Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday March 3, 2023
Did foreigners interfere in Canada’s elections? Don’t expect politicians to sort it out
The best argument so far for an independent inquiry into foreign election interference in Canada has come from the least independent voices in this escalating furor — politicians and members of Parliament.
A hearing at a Commons committee on Wednesday vividly proved the point. National security discussions should come with a warning label — don’t try this at home. Or more accurately, don’t try this in the House.
It comes down simply to this: the question of whether foreign actors have been meddling in Canadian elections is simply too important to be litigated by the people who were players in those elections, with vested interests. That goes for all the political parties: the governing Liberals and their opposition rivals.
Opposition parties are in fact on side with the idea of some independent inquiry, though Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre also wants MPs to continue their Commons committee investigation, such as it is right now.
“We cannot allow this affair to simply go up in smoke with a secret private investigation, it must be public so that Canadians know exactly what is going on,” Poilievre told reporters on Wednesday. “We cannot shut those parliamentary inquiries down with a promise that in two years there will be some report on a public inquiry.”
But if Wednesday’s Commons hearings were any indication, Canadians aren’t going to get many answers from the political arena. Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, explained as much during her testimony.
“We cannot talk about national security information in a public forum,” said Jody Thomas, who stared down this committee with the same, flat, no-nonsense tone she brought to last fall’s public inquiry into the “freedom convoy.” Thomas said at those hearings that she was one of the influential advisers saying yes to a declaration of emergency on the convoy last winter. On Wednesday, she made clear she’s one of the people on the inside arguing against a wide-open public inquiry.
A lot of the back and forth between MPs, Thomas and other senior security officials testifying on Wednesday proved the national security adviser’s point. MPs — who do come from political parties — were gamely trying to get the security people to say how much political parties were in the loop about possible election threats in 2019 and 2022.
Sorry, the politicians were told — that’s top secret. (Though the officials did manage to reveal that the RCMP is not investigating any of the allegations surfacing in the media of late, which is significant.)
The problem with politicians looking into political interference is that they’re not the ones who need to be reassured that Canadian elections are free and fair. It’s the voting public, and the news on that right now is not good.
An Angus Reid poll released this week showed that a disturbing two-thirds of Canadians believed that China either definitely or probably tried to influence the past two elections in Canada. An even more disturbing 42 per cent of past Conservative voters were inclined to believe the elections had been “stolen.” Sound familiar?
That means that the horse is already out of the barn on this one. Reassurances from the Liberal government will just feed the cynicism of non-Liberal voters, while opposition’s continuing attempts to cry foul could make those parties sound like they have an axe to grind — a pox on all their houses, in other words.
The opposition leaders are right to ask that their parties have a voice in determining the shape of any future inquiry. In the past, I’ve been told, no election-reform legislation proceeded without broad agreement between all the parties.
That may have been a myth, I haven’t tested that against the long historical record. But it seems the point is wise. On something as important as democracy and electoral legitimacy, you don’t want anyone saying that the ruling party put its thumb on the scale.
Trudeau continues to say that we have all the inquiries we need into electoral interference right now and they need to run their course. The current Commons committee hearings, with no offence to any of the MPs doing their questioning, is not going to be the final word — any more than the various parliamentary hearings into the convoy, which paled in comparison to Justice Paul Rouleau’s inquiry.
Trudeau’s next move should be to convene a meeting of all the opposition leaders, swear them to the highest levels of security clearance, and hammer out how they can get a grasp on this issue before the public gets any more cynical about the fairness of elections. That one gesture in itself would prove that the politicians are putting democracy over their partisan interests.
It would also, as a bonus, be enormously frustrating to whatever foreign actors are enjoying the current spectacle of Canadians questioning whether their democracy works. (The Toronto Star)