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Time to clear the air on foreign election interference. Also, candidates with ties to a foreign dictatorship cannot be endorsed by their parties

Mar 23, 2023 | News, Life, Community, Canada, Featured, Politics

Marco Levytsky
Editorial Writer

During the past few weeks, Canadian politics have been dominated by the issue of interference in our elections by the People’s Republic of China. Opposition parties in the House of Commons have been clamouring for a public investigation into the scandal. According to a recent Leger poll, 72 per cent of Canadians also want a public inquiry. But the ruling Liberals have to date rejected such calls. Instead, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed former Governor General David Johnston as a “special rapporteur” who is to investigate the allegations of foreign interference in Canadian elections and society and make recommendations to the federal government on how to handle it. This may include a public inquiry if that’s what he recommends. And if that is the case the Prime Minster had vowed to call for one.

On the surface the appointment has merit. Johnston was appointed Governor General by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and served from 2010 to 2017. The former PM once said of Johnston that he embodied “the best of Canada.”

His resume is impressively long and nobody of any substance would doubt his ability to do the job he’s been given. Prior to his tenure as governor general, Johnston was a professor of constitutional law for 45 years and is a highly respected Canadian legal scholar. He has also chaired or served on many provincial and federal task forces and committees, as well as the boards of more than a dozen public companies, The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson recently wrote, “I cannot think of anyone whose judgment I would trust more.”

But Johnston is also a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. The foundation funds awards and fellowships for doctoral research in the social sciences and humanities. Other members of the foundation include Justin’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, along with prominent current and former leaders from financial institutions, top universities, a former Saskatchewan premier, constitutional experts, lawyers and writers. Its board of directors includes the former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, a former mayor of Iqaluit, and leaders from prominent Canadian universities and firms. The charity recently made headlines after it returned a $200,000 donation it received seven years ago following a Globe and Mail report alleging a potential connection to Beijing. It should be noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had no involvement with the foundation, set up in his late father’s memory, since 2013.

But the question that arises is whether a “special rapporteur” is really necessary. If he ends up recommending a public inquiry, then one can argue why didn’t the government simply set up a public inquiry right from the beginning instead of going through this exercise. But if he doesn’t recommend one, then the charges of cover-up will be hurled by the Opposition and the end result will serve only to muddy the waters.

The Liberals maintain that any Chinese interference that may have occurred did not change the end result. That may be true, but only a public inquiry can determine whether that is indeed the case. There are many ways for foreign governments to influence election. Some may affect the actual vote. Other methods include disinformation designed to discredit those candidates the interfering power wants to defeat. Who knows how effective the Russian disinformation campaign aimed at Hilary Clinton was in electing Donald Trump in 2016.

But what is quite easy in our Canadian system is packing a nomination meeting to elect a specific candidate who will be beholden to that power. A very small percentage of eligible voters participate in nomination meetings, thus a group that can mobilize enough supporters to buy memberships can easily sway the vote. And in many Toronto ridings obtaining a Liberal nomination virtually assures election. Such was the case with at least one Liberal Member of Parliament – Han Dong, MP for Don Valley North.

Three weeks before Canada’s 2019 federal election, national security officials allegedly gave an urgent, classified briefing to senior aides from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, warning them that Dong was part of a Chinese foreign interference network, reports Global News.

Three sources with knowledge of the investigation told Global News that Dong emerged as a successor to MP Geng Tan as the 2019 Liberal candidate in ways the service found suspicious.

CSIS allegedly had intelligence that Beijing preferred Han Dong to Tan. “The Consulate was not pleased with Geng Tan’s performance,” a national security official aware of the service’s investigation told Global News. In late September, about 48 hours before the federal election nomination deadline, CSIS urged Trudeau’s team to rescind Dong’s candidacy, a national security official said. Sources alleged that Dong frequently called Chinese officials in Ontario and “was considered a close friend of the Toronto Consulate.”

CSIS was also allegedly concerned about the Liberal Party’s nomination process. Among other irregularities observed in the September 2019 contest, sources say, was that Chinese international students with fake addresses were allegedly bussed into the riding and coerced to vote in Dong’s favour. Another way the Chinese government can coerce people into voting for their candidates is by threatening their families if they don’t follow orders.

National security officials also allege that Dong, now a sitting MP re-elected in 2021, is one of at least 11 Toronto-area riding candidates allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 contest. Sources say the service also believes Dong is a witting affiliate in China’s election interference networks.

If true, this is totally unacceptable and easily rectified. As the nomination rules of the Liberal Party of Canada state: “If the Leader chooses not to endorse any Candidate, or revokes the endorsement of any Qualified Nomination Contestant or Candidate, the Qualified Nomination Contestant or Candidate must forthwith take all necessary steps to withdraw as a Qualified Nomination.” Justin Trudeau has made it clear that pro-life candidates will not be welcome in the Liberal Party. Before he became leader both pro-life and pro-choice candidates ran for the Liberals. They chose to take their position according to their own personal conscience instead of dictates from above. But regardless of where one stands in the abortion debate, there is something fundamentally wrong when a party rejects candidates who may have a conscientious objection to a given policy, yet accepts those who can be shown (by the appropriate authorities) to owe their nomination to a foreign dictatorship.

It’s time to clear the air. Canadians need to know exactly what has been going on with foreign interference in our election and they need to get this information in an open and transparent manner.

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