Danielle Smith in disbelief after CSIS tells province they are not a target of foreign interference

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told Rebel News that she asked CSIS if Alberta was a target of foreign interference. ‘The answer was no, which I find quite surprising,’ she said.

Danielle Smith in disbelief after CSIS tells province they are not a target of foreign interference
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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Chinese agents attempted to infiltrate a provincial leadership race in 2022, and Canada’s premiers were left in the dark.

A democratically elected politician vying for the leadership of their provincial party was to meet Chinese officials inside a Chinese Consulate in 2022, as first reported by The Bureau. 

The classified Intelligence Assessment memo, published on October 31, 2022, detailed efforts by China to influence leadership candidates at all levels of government.

Among the chief allegations include Chinese officials arranging to meet an elected provincial official only identified as “CA3.” It did not disclose any names.

Specifically on the memo, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told Rebel News she did not receive that, or any information in a recent CSIS briefing.

“It is classified,” she said. “They're not allowed to tell me what it might be about.”

The premier clarified that the briefing was about “arming our cabinet and ultimately our caucus” on identifying foreign meddling and who to contact.

Only the B.C. NDP and Alberta United Conservatives selected leaders in the June to October 2022 time frame described by the Intelligence Assessment. Canada hosts four Chinese Consulates, in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

The latter previously denied any knowledge of the Chinese Consulate allegedly meeting with leadership candidates in the CSIS document.

“We are not aware of any leadership candidate participating in any such meeting,” wrote United Conservative spokesperson Dave Prisco in an emailed statement.

During the 2022 nomination race, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith beat the runner-up, Alberta’s then-finance minister Travis Toews, 46,400 to 36,400 votes. The Bureau did not hear from the Toews campaign on the matter.

“The UCP has stringent procedures,” added Prisco. “Our verification and voting processes during the leadership contest were overseen by third-party auditors, and scrutineers, and were streamed live on a publicly available webcam 24/7.” 

According to the publication, the memo does not suggest “CA3” accepted support from China. They also iterated that the document contains intelligence, which does not automatically lend itself as evidence.

However, the October 2022 memo claimed the leadership contender entered the Consulate through a “side entrance,” meeting “where no outsider could observe the meeting taking place.”

Intelligence officials could not ascertain the topic of conversation, other than “the PRC Consulate, after clandestinely meeting with CA3, signalled their preference for CA3 to the trusted contacts.”

Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat, notes the description of the meeting suggests it took place in a soundproofed, secure meeting room not privy to outsiders.

“One would wonder if Candidate 3, being taken to the Consulate under surreptitious provisions, was taken into one of these rooms, to have a discussion that would not be monitored by CSIS,” he said. 

“And one would be very concerned about what kind of undertakings the PRC might have made, to such a candidate.”

Furthermore, the document says, “trusted contacts of the PRC Consulate organized a campaign rally [in July 2022] for CA3 and the same trusted contacts have formalized their continued support for CA3 during the leadership nomination process.”

In response to Rebel, Smith clarified she had asked CSIS if Alberta was a target. “The answer was no, which I find quite surprising,” the premier said.

According to CSIS, “CA3” allegedly gained support following the meeting.

Burton called the case unlike any to surface on Chinese meddling in Canadian democracy.

“I think the idea that a Canadian political candidate would make a clandestine visit to a Chinese diplomatic facility, is really shocking,” he said. “This is a whole different level of concern.”

On Monday, Smith told reporters of a pressing need for legislative changes that permit premiers to access classified intelligence concerning their jurisdiction.

“The [foreign interference] hearings that we saw in the past couple of weeks demonstrate why you need to have more than one entity able to retrieve this information,” she said.

“To maintain the integrity of our electoral processes, CSIS should be able to brief us. Something feels like it's not on the up and up.”

The Bureau’s initial investigation exposed gaps in the China inquiry, which only mandates Justice Marie-Josée Hogueto examine the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

This is shortsighted, according to political experts and the October 2022 Intelligence Assessment, which says “interference actors and activities can span various levels of government.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong earlier testified that Chinese agents could infiltrate closed-party leadership races to appoint premiers and the prime minister.

On April 3, Chong told the Commission on Foreign Interference that foreign states could wield undue influence on leadership contests, giving rise to concerns about political leaders installed by foreign operatives.

“We are effectively opening up the appointment of heads of state or provinces,” he said.

“We could have a situation where a prime minister resigns, and a prime minister is appointed and elected through a leadership process impacted by non-citizens and foreign state actors,” continued the member of parliament.

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