Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday June 29, 2023
Canadians Deserve a Swift Resolution, Not a Lengthy Inquiry on Foreign Interference
As summer arrives in Canada, the prospect of a costly and protracted public inquiry into foreign interference is unlikely to be met with enthusiasm. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear that the federal government will not proceed with any further steps to investigate this issue until there is full agreement from opposition parties. This cautious approach aims to prevent a repeat of the previous inquiry led by David Johnston, which was marred by a highly partisan atmosphere.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has been engaged in negotiations with opposition parties to chart a path forward. Momentum seemed to be building towards an imminent announcement, potentially involving a public inquiry or an alternative process, before the summer break. However, since then, there has been silence regarding the nature of the investigation, its leadership, and its timeline.
Earlier this week, Johnston submitted his final report to the prime minister, officially concluding his work. While the report remains confidential, opposition party leaders have been offered access to it, provided they obtain the necessary security clearance. Trudeau emphasized that responsible leadership and a serious approach are required to address foreign interference. He pointed to the excessive partisanship and toxicity that marred Johnston’s tenure, making it impossible for him to continue his work effectively.
While Trudeau seeks consensus among all parties on a new approach to tackle foreign interference, opposition parties insist on a public inquiry as a prerequisite. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet hinted at an imminent announcement, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed cautious optimism but demanded a clear commitment from the government regarding a comprehensive public inquiry with full powers. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, on the other hand, has called for an independent inquiry under the Inquiries Act, with his party ready to propose potential leaders and terms of reference.
Concerns have been raised that opposition parties may prefer chaos over a solution, as former Liberal and Conservative staffers fear. However, former NDP staffer Cam Holmstrom believes that announcing the inquiry at the beginning of July would be crucial in reshaping public opinion and setting the stage for the fall and the upcoming election.
Following Johnston’s resignation, Minister LeBlanc expressed his intention to consult opposition parties promptly to determine the investigation process and potential leaders of a public inquiry. However, nearly three weeks later, no agreement has been reached, and both the government and opposition parties offer little more than optimism about the ongoing negotiations.
Former Conservative staffer Fred DeLorey, who played a significant role in the 2021 federal election campaign, expresses his disappointment with the lack of serious attention to the issue of foreign interference. He suspects that some opposition parties may intentionally prolong the chaos by making unreasonable demands. DeLorey urges all parties to prioritize addressing the vulnerabilities they face in the next election instead of engaging in political gamesmanship.
Former Liberal Party staffer Greg MacEachern observes a decrease in the intensity of the debate following Johnston’s resignation, as the responsibility to find a way forward now lies with the opposition parties. He challenges them to take action and determine the next steps rather than merely criticizing the government.
Canadians deserve a swift resolution to the issue of foreign interference, one that focuses on strengthening the integrity of our elections. While it is essential to ensure broad consensus among all parties, this should not become an excuse for inaction or prolonged delays. As the summer progresses, Canadians hope that their leaders will prioritize the security of our democracy over partisan interests and deliver a comprehensive plan to safeguard our elections. (AI) | Also printed in the Toronto Star.