As It Happens·As It Happens Q&A

Liberals 'very engaged in countering foreign election interference': minister

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc dismissed what he called "ridiculous assertions" by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre that the prime minister wants to hide the truth about foreign election interference from Canadians.

Dominic LeBlanc denies opposition claims the PM ‘doesn't want Canadians to know the truth’

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc is seen leaving a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill.
Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities, says his government takes allegations of foreign election interference seriously. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc dismissed what he called "ridiculous assertions" by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre that the prime minister wants to hide the truth about foreign election interference from Canadians.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to appoint a special rapporteur on election interference.

That announcement comes on the heels of reports by Global News and the Globe and Mail outlining warnings by Canadian intelligence officials about allegations of large-scale Chinese government operations to interfere in Canadian elections, including efforts to promote the election of a Trudeau minority in 2021.

Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have both called on the Liberal government to launch a public inquiry into the matter. Trudeau says that if the yet-to-be-appointed rapporteur calls for such an inquiry, his government will comply.

LeBlanc spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal about election interference in Canada. Here is part of their conversation. 

Pierre Poilievre says an independent inquiry is the only way Canadians are going to learn the truth. Why aren't they going to get one? 

We're not sure, Nil, that they won't get one. What we're saying is that the decision and the advice around what is the best instrument to reassure Canadians about the resiliency of our democratic institutions … should come quickly from an independent, credible person.

Mr. Poilievre's indignation should be, in my view, diminished by the fact that he was minister of democratic institutions for two or three years at a time when CSIS and the prime minister's national security adviser were publicly identifying Chinese election interference as a problem, and he did absolutely nothing about it. 

Mr. Poilievre is not the only one, certainly not the only opposition leader, calling for more transparency and saying a public inquiry was the way to do this. So why not just do that? Why not speed it up and just cut to that chase and get an inquiry?

The minute we announce, for example, some public inquiry, then the opposition parties would say, "Oh my God, the terms of reference are wrong," or, "How come you're not allowing this or that particular?"

So we think that that advice should come to the government from a credible, independent person with a reputation for this kind of important work. 

And I think that, frankly, the opposition parties should hold their indignation until they see the person that would be selected to do this work. And his or her credibility and experience, I think, will answer their concerns.

We have been very engaged in countering foreign election interference ... since we formed the government. We've put in legislation, a series of measures, that did not exist in any previous government. We've had two independent reviews of the processes that were in place for two general elections. We're implementing those specific recommendations. 

WATCH | Trudeau announces election interference measures: 

PM announces special rapporteur to probe foreign election interference in Canada

3 months ago
Duration 2:16
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the special rapporteur will be tasked with looking at Canada's national security agencies and how they counter foreign interference.

Are you concerned, though, that Chinese Canadians have been telling the Toronto Star [and]... our program, that they, for years, have been warning police and your government that things like this are, have and continue to happen in this country, and they say they've been ignored?

I obviously don't accept that characterization.

This is not a new phenomenon in Canada or other Western democracies. It's existed for a number of years. The key thing for us is that the government continue to take whatever measures are necessary to strengthen and ensure that our democratic institutions are not influenced by these attempts at interference, and to reassure all Canadians that we have in place these robust measures.

Mr. Poilievre went further, suggesting today that Prime Minister Trudeau "doesn't want Canadians to know the truth because he knows that that will involve him in the scandal of foreign interference by the authoritarian regime in Beijing." How would you respond to that statement by Mr. Poilievre?

Mr. Poilievre can make up whatever ridiculous assertions he wants. He's frankly done very effectively in terms of fuelling various conspiracy theories. We don't think that on an issue as important to Canadians as the security and resilience of our democratic institutions, it does any great service. 

We'll stay focused as a government on protecting the institutions that are more important than one political party or another. Mr. Poilievre may not share that view, but making up ridiculous assertions and repeating them publicly doesn't, frankly, serve anybody in this particular conversation. 

WATCH | Poilievre reacts to special rappoteur announcement

Poilievre says special rapporteur 'sounds like a fake job'

3 months ago
Duration 0:25
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticizes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to appoint a special rapporteur to probe election interference.

There are serious concerns, you know, that this is rattling Canadians' faith in democracy, [including] Chinese Canadians' faith in democracy in this country.... Personally, I wonder how that feels to you hearing that and knowing that?

We remain very confident that the elections in Canada are decided freely and democratically by Canadians, and we have a significant body of expert opinion that has confirmed that. 

But we recognize that this concern is understandably growing and is real. And that's why what the prime minister announced yesterday is part of a continuation of our efforts to strengthen these institutions and reassure Canadians. 

Just finally, sir, when will we find out who the special rapporteur is? 

The prime minister said last evening that in the coming days, we will consult with opposition parties before this particular person would be selected. 

And then, as the prime minister said, this person's advice will be ongoing and will inform a series of measures the government will take on an ongoing basis. 

We're not going to wait for the person to conclude his or her particular review in an area to begin to act in implementing what would be the best way forward.

With files from CBC Politics. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Edited for length and clarity.

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