Poilievre calls on Singh to force a foreign interference inquiry

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is calling on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to drop the NDP's support for the Liberals in the House of Commons to force the government to call a public inquiry into foreign political interference.

Opposition parties are demanding a public inquiry after Johnston chose not to recommend one

A politician gestures an arm forward while giving a speech.
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks at a conference in Gatineau, Que., on May 9, 2023. Poilievre said Wednesday that Jagmeet Singh is holding back a public inquiry into foreign interference by supporting the Liberal government in the House of Commons. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is calling on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to drop the NDP's support for the Liberals in the House of Commons to force the government to call a public inquiry into foreign political interference.

Former governor general David Johnston, now special rapporteur on foreign interference, tabled a report Tuesday recommending the government not move forward with a public inquiry, citing the sensitive nature of the intelligence an inquiry would have to examine.

Johnston instead recommended that he lead public hearings on foreign interference and said he'd produce a second report at the conclusion of his tenure as special rapporteur in October.

But opposition parties, all of which have called for an inquiry, blasted Johnston's recommendation Tuesday and renewed their demands for an inquiry into foreign interference. Trudeau said Tuesday the government would follow Johnston's recommendation and not call an inquiry.

On Wednesday, Poilievre said it's down to Singh to force an inquiry. The NDP has a supply and confidence agreement with the Liberals in the House of Commons.

WATCH Poilievre calls on Singh to 'do his job' and force a public inquiry

Poilievre calls on Singh to 'do his job' and force a public inquiry

12 days ago
Duration 1:05
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was asked Wednesday about what tools he can use when the House resumes to push for a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian politics. Poilievre says pressure needs to come from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who should 'do his job and work for Canadians.'

"Well, it's up to Jagmeet Singh, isn't it?" Poilievre told a news conference.

"Is Jagmeet Singh going to stay in his coalition with Justin Trudeau and help him cover up this latest scandal? ...  Is Singh going to help Trudeau cover up the interference of a hostile foreign dictatorship in our elections?"

Trudeau appointed Johnston special rapporteur after a series of media stories from The Globe and Mail and Global News sparked controversy over alleged Chinese government interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections and Beijing's efforts to influence Canadian politicians and institutions. Johnston substantiated some of the allegations in the stories but said others were "misconstrued" and devoid of context.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with reporters on Parliament Hill.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh has said he will review the secret intelligence that informed David Johnston's report. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Johnston reported he found serious shortcomings in how national security agencies process and communicate intelligence to government, but said he found no evidence the government had knowingly failed to act on foreign interference intelligence.

Singh said following the release of the report that his party would use all tools available to it to pressure the government for an inquiry and that he'd speak with the prime minister on the matter. He did not commit to pulling out of the supply-and-confidence agreement with the Liberals.

But Poilievre said the agreement means Singh is hindering efforts in support of a public inquiry.

"[Singh is] Justin Trudeau's assistant in this cover-up," Poilievre said. 

"If Jagmeet Singh decides for once to do his job and work for Canadians, instead of working for Justin Trudeau, then Parliament can force Trudeau to hold a full public inquiry."

A public inquiry would be led by a former judge and would have the ability to summon witnesses and produce evidence, including government documents, as well as hold public hearings.

Trudeau slams Poilievre for refusing security clearance

Johnston reviewed classified intelligence as part of his work in putting together the report. One of his recommendations was to refer his report to the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) — an independent government agency — and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a joint parliamentary committee, to review his work and his conclusions.

Trudeau said Tuesday he's sent letters to all House of Commons party leaders offering to get them top security clearances so they can also review the intelligence that informed Johnston's report.

Poilievre, who has questioned Johnston's impartiality by calling him a "ski buddy" and "cottage neighbour" of the Trudeau family, has refused the offer. Poilievre said he does not want to be "silenced" by having to restrict the information he can share publicly.

WATCH | 'Is that a serious leader?' Trudeau questions Poilievre's decision not to get security clearance

‘Is that a serious leader?’ Trudeau questions Poilievre’s decision not to get security clearance

12 days ago
Duration 2:32
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is ‘choosing to sit behind a veil of ignorance’ by saying he will not get the security clearance that would allow him to review the intelligence David Johnston accessed in putting together his report on foreign interference in Canadian politics.

Trudeau said Wednesday that the Conservative leader is choosing "to sit behind a veil of ignorance" on foreign interference.

"He doesn't want the facts to get in the way of a good political argument or a personal attack," Trudeau said.

"I think Canadians have to ask themselves a question — is that a serious leader? Is that a serious way to handle something as important as foreign countries trying to mess with our democracy, with our businesses, with our diaspora communities?"

Trudeau defended the secretive nature of his proposal.

"Everyone here will understand that when it comes to matters of national security, when it comes to spies and foreign intelligence, we cannot share publicly a lot of the very sensitive and secret work they do to keep Canadians safe every day," Trudeau said.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Wednesday he also would refuse Trudeau's offer to review the intelligence behind the Johnston report. Singh said Tuesday that he would accept the offer.

In an interview with CBC News Network's Hannah Thibedeau on Wednesday, former senator Vernon White, who was a member of NSICOP, said it's disappointing the two leaders have refused the offer.

"I think they should be getting that briefing so that they can actually speak, from an intelligence perspective, whether or not they agree with Mr. Johnston … I think they've taken that away from themselves," he said.

White said the fact that the leaders would be restricted in what they could say about the intelligence should not deter them.

"It doesn't stop them from asking questions, and that's what I think they should be doing. To be able to ask questions, you need as much intelligence as you can gather. They should be gathering that intelligence," White said.