Conservatives attempt to force top Trudeau aide to testify on Beijing interference

The Conservatives have put forward a motion that would compel Katie Telford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, to testify before a committee on China's alleged interference in Canadian elections — and the government House leader has refused to rule out treating it as a confidence vote.

Liberal house leader won't rule out treating the motion as a confidence vote

Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, arrives at a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.
Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, arrives at a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. The Conservatives have put forward a motion which would force Telford to testify before a House of Commons committee on foreign interference in Canadian elections. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Conservatives have put forward a motion in the House of Commons that would compel Katie Telford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, to testify before a committee on China's alleged efforts to interfere in Canadian elections — and the government House leader has refused to rule out treating the motion as a confidence vote.

The motion, moved by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, would order Telford to appear before the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics no later than April 14 and to answer questions for three hours.

The motion also invites a number of a cabinet ministers and officials to testify, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino and CSIS Director David Vigneault.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, speaking in favour of the motion in the Commons on Monday, said MPs need to question Telford to understand the nature of Beijing's attempts to influence the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Telford "is a critical witness to get to the heart of this scandal. Namely, what does the prime minister know, when did he learn about it, and what did he do, or fail to do, about Beijing's election interference?" Cooper said.

"On [foreign interference], the prime minister has refused to answer the most basic of questions."

MPs will vote on the motion tomorrow.

WATCH Telford a 'critical witness,' Conservative MP:

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

3 months ago
Duration 0:41
St-Albert Edmonton Conservative MP Michael Cooper introduced a motion to force the prime minister's Chief of Staff Katie Telford to testify at committee on election interference.

Speaking with reporters Monday, Government House Leader Mark Holland did not deny that the government might consider the motion a matter of confidence.

"We're in a situation right now where we continue to have these discussions," Holland said.

Losing a confidence vote would trigger an election.

A supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, reached in early March 2022, does address situations where the government declares a confidence vote on other matters. The wording of the agreement requires that the Liberals inform the NDP of a confidence vote as soon as possible, and that the New Democrats discuss with the Liberals how their MPs intend to vote before their intentions are announced publicly — "to permit discussions" to take place.

The move is the latest opposition attempt to pressure the government on foreign interference. A series of stories from Global News and The Globe and Mail have reported that Beijing undertook a range of influence operations in the two most recent elections.

The reports said those efforts ranged from campaign finance fraud to the spread of misinformation. One of The Globe and Mail's stories said Beijing wanted to see a Liberal minority government elected in 2021.

In an anonymous Globe and Mail op-ed last week, the individual who leaked secret material about foreign election interference to the media — identified as a national security official — said they were alarmed by a lack of action by the government.

Last week, Trudeau appointed former governor general David Johnston as a special rapporteur responsible for looking into foreign election interference. The Conservatives have criticized the appointment, citing Johnston's role with the Trudeau Foundation.

The government has so far resisted calls from opposition parties for a full public inquiry into the matter.

Liberal members of the procedure and house affairs committee (PROC) have worked against Conservative attempts to get Telford to testify before the committee. Cooper said Monday the Liberals were engaging in a "shameful filibuster" to prevent Telford from testifying.

Responding to the motion in the House on Monday, Mendicino pointed to moves the government has made to study and combat foreign interference, including Johnston's appointment, consultations on a foreign agents' registry and the establishment of a panel which examined and affirmed the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

"The Conservatives have gone to some lengths, at times, to be political and to be partisan. I think that that is regrettable," Mendicino said.

Mendicino added that the government would respect Johnston's recommendations, including a recommendation for a full public inquiry.

China's government has denied claims that it has interfered in Canada's elections.

Conservative MP calls prime minister 'corrupt'

During question period on Monday, Cooper accused Trudeau of a "cover up" of foreign interference — and also called the prime minister "corrupt."

Holland took exception to Cooper's use of the word.

"Calling a member of this House corrupt is despicable," Holland said.

"[The Conservatives] take rumour and conjecture and try to trump it up for partisan advantage, and overreach with terms like 'corrupt.'"

Speaking with reporters after question period, Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer supported Cooper's attack on Trudeau. He pointed to the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the two occasions when the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner found Trudeau had violated the Conflict of Interest Act.

Scheer urged the NDP to support the Conservative motion to call Telford to testify.

"It's up to the NDP to decide whether or not they're going to allow themselves to be bullied around, to cover up Liberal scandals, or to do the right thing and vote on behalf of Canadians so that we can have confidence in our institutions," Scheer said. 

WATCH Conservatives seek NDP support to have Telford testify:

Conservatives seek NDP support for motion to have Katie Telford testify on election interference

3 months ago
Duration 1:11
As the Conservatives debate a motion to have the prime minister's Chief of Staff Katie Telford appear before the Ethics Committee to testify on election interference, Conservative MP Andrew Scheer says he hopes the NDP will vote 'for openness and transparency.'

He added that the Conservatives are open to making amendments to the motion, as long as Telford is still compelled to testify.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian has not said how his party intends to vote.

"We are carefully considering the CPC motion and we will make our position known to Canadians," Julian said in a statement Monday.

"But we remain steadfast in our belief that a public, independent inquiry is the best way to get answers into allegations of foreign interference that involve both Liberal and Conservative candidates."

Experts split on RCMP, Chinese 'police stations'

Later Monday the House special committee on Canada–People's Republic of China relations heard from expert witnesses on Beijing's alleged use of secret police stations on Canadian soil.

The RCMP said last year it's investigating the stations, adding it's received reports that they are used to harass and intimidate dissident communities. China maintains that the stations are used to assist Chinese nationals abroad.

Laura Harth, campaign director at Safeguard Defenders, a not-for-profit which promotes human rights in China, praised the RCMP's response.

"The response we've seen … has definitely been among the best that we've seen in democracies across the world," she said.

But Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College, disagreed.

"I cannot share my colleague's optimism with respect to the RCMP," he told the committee.

"Show me the last national security, foreign interference or espionage investigation that the RCMP completed to the point where we actually had a prosecution, successful conviction in this country … the Chinese regime operates with impunity."

With files from The Canadian Press