Mr. Speaker, I move that the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on Wednesday, March 8, be concurred in.
I would like to start by acknowledging that this is a debate that was supposed to be held yesterday, but the Conservatives unbelievably rescheduled the debate to today. They denied consent yesterday to have this debate on the public inquiry, so now we are holding the debate today. As we well know, because the Conservatives did that procedurally, it delays the discussion we are to have later on about the tax increase on beer, wine and spirits.
For anybody who is tuning in to see that debate, because the Conservatives screwed up procedurally yesterday, we will have the debate later on about having the House call on the Liberal government to cancel its April 1 tax increase on beer, wine and spirits. The NDP will be voting yes on that, and there will be a round of speeches later on this evening, but because of the Conservatives screwing up yesterday and forcing the debate to today on the public inquiry, we are called upon now to have a debate on the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I want to read into the record of the House that report on the public inquiry.
This was an NDP motion, and I would like to thank my colleague from for putting forward this motion. She does extraordinary work at procedure and House affairs. What she has put forward, what procedure and House affairs has adopted, and what we are now debating for the next three hours is:
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vi) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, March 2, 2023, the committee has considered the matter of foreign election interference.
Your committee calls on the Government of Canada to launch a national public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic system, including but not limited to allegations of interference in general elections by foreign governments;
That this inquiry be granted all the necessary powers to call witnesses from the government and from political parties;
That this inquiry investigates abuse of diaspora groups by hostile foreign governments;
That this inquiry have the power to order and review all documents it deems necessary for this work, including documents which are related to national security;
That the individual heading this inquiry be selected by unanimous agreement by the House Leaders of the officially recognized parties in the House of Commons; and
That this inquiry does not impede or stop the committee’s study on foreign election interference, including the production of documents and the calling of witnesses.
Members will recall that yesterday, New Democrats, playing their role as the adults in the House of Commons, forced the government, which had not been taking the issue of foreign election interference seriously, in our opinion, to relent and allow Katie Telford and other witnesses to come before the procedure and House affairs committee. Subsequently, we put in place in procedure and House affairs a motion that would allow for this foreign election interference study to be continued.
As I have said all along, the member for has been very clear, and NDP MPs have been very clear, that we believe that, given the size and scope of the allegations that have come forward, there is no doubt that we need a national public inquiry on the issue of foreign election interference.
I am going to outline some of those individuals who have a broad understanding of this issue who have also called for a national public inquiry. There is no doubt that this is an important issue. I understand that Bloc members also support the idea of a national public inquiry. Unbelievably, though, as we know, and we saw this yesterday, Conservatives denied the debate that was scheduled on the national public inquiry. They forced that debate to today. I will be talking about some of the evidence around some of the allegations that include Russian interference a few moments from now, but the reality is that the Conservatives have steadfastly objected to the idea of investigating foreign interference related to the Russian government and state actors, which I find disturbing.
There are the Chinese government and Chinese state actors, and I think all Canadians are concerned about why Conservatives would want to stop investigations into Russian government interference and Russian state actor interference. This concerns me because this should be an issue that rallies all members of Parliament. We should all be stepping up to ensure our elections are free of any taint of foreign interference, and that they are free and fair right across the country.
We have a proud tradition of free and fair elections. No one denies that the election results up until now have been election results that reflect, in a first-past-the-post system, what Canadians have voted for. We would prefer to see proportional representation. That would certainly change the representation in the House and make it more closely related to how Canadians have actually voted, but in a first-past-the-post system, which tends to disjoint the actual parliamentary representation, no one denies that our elections have been free and fair up until now.
The allegations are concerning, and that is why it is important that all members of Parliament vote on this issue in the coming day or two. We believe, very strongly, that members of Parliament have to respond to concerns that Canadians have raised. As a result of that, we are putting forward this motion today.
We would have preferred yesterday. The Conservatives stopped that from happening. They may say that it was inadvertent, that they just screwed up procedurally. I do not know. Whether it was inadvertent or purposeful, the reality is that they denied Canadians the right to hear the debate on a national public inquiry yesterday, which is so important. Fortunately, we are having that today.
I wanted to talk a bit about some of the evidence that has come forward, the allegations that are concerning, which are so important to triggering a national public inquiry. The member for has been exceedingly strong on that issue, talking about the importance of putting that in place. The government did not want to act, and we saw, as well, the government being reluctant even to offer key witnesses up. The NDP has forced that issue, so those witnesses are now going to be available to the procedure and House affairs committee.
We also believe, undeniably, that a national public inquiry is warranted. The rapporteur has now, again, because of NDP pressure, been given a date, a deadline, in the month of May, the third week of May, to submit that possible consideration of a national public inquiry.
I think that members of Parliament, by endorsing the NDP committee report, the motion for a national public inquiry, will get us considerably closer to the point where the rapporteur will be obliged, I believe, to respond to the concerns that have been raised by so many Canadians by actually putting the national public inquiry in place.
Who has said that a national public inquiry is warranted? The former director of CSIS Richard Fadden has said that a public inquiry is absolutely warranted. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, a former director of Elections Canada, has said that as well. This is very relevant, and I will come back to that in just a moment.
Gerald Butts, the former chief of staff to the , has also stated that it is important to have a national public inquiry. Artur Wilczynski, the former head of the Communications Security Establishment, said as well that a national public inquiry is warranted.
There is no doubt. We have a situation where we have to put this into place. These are elements that the NDP will continue to push.
I wanted to, for the record, talk about some of the allegations that have come forward that are concerning. This should be covered by a national public inquiry. Members of Parliament will be asked to vote on this in the coming hours. It is important that they reflect what has been a broad concern for Canadians. Over 70% have said that a national public inquiry is warranted.
This started the more recent discussions, of course, over the last few weeks, but I would suggest that the implication of the Russian government and Russian state actors in the convoy last year also raised broad concerns, and there have been concerns raised previously.
There was a series of articles in The Globe and Mail by Robert Fife and Steven Chase. Sam Cooper from Global News has also done work as a journalist to bring forward some of these facts and allegations. These journalists have provided this information. I want to quote from one of the stories that came out, published on February 17 by Robert Fife and Steven Chase, in which they said the following of documents that had come out that raise serious allegations about foreign election interference. The article reads:
CSIS also explained how Chinese diplomats conduct foreign interference operations in support of political candidates and elected officials. Tactics include undeclared cash donations to political campaigns or having business owners hire international Chinese students and “assign them to volunteer in electoral campaigns on a full-time basis.”
Sympathetic donors are also encouraged to provide campaign contributions to candidates favoured by China – donations for which they receive a tax credit from the federal government.
Then, the CSIS report from Dec. 20, 2021 says, political campaigns quietly, and illegally, return part of the contribution – “the difference between the original donation and the government’s refund” – back to the donors.
These allegations are profoundly disturbing because what they represent is criminal activity, contraventions of the Elections Act. The Elections Act we have put into place is far different than what exists in other countries. For example, in the U.S., washes of money, dark money, can come in to influence the electorate. In Canada, we have strict financing provisions that must be followed, and if they are not, as former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro found out, people go to jail for trying to skirt election laws. As the Conservative government found out, and the Conservative Party under the Harper regime found out as well with the in-and-out scandal, there are significant penalties for trying to get around our election laws.
The allegations contained within this article of having undeclared cash donations and of having business owners hire students to volunteer on a full-time basis, being in other words, paid students, and of ensuring that there is some kind of in and out where the money is provided to the campaign but is in some way reimbursed, are all illegal. These allegations contained in these reports show potentially serious violations of the Canada Elections Act.
Penalties, as I mentioned earlier, can be sizable fines and even prison terms. For the government to not move on this, to essentially stonewall this issue is, in my mind, hugely irresponsible. When we have allegations that point to what could be serious violations, criminal activity, around our elections, we have to make sure, if these allegations prove to be right, that the criminal penalties apply and the proper investigations take place.
This is the first concern we have, and it is why the NDP has been pushing in such a resolute way to ensure that we have a national public inquiry. It is because of the concerns that have been raised. These, being serious allegations, need to be treated seriously. This is the opportunity for all members of the House of Commons, on this NDP vote, to ensure they are doing everything to protect elections. Hopefully there will be a unanimous voice of all members of Parliament standing up to say to the government that it is time to put in place a public inquiry now. It has to be independent. It has to be transparent. It needs to happen now.
This is the reason why New Democrats have pushed for the type of public inquiry that handles all forms of foreign interference. I will say the Conservatives were very reluctant to have the Russian state actors and Russian government examined as part of this. They wanted to carve it off and make it a very targeted public inquiry.
Fortunately, we were able to push them back on that. Ultimately, the report that will come is the broad public inquiry I mentioned earlier in the report. However, that broad and public inquiry has to include Russia for the following reasons.
For the record, during the debates at the procedure and House affairs committee, I read a series of articles by Canada's National Observer that pointed to Russian state actor and Russian government involvement in the so-called convoy movement that hurt and harmed so many people, particularly in downtown Ottawa. Our memory is still fresh of the hundreds of businesses that were shut down, the hundreds of senior citizens who could no longer get their groceries delivered and the people with disabilities who were denied basic medications because of this unbelievable imposition and takeover of downtown Ottawa.
Without belabouring the details, what is of most concern in this particular debate is the Russian involvement. There have been a number of studies that have come out and a series of articles from Canada's National Observer, which are very important.
I want to read from a recent study that came out a few months ago, written by Caroline Orr Bueno and published in The Journal of Intelligence, Conflict and Warfare, volume 5, issue 3. It is an analysis of many of the sources that talk about the issue of the convoy and Russian involvement.
I want to read a few excerpts for the record.
It states, “Russia views homegrown protest movements like this”, referring to the convoy:
...as an opportunity to exacerbate social divides and sow discord as part of its asymmetric assault on western democracies.... [T]here is ample evidence of Russia’s involvement in far-right movements around the world.... From the National Front in France to the Northern League in Italy to the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Russia’s ruling political party—
In this regime, which is a dictatorship, “has established formal and informal ties with ultranationalist movements across Europe”.
Members will recall that three members of the Conservative caucus met with the Alternative for Germany. This is very germane to the issue of foreign interference. The study goes on to state, “Russian disinformation campaigns have been cited as a contributing factor in pandemic-related protests, extremist activity, and unrest”.
I would profoundly disagree with saying that this kind of documentation is not something that should be taken seriously and that we should carve off Russian interference so that we just focus on one country. What is before the House is a comprehensive public inquiry, which includes not only the Chinese involvement, disturbing as it is, but also the involvement of Russia and other countries.
I want to conclude with some quotes about the convoy.
The study goes on to state:
In addition to amplifying convoy-related coverage on television, Russian state media also produced a significant amount of online content related to the convoy movement.
It also references that social media amplified that coverage by Canadian supporters of the convoy.
We also have concerns that have come up recently about Iran issuing death threats against Canadians in a study that came out from the Indian government.
A study came out this week by the British Columbia Sikhs Gurdwaras Council and the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee.
One of the quotes from that study states:
...there is significant evidence on the record establishing that Indian officials and intelligence operatives have manufactured news, offered bribes to [news] media outlets for favourable news coverage, amplified targeted messages to disrupt public debate, interfered in electoral processes across the country, and attempted to manipulate Canadian policymakers on a number of occasions.
It is important that we have a transparent national public inquiry. The NDP is moving this motion today to seek the support of all members. This should not be a partisan issue, but something that we all look into, because our democracy is precious. People have given their lives for democracy.
Looking to the future, it is important that we use all the tools at our disposal to prevent any foreign interference, whether from Russia, China or any other country. No foreign government or state actor should be able to influence our government in any way whatsoever. I hope that all members will support our motion.
Mr. Speaker, I did not realize that this was where the day would go, but I guess we have to be prepared for anything.
I have to hand it to the NDP. They said that they wanted to bring forward their concurrence on this particular report, and they did that. The reality is, for those who do not really understand what is going on, that the Conservatives have an opposition supply day today. However, what has happened because of the fact that they sidelined the NDP yesterday, I guess, is that this is just payback for that. Nonetheless, it is a very important topic. I am glad that we have the opportunity to continue talking about this.
I do not think that my position, personally, is too far from that of the member for . However, I do take exception with his last comment that the Liberals said that they did not want a public inquiry. I actually was very clear about this.
By the way, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I was very clear about this at committee. I said in a speech at committee, at the beginning of this, when a public inquiry was first floated, that I actually thought a public inquiry kind of made the most sense. Why not broaden it and allow the public to have that insight?
We heard from the experts who came forward that a public inquiry would not gather any more information than what could be provided at committee. A public inquiry of this nature, which is going to dive into some highly sensitive information and highly sensitive reports, needs to be treated with the classification specifications that surround it.
It is not just in our own domestic interest to ensure that it occurs. It is also in the interest of the relationship that we have with our allies. We share secrets. We share information. They share information with us. If it becomes very apparent to our allies that we are unable to hold information safely, then they are not going to be interested in continuing to work with us. This is what we heard from the experts who came to committee and who talked about why a public inquiry was not the right route.
At the beginning, I started off thinking that, yes, a public inquiry kind of makes the most sense. However, I was very easily persuaded by those experts coming forward to actually see this occur in a different way, in a way that allows for the classification of that information to remain intact. I find it unfortunate that the member for would make that comment and say that Liberals are against it. No, Liberals listened to the advice of the experts, and we formed our opinion based on that.
That is the only difference, in my opinion, between my position and that of the NDP. I agree with them. Why not look at all foreign interference? The Conservatives have been very hell-bent on ensuring that the only issue we look at is Chinese interference, but we know that interference comes from other foreign state actors.
Foreign interference in elections is not a new concept. This has become more obvious and more real within the last 10 or 15 years, as people have been able to infiltrate through social media networks to get information out there in different ways and be sinister in ways that may have been a little more difficult in the past. What we have are real threats. I think that Canadians should be concerned, and they are rightfully concerned.
For me, this does not come down to a matter of whether we study foreign interference. I am actually relieved to see so many people interested in this. The previous minister of public safety, in 2020, sent an actual copy of election preparedness and foreign interference to every single member in the House. He sent a physical copy of a report that he put together, specifically talking about China in that. Not a single member in the House stood up. No Conservatives stood up to say they wanted to talk about the report by the previous public safety minister.
In one sense, I am glad that we are having this conversation out in the open and in the public forum. It is important to do that and to get to the bottom of these issues, but it is also really important to study all interference, not just by China, and to do it in the context that respects the classification of the information. We heard from expert after expert, and I do not think there was a single individual who came before PROC, with expertise in understanding how to utilize this information, who said that a public forum would be the best place to have this discussion.
Having said all of that, the government appointed a special expert to specifically look into this: former governor general David Johnston. He was tasked with looking into a number of things, one of which included the best way for Canadians to go forward with this issue to fully understand it. The said, when he announced this, that he will take whatever recommendations come forward from that independent expert.
Of course, Conservatives, as they are heckling me right now, will say that Mr. Johnston is biased, that he is a family friend and so on. We are talking about David Johnston, who is 81 years old. Now they are laughing about it. We are talking about David Johnston, one of the most highly respected Canadians in this country, who is going to look into this issue. If they want to continue to heckle and run all over his incredible reputation, they can go right ahead, like the former speaker of the House, the member for —
Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to rise in this place to represent the interests of the good people of Regina—Qu'Appelle and represent my caucus as the opposition House leader.
We need to frame what is going on here because what we saw over the last few weeks was a despicable display at committee, a mockery of the parliamentary process. We found out that the has known for years about allegations of foreign interference from the Communist regime in Beijing, specifically helping the Liberal Party. Chinese representatives of that Communist regime here in Canada said they preferred a Liberal government, and there are reports coming from The Globe and Mail, citing CSIS reports and national security committee reports, indicating that there is a large “clandestine network” of funding of candidates that is coming from the Communist regime in Beijing. Conservatives have been trying to shine a light on this at committee. We have all seen the lengths that the Liberals have gone to.
Today is what is called an opposition day. Today is the supply day when opposition parties are allowed to introduce a topic and have a debate on something. Normally the government gets to set the calendar. This is its right, as it brings forward legislation, but a certain number of days throughout the year are allocated to each opposition party. For today, the Conservatives put forward a motion to call on the government to abandon its plan to increase taxes on beer, wine and spirits. That is what we are supposed to be debating right now.
On Monday, we had a fulsome debate on this whole issue of foreign interference, and I should point out that Conservatives, at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, indicated to the NDP that we are totally fine with expanding the scope of the investigation. We believe that if there are allegations of foreign interference coming from any country, they should be investigated. We were willing to work with the New Democrats on that. We were hoping that they would vote in favour of our motion on Monday calling on the 's chief of staff to testify at committee. The problem was that they did not let us know. They kept ragging the puck. It was a very simple question. It was the exact same motion that we had proposed at committee. Even the NDP House leader had indicated his support at committee.
It kind of reminds me of something that happened a little while ago. I was in the chamber and I saw the NDP House leader get up and try to indicate that the NDP opposed certain amendments at committee when it was dealing with Bill . Of course, Bill C-21 is the piece of legislation that would massively expand the power of the government to take away lawful firearms from Canadians. I am not trying to mix topics too much, but the reason I am talking about this is that Conservatives recognized instantly what was going on. We saw it at committee. We said it was going to make unlawful so many firearms that hunters and indigenous communities use every season for their long-held Canadian heritage and history of using firearms legally.
What happened was that Conservatives at the committee saw that not only were these bad policy amendments, but they were also out of order, beyond the scope of the bill itself, so at the committee, almost immediately, we asked the chair to rule those amendments out of order. The chair said no. The Liberal chair said that the amendments were in order.
Why do I bring this up? At committee, the Conservatives challenged the chair. We asked our colleagues in the Bloc and the NDP to please support us on this as the amendments were out of order. The NDP voted no. The NDP voted to keep those amendments in Bill , yet the NDP House leader came to this chamber and asked the Speaker to do what his team actually voted against at committee. He tried to take credit, saying they were bad. It was only after their MPs heard from their constituents, who told them how terrible it was. This is exactly what we are facing here today.
We have tried to give the opportunity to the NDP members multiple times to hold this government to account and yet, time and time again, they are showing Canadians that they would rather prop up Liberal corruption and help keep the truth covered, instead of shining a light. It is very disappointing. It is very disappointing that we see the NDP here on an opposition day move this motion. They are trying to come up with this phony story.
Conservatives want a public inquiry. We have called for it. We were trying to get this report back in the House; we could have dealt with this last week. They are the ones playing procedural games and we are not going to let them get away with it. We are going to highlight to Canadians the hypocrisy that the NDP has been showing.
I just want to indicate that I am splitting my time with the hon. member for .
In closing, I want to make a couple of points about this. I hear from colleagues across the way who are throwing all kinds of baseless allegations that are just not backed up by facts. Conservatives have been calling for a public inquiry. The first time the Leader of the Opposition raised this issue in the House, the said that he did not know anything about it, so we started to press. We started to call for this. We started to call for a full, independent public inquiry. What did the government do? It appointed a special rapporteur.
I understand. I understand the hon. government House leader and I am hoping to have a discussion with him in a few moments, but it is important to set the stage for it.
I will wrap it up with this. It is impossible to restore the confidence that has been shaken by the 's inaction on this file without a public inquiry, not a special rapporteur with close family ties to the Prime Minister, not someone on the Trudeau Foundation board. We support the call for a full public inquiry and we are just disappointed that it took so long to drag the NDP kicking and screaming to ensure that the 's chief of staff testifies at committee.
Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the concurrence motion, which was strengthened considerably as a result of the Conservative amendment brought forward at the procedure and House affairs committee.
In the face of the alarming revelations of Beijing's interference in two elections that took place under the watch, Canadians deserve answers. This interference has been characterized by Global News and The Globe and Mail based upon their review of CSIS documents as a vast campaign of interference in the 2019 election and an orchestrated machine in the 2021 election to help the Liberals secure a minority government and to defeat certain Conservative candidates. Canadians deserve to know about the scale of Beijing's election interference and what is really at the heart of this scandal, namely: What did the know, when did he know it and what did he do or fail to do about Beijing's attack on our democracy?
In order to get to the truth, two things need to happen. First, the procedure and House affairs committee, which is seized with a study on Beijing's election interference, must be able to do its work unimpeded. It must do its work without the obstruction that we have seen over the past several weeks, driven by the Liberals but often supported by the junior partner of the cover-up coalition, the NDP. It is important that an independent public inquiry be called. This is a position that Conservatives have consistently supported. Indeed, we strengthened the very weak NDP motion at the procedure and House affairs committee, which I will get into momentarily.
On both of these questions, what is the NDP's track record? Well, it is a pretty pathetic one. At the direction of their boss, the , NDP members joined with Liberal MPs at the procedure and House affairs committee to block the testimony of Katie Telford. They worked with the Liberals not once, not twice, but three times to block Katie Telford from coming to the committee. She is a key witness for getting to the bottom of what the Prime Minister knows and what he failed to do about Beijing's election interference. Again, it is what one would expect of the junior partner of the cover-up coalition.
Then NDP members, no doubt facing public pressure, suddenly flip-flopped and indicated that they were supporting my straightforward motion to have Katie Telford appear at the procedure and House affairs committee. One would think that if they were posturing their support that they would welcome the Conservative motion that was brought forward in the House. However, all of a sudden, they flip-flopped again and voted against that motion.
Now, in fairness to NDP members, they did ultimately support my motion when the Liberals finally ended their filibustering. Still, it took weeks of pressure from the public and Conservatives before they finally did the right thing and supported bringing Telford to committee. However, it must also be noted that they voted against a much stronger motion that Conservatives put forward in the House, which was voted on yesterday. The NDP, the junior partner of the cover-up coalition, sided with the Liberals and voted against a motion that had considerably more teeth than the PROC motion does.
In addition to that, as the junior partner of the cover-up coalition, the NDP has worked with the Liberals to cover up the production of documents at the procedure and House affairs committee, not once but twice. They voted against a Conservative motion proposing that the independent parliamentary inquiry review relevant documents, having regard for national security and other considerations. This independent review would have been instead of giving the government; the PMO; and the , who has so much to answer for, a veto over what is produced to the committee. The NDP voted against that. They joined the Liberals in blocking the production of documents.
The NDP talks a good game about a public inquiry, but the motion they put forward at the procedure and House affairs committee was considerably weak. It would have given the the unilateral power to appoint the commissioner of the inquiry. What Conservatives put forward as an amendment was to say no, that the Prime Minister should not have the only say. If there is to be a public inquiry, as we believe there should be, such an inquiry must be truly independent. Moreover, it must be perceived to be independent. Therefore, our amendment provided that all recognized parties in this House should agree upon the head of the public inquiry to ensure not only the independence of that inquiry but the perception of its independence.
In that regard, Conservatives considerably strengthened the very concurrence motion that this House is debating today. By contrast, the NDP were prepared to let the have a do-over of Rosenberg. There, the Prime Minister appointed a Liberal crony, someone who was the president of the Trudeau Foundation for several years. Not only was he the president of the Trudeau Foundation, but he also actually facilitated a $200,000 donation from a Beijing political operative to the Trudeau Foundation. We said that should not happen again. That individual was appointed to review the 2021 election, completely undermining the credibility of the findings of Rosenberg's report.
Again, there we have it: the NDP members playing games, talking out of both sides of their mouths, flip-flopping and putting forward weak motions at PROC. They say they want a public inquiry, but they were prepared to turn it over to the . What we have is a completely unserious NDP when it comes to getting to the bottom of foreign interference, specifically Beijing's election interference. The NDP has actually spent more time criticizing Conservatives, trying to hold us accountable, than they have the Liberal government. We know, based upon all the reports and the limited documents that have been produced to our committee, that the government has a lot to answer for given that the Liberal Party was a beneficiary or that, at least, Beijing's objective was to assist the Liberal Party.
Why would it take weeks for the NDP to get around to doing what should have happened weeks ago, which is for Telford to come to committee? After all, she is the 's top political advisor. She is arguably the second most powerful person in the government, outside of the Prime Minister, and she was intimately involved in both the Liberal Party's 2019 and 2021 election campaigns.
I am glad the cover-up coalition's junior partner finally—
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to stand here today in the House. I would like to say hello to the citizens of Trois‑Rivières.
For weeks now, we have been talking about China's interference, and for weeks, most of us have agreed that we need an independent public inquiry. I think we all agree on that, with the exception of a few indomitable Gauls. Usually we are the indomitable Gauls.
What is at stake here is the public interest. There is no room for partisanship; partisanship is for elections. We need to act in the public interest. I must admit that what I am seeing is that the government is more interested in praising the leak than acting in the public interest.
Those who work in ethics always try to determine the right thing to do, so long as the intent is to do good. This is a serious question that requires introspection and a certain distance from the issue. It involves being willing to discuss the issue in question. In ethics, one tries to determine what should be done in the circumstances. Our anglophone friends talk about doing the right thing, whereas in French we talk about ce que nous devons faire pour bien faire. Whoever wants to do that needs guidelines.
Right now, I am unaware of any laws respecting foreign interference, so we cannot say that we will enforce the law. However, we will have to do something, since the current legal vacuum needs to be filled. In order to determine what to do, we need to determine what happened.
In the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, of which I am a member, we recently raised many questions concerning foreign interference. We are talking about foreign interference from China, but we could also be talking about Russia, Iraq or any number of other countries. I would especially like to mention a question I asked a few witnesses the other day. I asked them whether the current government was familiar with China, and the answer was a resounding “no”. I asked them whether the current government understood China, Russia or Iraq, and the answer was “no”. It is hard to stop a leak when we do not know that there is a leak. In this case, we need to start by recognizing that there is a leak.
Half-heartedly, feeling threatened, the Prime Minister recognized that perhaps it might be time to act. The decision was then made to appoint someone who would bear the title of rapporteur. European legislation often refers to rapporteurs. A rapporteur examines a situation, drafts a short summary and provides that summary. Unlike what is currently being alleged, the rapporteur will not decide whether there will be a public inquiry or not. The rapporteur will simply report facts. The person to whom the rapporteur reports those facts will decide what will happen. The rapporteur is being called independent. I will not question Mr. Johnston's résumé, obviously, but I will clearly question his proximity to the Trudeau family, with the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation—
Madam Speaker, my colleague is having trouble hearing, and I am having trouble thinking straight.
I was saying that we have a rapporteur. We are told he is independent. There must be no conflict of interest or confusion of interests. There must be an absence of appearance as well. I was saying that the mere presence of Mr. Johnston creates doubt. Doubt breeds mistrust. Mistrust breeds defiance. We saw defiance on full display last winter. We do not like defiance. We do not want to get to that point.
However, I have questions for the government about this. They will precede the ones that will be asked of me. Nevertheless, what does it mean to call someone independent?
In Latin,“in” means “in relation to”, and the word “dependence” speaks of a choice. Someone who is independent is free to make their own choices. Is the rapporteur free to make his own choices? I do not know. I have not seen his mandate, but I am going to suggest four other things we should rely on.
Can we say that the rapporteur is neutral? I would be surprised if he was, because he still has to be for justice, for the public interest. He is not neutral.
Is he impartial? Impartiality is often confused with neutrality, but they are not the same thing. Impartiality means being able to decide fairly by taking a higher vantage point. An impartial person has a choice between A and B. He will make his choice, according to the principles that have been proposed to him. Is he impartial? That is my wish.
However, the two concepts that pique my interest are objectivity and subjectivity. It will come as no surprise to learn that the word objectivity comes from the Latin objectum which means “something presented to the senses”. An objectum is an object that is presented to oneself. It is in front of us; we see it. That is objective in English. We often confuse it with subjectivity, the subjectum, which is the person holding the object that is not yet in front of us.
Is the rapporteur looking at the object or holding the object? I hope a colleague will ask me that question. I would love to answer that one.
There is objectivity and subjectivity. I, personally, am looking for objectivity, to be honest. I think we need objectivity; otherwise, doubts will continue to persist and we will head down the same path again.
Now the thing to do, and I am sure everyone will agree, is to act responsibly, and I am referring to what the government should do, not the rapporteur. The word “responsible” is often mentioned, but rarely defined. I will continue with my definitions. The word “responsible” comes from two Latin words. The first, res, means “thing”, and the second, spondere, means “promise”. A responsible person is someone who can promise a thing. Is the government being responsible in this case? To answer that, there is a little test with three questions.
Here are the three questions. Does the or the government have the choice of means? In my view, yes, they have the choice of means. There are many means available to the government. Next, is the government exercising that choice of means, or is it stuck with just one option? I think we have a problem here. The first question is whether there is a choice of means, the second is whether that choice is being exercised, and the third is whether there is a will to act.
As far the will to act goes, I think that if the government were any more reluctant, it would be dead. It is extremely reluctant to act, and this reluctance is not healthy for democracy. It is not healthy because even if everything that is being said were true, doubts are keeping us from finding out or understanding the truth of the matter. We will certainly insist on having a public, independent and, I would add, objective inquiry.
I am adding an extra layer of difficulty here, but if the government is so sure that it is right, and I will give it the opportunity to respond, it should agree to make an objective choice, which cannot be done with the presence of Mr. Johnston, regardless of his credentials. I am the first to acknowledge academic value, but the shadow cast by doubt leads us to believe that this will not work out.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am glad to rise on this important issue. Time and time again I have stood in the House to talk about the importance of standing up to strengthen our democracy and our democratic institutions, and to talk about foreign interference being a persistent and real threat. The problem we are seeing throughout this debate, and I have been a regular at the PROC committee these days, is that the Conservatives have tried to make the issue of foreign interference a partisan issue when it is in fact a Canadian issue. Every single Canadian in this country, regardless of who they vote for, should be able to know that their democratic institutions are strong and that they protect against foreign interference.
However, we have seen that the Conservatives stood by for years. They closed their eyes and covered their ears to any sort of issue around foreign interference until they felt it could be in their political interest. It was not a surprise to me, but it should be shocking to Canadians, that when the asked the why, when he was the minister of democratic institutions, he did nothing to protect and safeguard our institutions and elections, he said it was not in Conservative partisan interests to do so at the time. That should tell Canadians everything they need to know about how reckless Conservatives are when it comes to national security and foreign interference.
They keep speaking about how it is a cover-up or there is something Liberals are trying to hide. Talk about an incompetent opposition. They are claiming a cover-up when a 2019 NSICOP report that was tabled in this very House raised the issue of foreign interference. Talk about hiding in plain sight. I guess Conservatives prefer not to read the reports that are tabled in the House.
We have not only been busy working on addressing foreign interference but we have also taken additional steps. The mandate letter of the talks about strengthening our democratic institutions from foreign interference. However, the Conservatives once again pretend this is something we have never talked about, that we have never discussed and that we are not seized with, but there is documented evidence that we are the only government that has put forward the most concrete steps to strengthen our democratic institutions.
That is not to say that more is not needed to be done. In fact, we supported the study at PROC to look at additional ways and measures, and things that we could be continuously doing. The fact remains that foreign interference is going to be pervasive, and it is going to constantly change, so any member in the House, or any Canadian, who thinks they have the answer and we will never need to look at this again, is wrong. This is something that Parliaments and governments around the world have to ensure they are constantly staying on top of so these pervasive threats do not take hold.
I also find it interesting that the Conservatives proclaim they support our national security community, yet our national security community has said that Canadians, and Canadians alone, determine the outcome of our elections, but Conservatives continue to undermine that fact. The non-partisan national security community has stated it time and time again at committee, but Conservatives try to undermine that. They try to sow doubt in our non-partisan public service. We do not believe in that. We trust that these officials are seized with keeping Canadians safe. Our national security community wants to ensure that national security documents are handled with the care and protections that national security documents require.
The Conservatives would have us believe that they should just release all of this information because a few members on PROC feel like looking at it, instead of going to the appropriate location, which is NSICOP, where every member of that committee has national security clearance, where there is extreme care given to the documents that are provided and handled, and where an enormous amount of information is provided. The committee is extremely independent, it tables reports and is extremely professional. Might I add, the secretariat is above all.
I actually served on this committee, so I can speak with extreme passion and knowledge to the fact that the NSICOP secretariat is a professional resource that parliamentarians now have. In fact, NSICOP's reports have been regarded around the world for the work it has done, and the Conservatives want to ignore that fact and undermine the work that has been done. It is a multi-party committee, with representation from all parties and the Senate, so I find it interesting that the Conservatives do not want to use this committee that, in fact, we ensured was created in the House, where parliamentarians could access these top secret security documents in a way that is responsible.
I think every Canadian would want their parliamentarians to treat national security with the seriousness and responsibleness that national security deserves. It keeps not only us as Canadians safe but those who have stepped up to serve and protect our country. However, the Conservatives, once again, continue to be reckless with our national security community, and I think Canadians have seen through that time and time again.
It is also no surprise to me, but it is interesting that members of PROC and my colleague, the member for , mentioned the behaviour of one individual on that committee who was actually pulled off. I also find it interesting that the behaviour and conduct of several members of the Conservatives at that committee has been absolute chaos. It has been partisan and has resulted in nothing. There is so much turmoil, and I guess Conservatives just going in circles, that Conservatives are abandoning their PROC members and saying, “Ah, maybe we should take this to ethics” where maybe their members can get it through the finish line, I do not know. However, Conservatives themselves are infighting and cannot seem to even stay on track with what their objectives are, because their objectives are not to strengthen our democracy; their objectives are to simply throw partisan grenades, and it is not working.
I think that if we want to have reasonable and serious debate about—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!