‘Seeming like there’s something to hide,’ Singh says of Trudeau as foreign interference controversy deepens
- Rachel Aiello
- Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter
Questions over interference by China in Canada’s last two federal elections continue to rise in Ottawa, as do the accusations the Liberals aren’t doing enough to answer them, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau digs in, declining to offer any details about what he knew and when.
“To be quite honest, I know that no matter what I say, Canadians continue to have questions about what we did and what we didn’t,” Trudeau said Wednesday amid a barrage of questions from reporters.
The prime minister said that Canadians’ persisting concerns—regardless of his attempts to assure that the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 elections were not compromised by Chinese efforts to influence the outcome—are precisely why he’s moving to appoint a special rapporteur and tap a pair of closed-door national security bodies to investigate.
- Opposition party leaders aren’t buying this line from Trudeau, and feel it’s the prime minister’s responsibility to answer the questions being raised.
“The prime minister is signalling that he’s not taking this seriously, and … is being dismissive. And in his actions also is more and more seeming like there’s something to hide, all of which is not helping,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters. “It’s not helping Canadians have confidence in our democracy, in our electoral system, and it’s why it really cries out for a public inquiry. Let’s set those questions put to rest … Let’s figure out what happened, and what we can do to protect democracy in the future.”
The latest round of questions were sparked by new reporting from Global News alleging Trudeau and top officials were briefed on efforts by Beijing to “covertly” fund election candidates, despite the prime minister’s past suggestions to the contrary. The reporting cites anonymous intelligence officials and unreleased “high-level” memos, which CTV News has not independently verified.
Seizing on the latest development during question period, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre asked why Trudeau continues to say one thing while the reporting suggests another—taking a more prosecutorial approach with the prime minister up to take every question as he does on Wednesdays.
“He knew. Why did he say the opposite of what he knew?” asked the Official Opposition leader.
“As I said last fall, as the national security and intelligence adviser stated, we have no information on federal candidates receiving money from China. That continues to be the case,” said Trudeau in response, doubling down on an assertion previously made by adviser Jody Thomas, who told MPs last week that the government had not seen evidence of money going to candidates.
“He knew when that committee reported that candidates received money directed by the dictatorship in Beijing, and yet he has been and continues to say exactly the opposite. Why?” Poilievre asked again.
To this, Trudeau suggested Canadians can go online, or to the Library of Parliament, to read what past reports of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians have found as it pertains to foreign interference.
“He should stop playing word games. Nobody needs to go to the library, what we need to do is get to the truth,” Poilievre shot back.
A back and forth along these lines continued each time Poilievre rose to question the prime minister, who at times deflected, raising Conservative MPs’ recent meeting with far-right German politician Christine Anderson in response.
Other times, Trudeau would point to the work underway at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) and the next batch of government witnesses slated to testify Thursday. PROC’s last meeting was upended by Liberal procedural obstruction over ongoing opposition calls for Trudeau’s chief of staff Kate Telford and other backroom campaign officials to appear.
Expressing hope that the Liberal MPs on PROC can soon get on the same page, the NDP have made it clear that until the government concedes and calls a public inquiry, the parliamentary committee’s work will have to continue.
“It’s just getting to the point where there’s more and more evidence coming forward, more and more information every day, that has made it really clear that the government steps which I’ve called ‘baby steps’ are simply insufficient,” Singh said.
While the NDP’s critiques have largely been focused on the prime minister’s handling of this affair, when Singh asked Wednesday what he made of Poilievre suggesting to reporters earlier this week that Trudeau was “acting against Canada’s interest and in favour of a foreign dictatorship’s interest” he called his opposition colleague out for making “outlandish” and “extreme” comments.
“It really shows how the leader of the Conservative Party has no interest in really finding the truth. He just wants to make outlandish and hyperbolic statements. I’m very concerned about our democracy. I’m concerned about getting to the truth,” Singh said. “Unlike the Conservatives, who are just trying to seek headlines, make a lot of noise, but aren’t actually trying to protect our democracy.”
It’s not just opposition party leaders weighing in, with reporters throwing questions about best next steps at MPs from all parties. On Wednesday, Liberal Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont. MP John McKay said the issue is “far larger” than election interference.
“The government of China is an existential threat to Canada on a multiplicity of levels, and we need to come to grips with that,” he said. Asked if that means a public inquiry has merit, McKay said: “I think we need to think our way through this very, very carefully.”
Later, independent Spadina-Fort York, Ont. MP Kevin Vuong—who ran as Liberal before being disavowed by the party late in the last election—rose in the House and garnered a considerable reaction throughout the chamber when he asked whether the forthcoming rapporteur would also be investigating the Liberal Party.
Alleging that Trudeau was turning a “blind eye to shady Liberal nominations, sketchy donations, and having pro-Beijing MPs in his own caucus,” Vuong questioned why “nothing was done.”
In response, Trudeau didn’t address the specific allegations, saying once again: “Canadians are rightly extremely concerned about foreign interference,” doubling down that the steps he’s recently announced will allow constituents to continue to have confidence in the federal politicians they elect.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Wednesday, March 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick