Thursday, May 23, 2024

Prime Minister’s chief of staff Telford set to testify regarding Chinese government election interference

Prime Minister Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, has agreed to testify before one of the committees investigating the scope of the Chinese government’s interference in Canada’s elections — and the extent of his Liberal government involvement.

“While there are serious constraints on what can be said in public about sensitive intelligence matters, in an effort to make Parliament work, Telford has agreed to appear at the procedure and House affairs committee as part of their study,” says a Tuesday statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The decision clears a logjam at the procedure and House affairs committee (PROC), where Liberal MPs have been filibustering over the past two weeks to stall a vote on calling Telford to appear.

The committee resumed Tuesday morning and voted to call Telford to appear between April 3 and April 14.

Katie Telford is ‘a critical witness’ on election interference: Conservative MP

Committee member and Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who first floated the motion for Telford to testify, said that while Liberal MPs should answer for their actions in obstructing the committee, he’s pleased with Tuesday’s decision.

“It’s critical that she testify. She’s the second most powerful person in this government, arguably. But not only that, she played an integral role in the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns on behalf of the Liberal Party,” he said.

“She is a critical witness to get to the heart of the scandal, which is what did the prime minister know, when did he know about it and what did he do or fail to do about Beijing’s interference in our elections?”

Liberal MP Greg Fergus said he wasn’t willing to call her to testify, but Telford volunteered.

“It allows us to move on to other business,” he said. “The tradition is not to have political staff come before committees. It should be ministers who are really responsible for this. It makes a lot of sense. It’s been a long-standing tradition of the House and one that should be broken with great hesitation.”

Public and political interest in foreign election interference has intensified since the Globe and Mail alleged that China tried to ensure that the Liberals won a minority government in the last general election. The newspaper also published reports saying Beijing worked to defeat Conservative candidates who were critical of China.

Back in the fall, Global News reported that intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China’s consulate in Toronto floated cash to at least 11 federal election candidates “and numerous Beijing operatives” who worked as campaign staffers.

Trudeau has said repeatedly he was never briefed about federal candidates receiving money from China.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) calls foreign interference activities by the Chinese government the “greatest strategic threat to national security.”

An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election did detect attempts at interference but concluded that foreign meddling did not affect the outcome.

Moments before news broke that Telford was going to testify, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his Conservative would support a motion in the House of Commons calling for Telford to testify before another committee — the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics — if the government didn’t stop procrastinating.

“I’ve said clearly, both publicly and privately, that … we need a public inquiry and we need questions answered in the meantime,” he said.

“Absent a public inquiry process, the only process that we have is the committee work.”

The motion, moved by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, will be voted on later Tuesday. It also invites a number of cabinet ministers and officials to testify, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino and CSIS director David Vigneault.

The Liberals floated making the vote on the Telford motion a confidence matter, but Trudeau shut that down — pushing off speculation about an early election for the time being.

“No, it’s not going to be a confidence motion,” Trudeau said before heading into a Liberal cabinet meeting Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office also released the mandate for former governor general David Johnston‘s position as independent special rapporteur on foreign interference.

The terms of reference say Johnston will report regularly to the prime minister and must make a decision on whether the government should call a public in