(Ottawa) Justin Trudeau announces the creation of a post of special rapporteur on foreign interference, the opening of an investigation – behind closed doors – and the launch of consultations on the creation of a registry of foreign agents . There is no question yet, at least for the moment, of launching the public inquiry that the opposition is crying out for.
The Prime Minister will rely on a “prominent Canadian” to advise him on whether or not to hold a public inquiry into foreign interference in the last two federal elections, in 2019 and 2021.
The independent rapporteur “will have a broad mandate to make specialized recommendations on the protection of our democracy”, he announced in the company of a quartet of ministers at a press conference in parliament on Monday.
“Some argue that a public inquiry is the necessary next step”, and “others have pointed out the flaws and challenges” of such an exercise, but “whether it is an inquiry or a judicial review, and no matter what the scope of this work might be,” the Liberals will comply, he promised.
The Prime Minister has also asked the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, whose members he appoints, to study the stakes.
This committee is chaired by Liberal David McGuinty, and is made up of three Liberals, two Conservatives, a Bloc Québécois, a New Democrat and an independent senator. All have Top Secret security clearances and are permanently sworn to secrecy.
In addition to these two measures, there is the official launch of consultations surrounding the establishment of a register of foreign agents, similar to what is done in the United States or in Australia. The government has already expressed a favorable opinion on this subject.
Those who were hoping for a final decision from the Prime Minister regarding the opening of a public and independent inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian elections may therefore remain unsatisfied.
Granting this request would have been “a fairly easy decision politically”, argued Justin Trudeau, but according to him, the “credibility” of the exercise could have been undermined if he had had to manage the documents that could be disclosed.
The Prime Minister has undertaken to consult the other parties for the appointment of the rapporteur.
Opposition parties dissatisfied
As soon as the announcements were made, the opposition parties immediately decried them.
“A so-called ‘special rapporteur’ chosen by the Prime Minister is not the same as a genuine independent inquiry, with all the legal powers granted by the Inquiries Actincluding that of demanding testimonies and the production of documents,” denounced Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.
The Bloc Québécois was not impressed either, and made it known through the mouth of its leader, Yves-François Blanchet, who accused the Prime Minister of “making fun” of Parliament “by ordering an investigation” into a committee that works behind closed doors and by “inventing a position of rapporteur that he appoints himself”.
Same story with the New Democrats, where House Leader Peter Julian argues that “allegations of foreign interference in Canadian democracy are incredibly serious and deserve an independent, non-partisan public inquiry.”
Liberals bombarded with questions
Prime Minister Trudeau was not in question period in the House earlier on Monday to come under heavy fire from opposition MPs.
After two weeks of parliamentary recess, and in the light of the revelations that hit the headlines while the elected officials were on their lands, foreign interference was unsurprisingly at the heart of the exchanges in the West Block.
“Whether the result of the last elections would have been the same is not the question. As soon as the integrity of the democratic process is threatened, it is the responsibility of all of us in this House to come to its defence,” thundered Bloc Québécois parliamentary leader Alain Therrien.
Before him, the leader of the Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre, was already attacking, in a preventive manner, the announcement of Justin Trudeau.
“He has been aware for 10 years that Beijing is interfering in the elections to support him, through donations to the Foundation. [Pierre Elliott] Trudeau. Here he is going to announce something,” he quipped.
“We know he will probably try to sweep this under the rug by appointing an insider from the liberal establishment to lead a secret process that will never get to the truth,” continued the opposition leader.
He was referring to the appointment of Morris Rosenberg, former executive director of the Foundation, to write the report on the evaluation of Public Protocol in the event of a major election incident.
Released last week, the report concludes that there have been incidents of foreign interference in the electoral process, but not serious enough to warn the public, nor to influence the outcome of the 2021 election.
In an interview broadcast Sunday on CTV News, the author of the document said that the option of a public inquiry should “be on the table”, specifying that its scope should nevertheless be adequately identified.