public interest. In announcing she would appear at the committee, the government played down expectations for how much Ms. Telford can disclose about top-secret information in a public setting.
“The Conservatives are trying to gin up the toxicity and partisanship by making a political theatre out of it and by catching Ms. Telford or others in not being able to answer direct questions,” the Prime Minister said Tuesday. “There are unfortunately many things that can’t be said in a public committee.”
Officials and ministers who have testified on the issue so far have frequently declined to answer specific opposition questions about The Globe’s reporting, citing secrecy rules.
At an earlier news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Singh said he has told the Prime Minister that the only appropriate response to the allegations of interference is to strike a public inquiry.
“There’s a lot of serious questions about what the Prime Minister’s Office knew, when they knew it and what they did about that,” Mr. Singh said.
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