Liberals, Conservatives report 'fruitful talks' on public inquiry

After months of bickering and incessant political jabs, both the Liberal and Conservative Party have had 'fruitful talks' on what a public inquiry into foreign interference might entail.

Liberals, Conservatives report 'fruitful talks' on public inquiry
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Sebastian Skamski, director of media relations for Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, said both sides agreed on the 'terms of reference' for a public inquiry.

"All parties have shared their suggested names for a potential commissioner," he said on Friday, declining to comment on the tenets of those terms.

Kelly Ouimet, spokesperson for Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, concurred the talks' went well.' LeBlanc is charged with overseeing the public inquiry negotiations.

"It was a very productive meeting," she said. "There are elements we have agreed to; more details to be worked out, and we will announce more in time."

The recent breakthrough in talks starkly contrasts prior resistance in calling for an inquiry into foreign interference.

On March 23, the Commons carried a non-binding motion by a vote of 172-149 in favour of an independent inquiry. However, the Liberal Party did not adopt the motion, instead tapping former Governor General David Johnston, a friend to the prime minister, to determine the necessity of a public inquiry.

On May 23, Johnston tabled his initial report, concluding that a public inquiry into Chinese interference is 'unnecessary.' 

"There have been widespread calls for a public inquiry from media, opposition parties and parliament through a motion passed in the House of Commons," he said. "When I began this process, I thought I would come to the same conclusion that I would recommend a public inquiry."

The Globe and Mail produced over 15 stories from anonymous national security sources and secret CSIS documents, including a February story on Beijing attempting to disrupt the democratic process in the 2021 election campaign and a May story on the intimidation campaign against Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family.

Johnston concluded there was 'no evidence' the federal government ignored CSIS reports on Chinese interference, which raised eyebrows at a Commons committee. Those findings did not reflect testimony from former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, who CSIS briefed.

According to anonymous national security sources, Chinese diplomats and their proxies worked to defeat "hostile" Conservative politicians during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. 

However, the constraints of national security laws made a public inquiry untenable, according to the special rapporteur. 

Johnston instead planned to hold public hearings to educate Canadians about how foreign interference happens and how to manage it better. However, he abruptly resigned from his role on June 9, citing a "highly partisan atmosphere."

Concerns emerged after revelations that Navigator, a crisis communications firm he hired to help with the probe, previously worked for MP Han Dong, whose conduct is part of the investigation.

Dong resigned from the Liberal caucus earlier this year after a media report alleged he told China's consul general not to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavour in February 2021 as it would benefit the Conservatives. 

He claims these allegations are false and says he will fight against them as an Independent MP.

Opposition leaders also criticized Johnston after learning his lead counsel in the probe, Sheila Block, donated $7,593.38 to the Liberal Party between 2006 to 2022.

They adopted a motion calling for his resignation, which Johnston later obliged. However, he tabled his final report before leaving, which the federal government did not disclose publicly.

"To the extent that I or my legal team can be of assistance to the Government of Canada [or anybody charged with investigating this important issue] as it pursues its next steps on foreign interference, we will make ourselves available," wrote Johnston.

The Privy Council Office said opposition party leaders with a security clearance would also receive a copy.

The special rapporteur recommended Trudeau invite national security agencies and Opposition leaders to review the final report's conclusions as part of a "necessary step in transparency and accountability."

"Canadians deserve answers into whether the government failed to protect our democracy," he said.

In testimony to a parliamentary inquiry earlier this month, Johnston said he may have had incomplete intelligence when his report said he could not trace misinformation campaigns directed at some Conservative candidates in the 2021 election to the Chinese government.

The special rapporteur acknowledged insufficient time to sift through all available information — but claimed he saw enough. "The amount of information available was an ocean, and we saw a very large lake," he told the CBC. 

"I can't tell you that we saw everything that one would have liked to have seen. Perhaps [with] more time, but we were never refused access to any documents and therefore were confident we came to conclusions based on facts."

A Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and CTV from May 31 to June 3 found most Canadians want a public inquiry.

The poll asked if a judge with full subpoena powers should oversee further investigations into foreign interference. Nearly three in five (59%) respondents supported a formal public inquiry, whereas 25% supported the public hearings planned by Johnston.

He would not have had subpoena powers or the right to cross-examine witnesses under oath in the planned hearings.


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  • By Sheila Gunn Reid

JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Fire Liberal MP Han Dong!

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