Election-meddling inquiry must be nonpartisan
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The Canadian public is being teased and troubled by anonymous hints and allegations about surreptitious Chinese interference in our elections. The hints are plausible enough to justify careful investigation by an authority free of political party influence.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week was pointing to inquiries that are already afoot. None of those inquiries, however, is sufficiently free of political influence to produce a credible answer. Mr. Trudeau should open the way for an inquiry that would show how Canada can protect its elections from foreign meddling.
Reporters for Toronto news outlets have claimed recently that they have been shown secret reports by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) showing that the government of China recruited Chinese students in Canada to volunteer for Liberal campaigns and donate to Liberal candidates in the 2019 and 2021 elections in the hope of achieving a Liberal minority government.
The public cannot tell from these published claims what motives CSIS might have for showing these documents to a couple of reporters. Nor can the public tell what else the reports showed or what factual basis lay behind the contents of the reports. The whole narrative could be the fevered imaginings of one disgruntled CSIS employee.
The allegations have, however, a ring of truth. The Chinese government previously showed ruthless hostility to Canada when it held two Canadians hostage for over 1,000 days in a commercial dispute between Huawei Technologies and the United States government. It has expressed chronic and growing anger against Canada in the intemperate remarks of successive Chinese ambassadors and other representatives.
In these circumstances, it is entirely plausible that Chinese diplomats, who hold great power over Chinese expatriates in this country, would abuse that power by instructing Chinese students at Canadian universities to support selected candidates in Canadian elections. In a few electoral districts, the Chinese vote is significant enough to tip an election one way or the other.
Canada’s large Ukrainian population makes this country’s policy extremely important to Russia, another practitioner of surreptitious influence. The United States might just as easily use our public information media and our open and easily-penetrated political institutions to sway the outcome of a Canadian election.
For the Conservative opposition, the main question is whether Mr. Trudeau did all he could to stop China from backing Liberals and blocking Conservatives. They would love to convict the prime minister of relying on China to win his elections for him.
But that is a narrowly-focussed question of party-political struggle. There is no reason at the moment to think Mr. Trudeau should be condemned in this way.
Canadians need to know more broadly whether all parties in Canadian elections — and the electoral process itself — are adequately protected against surreptitious influence by foreign governments and agencies. A credible answer to that question cannot come from a parliamentary committee made up entirely of people whose full-time concern is winning and losing elections. Parliamentary committees, in any event, are devices for scolding public officials, not for investigating events and discovering facts.
Mr. Trudeau should invite the Chief Electoral Officer to design an inquiry on foreign interference aimed at protecting the integrity of Canadian elections. He should invite the leaders of all political parties to join in reviewing that plan. If agreement can be reached, he should set the inquiry to work and give it the means to find the answers Canadians need.