Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for the opportunity to appear today with my colleagues.
My colleagues and I support the committee's efforts to examine foreign interference in Canada.
It is very important to reassure Canadians that the last two federal elections were fair and legitimate. Canadians have questions about foreign interference attempts during the last elections, and we will endeavour to answer those questions in the most transparent way possible within the limits of the law. We, as national security officials, have a duty to protect classified information. Unauthorized sharing of classified information is in fact prohibited by the Security of Information Act.
That is not to say that we cannot or should not talk about foreign interference. It is not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to Canada. Like others, we believe this threat is on the rise and increasingly complex. The greatest foreign interference threat to Canada comes from the People’s Republic of China, though other states, like Russia and Iran, are also attempting to covertly or coercively interfere in our affairs.
As highlighted in many public reports, including from CSIS and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, foreign interference takes many forms, such as undue pressure on politicians, staff and public servants to obtain information or sway decisions; intimidation of diasporas and other communities, including, for example, by denying visas to visit family; mis- or disinformation to weaken Canada’s societal cohesion—we have seen this play out in the context of Canada’s support to Ukraine; encroachments into our territory or networks for intelligence collection; and theft of our science, data and research.
Measuring the short- and long-term impacts of foreign interference is a challenge. We know it costs Canada tens of billions of dollars annually in lost profitability; erodes Canadian technological advantages, particularly in emerging technologies; undermines national unity and sows discontent; threatens the safety of targeted individuals and their entourage or families; and challenges democracy.
Over the past few years, we have taken a number of steps to more effectively detect, deter and counter foreign interference in all its forms, including but not only during election periods. One effective way to do so is to talk about the threat and how we mitigate it without jeopardizing the sources and techniques used to gather intelligence and keep Canadians safe.
As I said, one of our responsibilities as senior officials of the security and intelligence community is to be as transparent as possible without further challenging national security or further damaging trust in our democratic institutions. As such, we have been engaging with communities, academia, industry and politicians to raise awareness and provide tools to help address this broad, complex threat.
Such tools include the security and intelligence threats to elections task force and the critical election incident public protocol. These mechanisms helped ensure that the 2019 and 2021 federal elections were indeed fair and legitimate, despite foreign interference attempts.
As described by Minister Blair in a December 2020 letter to members of Parliament, our broader counter-foreign interference tool kit also includes countering mis- and disinformation, including using active cyber tools and leading the G7 rapid response mechanism; enhancing research security, including with guidance to research granting councils; protecting our networks from malicious actors, including through the creation of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security; and investigating, disrupting and/or prosecuting foreign interference activity.
We cannot paint an overly optimistic picture. Things change. Tools and methods change. Our adversaries adapt quickly and find innovative ways to interfere in our affairs, so we must continue to learn, including from one election to the next, to refine our collective defences and adapt to this evolving threat.
Part of this is better informing Canadians of the threats we face, and I will stress again that this must be done responsibly, without putting at risk the physical safety of our human resources—our human sources and employees—by publicly divulging classified material. Given the very nature of intelligence, individual reports, when taken out of context, may be incomplete and misrepresentative of the full story.
We must also carefully consider that, as recently suggested by Senator Shugart, in some cases publicly disclosing intelligence on foreign states’ specific attempts to interfere may ultimately play into their hands, including by potentially affecting outcomes of electoral processes and creating confusion.
To conclude, while I was not in my current role in 2019 or 2021, I speak for the security and intelligence community when I say that we are clear-eyed in understanding the challenge posed by foreign interference. We are taking concrete steps to strengthen our counter-foreign interference approach, including by making sure that those who engage in such activities face consequences.
Again, as Minister Blair stated in his letter to members of Parliament, while “We cannot always make Government actions public in this sphere...our sustained efforts make a difference in the lives of Canadians.”
Once again, thank you.
My colleagues and I would be glad to answer any questions you have.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Hello, Madam Chair, and thank you very much.
Thanks to the members of the committee for the invitation to reappear on the study of foreign election interference.
As was noted, my name is Alia Tayyeb, and I am the deputy chief of CSE's signals intelligence branch.
I appreciate the invitation to appear here alongside my colleagues from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Global Affairs Canada and the RCMP, the departments and agencies representing Canada’s security and intelligence threats to elections task force, known as SITE.
We are here to discuss SITE’s activities related to foreign election interference. These activities demonstrate our strong commitment to working with our partners to protect both the integrity of Canada’s elections and Canadians’ trust in our democracy.
I'll provide an overview of the SITE task force.
The SITE task force brings together operational leads and experts from CSE, CSIS, GAC and the RCMP with the aim of improving awareness, collection, coordination and action in countering foreign interference in Canada’s federal elections. Each task force member plays an important role in addressing foreign interference in electoral processes. We work together, operating with our own distinct mandates, to address this threat.
CSIS collects and analyzes information about threats to the security of Canada, including information about foreign-influenced activities, and it provides advice, intelligence reporting and intelligence assessments to the Government of Canada about these activities.
GAC provides open-source research and data analysis on foreign state-sponsored disinformation and coordinates with the G7 and other international partners to respond to threats to democracy.
The RCMP has the primary responsibility for preventing, detecting, denying and responding to national security-related criminal threats in Canada and investigating criminal offences arising from foreign influence.
My organization, CSE, provides advice, guidance and services to help ensure the protection of electronic information and systems of importance, and collects foreign intelligence for the Government of Canada on threat actors.
CSE was the chair of the SITE task force between 2018 and 2022. As chair, CSE was responsible for convening and coordinating the task force, including joint products and briefings.
I will now turn to the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol, which was created ahead of the 2019 general election as part of the plan to protect Canada’s democracy.
As part of this protocol, for both the 2019 and 2021 general elections, a panel of five senior public servants was formed.
Part of the SITE task force’s role was to brief the panel on foreign interference or other threats to the electoral process. The SITE task force advised the panel of any relevant information, and the panel was responsible for determining whether the threshold for informing Canadians was met.
SITE briefed the panel on several occasions before, during and after the elections of 2019 and 2021. These briefings ensured panel members had a shared understanding of the threat landscape. SITE also provided daily classified intelligence updates, which went to all SITE task force member organizations and the panel.
In addition to providing information to the panel, SITE was part of the Elections Security Coordinating Committee, which brought together members of the security and intelligence community with representatives of Elections Canada and the office of the commissioner of Canada elections. This group met on a regular basis to ensure communication flows, exercise responses to potential events and discuss any potential threats to the electoral process. In that context, SITE provided regular threat briefings to this group.
The third set of regular briefings SITE conducted consisted of meetings with representatives from political parties, who had been provided secret-level security clearances, to build awareness of foreign threats to Canada’s electoral process and provide any relevant foreign interference information. SITE briefed these representatives on several occasions before and during the 2019 and 2021 elections.
Meanwhile, throughout the election period, CSE and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security provided points of contact to all 16 federal registered political parties for further discussion on cybersecurity challenges related to Canada’s democratic process. In so doing, political parties or candidates were provided with points of contact should they encounter any suspicious cyber-activity, and CSE designated a quick response point of contact for them.
In addition to our contributions through SITE, CSE has also issued numerous unclassified publications, advice and guidance to inform Canadians about current trends.
I can assure you that all the SITE members here take all allegations of foreign interference very seriously.
Although Canada’s electoral system is strong, foreign interference can threaten the integrity of our institutions, particularly by sowing doubt and undermining confidence in the process.
We will continue to work within our respective mandates to protect Canadians and raise awareness about the serious threat of foreign interference to our country.
Thank you again for the invitation to appear. I welcome any questions you may have.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
That, given further media reports from Global News, revealing additional shocking revelations regarding Beijing’s strategy to interfere and influence Canada’s democratic institutions, the Committee, in relation to its study of foreign interference in elections,
(a) hold a third meeting during each House sitting week to accommodate this study, in addition to its meetings concerning its orders of reference related to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act;
(b) hold at least three meetings, each two hours in length, dedicated to this study, on each House adjournment week;
(c) invite Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, to appear alone for two hours by herself, within two weeks of the adoption of this motion, provided that she be sworn or affirmed;
(d) invite Jeremy Broadhurst, Liberal Party of Canada Campaign Director for the 2019 general election;
(e) invite Morris Rosenberg, author of the independent assessment of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol (CEIPP) for the 2021 general election, as mandated by the Cabinet Directive on the CEIPP; and
(f) order the production of all memoranda, briefing notes, e-mails, records of conversations, and any other relevant documents, including any drafts, which are in the possession of any government department or agency, including the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force, the CEIPP, any Minister's Office, and the Prime Minister's Office, containing information concerning the efforts by, or on behalf of, foreign governments or other foreign state actors to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 general elections, including the documents which were quoted in the various Globe and Mail and Global News reports on this subject-matter and, for greater certainty, those regarding Canadian Security Intelligence Service warnings to “senior Liberal Party staff” in September 2019 regarding Beijing's foreign interference in the Liberal nomination for the riding of Don Valley North, provided that
(i) these documents be deposited without redaction with the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, in both official languages and within three weeks of the adoption of this order,
(ii) a copy of the documents shall also be deposited with the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, in both official languages, within three weeks of the adoption of this Order, with any proposed redaction of information which, in the government's opinion, could reasonably be expected to compromise the identities of employees or sources or intelligence-collecting methods of Canadian or allied intelligence agencies,
(iii) the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel shall promptly notify the Committee whether the Office is satisfied that the documents were produced as ordered, and, if not, the Chair shall be instructed to present forthwith, on behalf of the Committee, a report to the House outlining the material facts of the situation,
(iv) the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel shall assess the redactions proposed by the government, pursuant to subparagraph (ii), to determine whether the Office agrees that the proposed redactions conform with the criteria set out in subparagraph (ii) and
(A) if it agrees, it shall provide the documents, as redacted by the government pursuant to subparagraph (ii), to the Clerk of the Committee, or
(B) if it disagrees with some or all of the proposed redactions, it shall provide a copy of the documents, redacted in the manner the Office determines would conform with the criteria set out in paragraph (ii), together with a report indicating the number, extent and nature of the government's proposed redactions which were disagreed with, to the Clerk of the Committee, and
(v) the Clerk of the Committee shall cause the documents, provided by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel pursuant to subparagraph (iv), to be distributed to the members of the Committee and to be published on the Committee's website forthwith upon receipt.
Madam Chair, I bring this motion forward given last Friday's Global News report by Sam Cooper, revealing additional shocking revelations about Beijing's interference in our democracy.
Given Global News reports that senior staff in the Prime Minister's Office were briefed about this interference and did nothing about it, it is all the more important that the 's chief of staff Katie Telford testify before this committee, which this motion demands.
As we seek to get to the bottom of alarming reports of interference by Beijing in the 2019 and 2021 elections, let me say at the outset what this is not about. This is not about Chinese Canadians who are, first and foremost, the victims of Beijing's interference activities.
What this is about is that under this 's watch, there has been reportedly, based on a review of CSIS documents by Global News and The Globe and Mail, what has been characterized by both Global News and The Globe and Mail as a vast and sophisticated campaign of interference by Beijing in not one but two elections—again, under this Prime Minister's watch. Above all else, what this scandal is about is what the Prime Minister knows about this interference, when he first learned about it and what he did about it or failed to do about it.
So far, Madam Chair, there is absolutely no evidence that the has done anything meaningful in response to Beijing's interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. By all indications, he has instead turned a blind eye to this interference in our elections and in our democracy.
CSIS advised the Prime Minister, including in a January 21, 2021, briefing, that the policy of the government in response to foreign interference be grounded in sunlight and transparency. In response to these troubling reports of election interference, the Prime Minister has done exactly the opposite of what CSIS advised. Instead of providing sunlight and transparency, the Prime Minister has refused to answer basic questions about what he knows.
Following the November 7 Global News report by Sam Cooper of a vast campaign of interference by the Chinese Communist regime in the 2019 election that, among other things, involved 11 candidates, the , following that, was silent for two weeks. He said nothing. Then, using carefully crafted language, he tried to mislead the Canadian public by saying that he was not briefed about candidates who received money from China, as if Beijing wrote a cheque to 11 candidates. No one alleged such a thing. Such a thing, on its face, is absurd.
If there's anything that's transparent about this , that was a transparent attempt on the part of the Prime Minister to hide, to misdirect, to cover up and to mislead the Canadian public about what he knows. When he was called out on that, the Prime Minister, despite repeated questions about whether he was briefed and what he knows, never provided a clear answer.
Following The Globe and Mail's recent report by Robert Fife and Steven Chase about Beijing's interference in the 2021 election, instead of being transparent about what he knows and instead of expressing concern about this reported interference, the Prime Minister's response was to shamefully go after whistle-blowers at CSIS for possibly shining a light and making the public aware of Beijing's interference, something that CSIS precisely advised the Prime Minister—transparency, shining a light, making the public aware. Yet he went after whistle-blowers.
He even went so far as to outrageously insinuate that those of us on this committee and others who want to get to the bottom of Beijing's election interference are somehow undermining democracy. I say that a prime minister who misleads, misdirects and covers up election interference is the one who is undermining democracy, not those who want to get to the bottom of foreign interference by Beijing.
He smugly attacked the accuracy of the Globe and Mail report of Robert Fife and Steven Chase, both well-respected journalists, only to backtrack the very next day and say that he was somehow misunderstood. The non-answers, his repeated evasions and his attacks on whistle-blowers are not the actions of a transparent prime minister. They are not the actions of a prime minister who is interested in getting to the bottom of Beijing's interference. They are the actions of a prime minister who has failed to act, who turned a blind eye, and who is now trying to cover it up.
The need for the to come clean and tell Canadians what he knows is underscored by the shocking Global News report by Sam Cooper that was reported last Friday. In that report, it was stated that CSIS warned “senior aides from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office” that a Liberal candidate in the 2019 election—now a sitting Liberal MP—was assisted by Beijing's Toronto consulate in his nomination campaign.
Instead of taking the warnings of CSIS seriously, they—“they” being the senior aides in the Prime Minister's Office—did nothing about it. They turned a blind eye. When the was asked just an hour or two ago whether he had been informed and whether he had been briefed about CSIS's warning that a Liberal candidate, now a sitting Liberal MP, was assisted by Beijing's Toronto consulate in his nomination campaign, he refused to answer. He misdirected again. He tried to change the subject. He tried to attack those who were demanding answers and who were seeking to get to the bottom of this interference.
Again, these are the conduct and the actions of a prime minister who is not transparent. They are the actions and conduct of a prime minister who has something to hide and who has a lot to answer for.
Given the seriousness involving these latest allegations reported by Global News, it is imperative that, at the very least, the 's top aide and the most powerful unelected official in government, his chief of staff Katie Telford, appear before this committee. The Prime Minister said in 2015 that, when you're talking to Katie Telford or Gerald Butts, it is like you're talking to him. This is someone who is a critical witness in terms of getting to the bottom of what I again stress is the heart of the scandal.
What did the know, when did he know it and what did he do about it or fail to do about it with respect to Beijing's interference in two elections, the 2019 election and the 2021 election, under his watch as Prime Minister?
Ms. Telford needs to come clean and tell this committee and tell Canadians about what she knows about this CSIS briefing; explain why senior PMO staff turned a blind eye to CSIS warnings about Beijing's interference in our democracy; and explain why she may be one of those senior PMO staff who turned a blind eye. We need to know.
For this committee to be able to do its work to get to the bottom of Beijing's interference, we need to see the production of relevant documents. The production process so far has been inept. At this committee's meeting last week, I highlighted the inadequacy of this, showing that we have received pages and pages of production that are blank pages. That's why I put forward a motion that the parliamentary law clerk, who is independent, undertake redactions having regard for national security considerations.
That motion was gutted last week by the Liberals. Why was it gutted? It was because, almost certainly doing the bidding of the Prime Minister's Office, the Liberals didn't want transparency. The Liberals were quite content to see pages and pages of blank pages. The Liberals wanted to do the redacting themselves, even though it's this who is implicated, along with his staff, in this interference scandal.
They, the Liberals, didn't trust, and don't trust, the parliamentary law clerk, because, again, they're not interested in getting to the bottom of what happened. They're interested in seeing the 's inaction and what he knows covered up.
This motion does provide, once again, that the independent parliamentary law clerk undertake the redactions. That would ensure that national security considerations are protected while at the same time providing as much transparency as possible so that this committee can do its work.
With that, I'm hopeful that the Liberal members opposite will stop doing the bidding of this and his PMO and do what is right in shining a light on Beijing's interference in our elections. That starts with not shielding but bringing to committee PMO officials like the Prime Minister's chief of staff and seeing an independent and transparent production process.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I won't speak for long. I would simply like to address some issues just raised by Mr. Cooper.
It's extremely important, especially following the meeting we had earlier today. Despite the incredible number of documents out there—I have some here, in my notes, but I won't use them—and everything that's been reported in the media on this issue in the last several weeks, both by Global News and in the Globe and Mail, there are still a number of worrying issues which lead us to believe that we need a more in‑depth study on the influence of the Chinese regime in our elections.
Every day, every hour, we are finding out new things. Canadians have the right to know what's really going on and to get to the bottom of things. That is what we want to do.
That is why the motion introduced today by my colleague in this regard calls for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to dig even deeper, to meet more often and draw up a more exhaustive list of witnesses so we can get to the bottom of things. As we have seen again today, despite all of the questions we are asking, we still can't get to the bottom of things. We still don't know when the was informed of potential Chinese interference, who would have told him, what he did when he was presented with the information and what he intends to do to protect the integrity of the next election. I would like to remind everyone that we are in a minority government and that an election could be triggered at any moment. It is therefore important that we move quickly so we can get to the bottom of the matter.
We are therefore requesting many more meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for this study and that the House provide the committee with the necessary resources to hold these meetings.
In particular, we are asking that Katie Telford, the chief of staff, be called to testify on her own for two hours. I think that's the least we can do to get to the bottom of things. As has said before, speaking to Ms. Telford is like speaking directly to him. So we would like to hear what Ms. Telford has to say, what she knows and especially what information she shared with the Prime Minister. We want to know what the Prime Minister knows, when he found out and why the government seems to have done nothing to counter foreign interference, when it obviously happened, based on the information we have today.
We are also asking for Mr. Rosenberg to appear, as he is the author of the independent assessment of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol for the 2021 federal election.
Lastly, we are asking for the production of a series of documents to shed light on this matter. These documents would obviously be redacted by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel in the interest of protecting information.
In short, I support my colleague's motion. I hope that my colleagues from every party will support this motion so we can shed light on all of the articles that have appeared in the media. As I said, I'll soon run out of space in front of me to lay out all of these news articles.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank my colleague for bringing forward this motion today. I listened intently while he read the motion and explained the rationale for bringing it forward.
One of the concerns I have is that the focus is not on foreign interference. The focus is on the .
I'm very concerned about foreign interference in elections. The purpose of this study is whether, in fact, we have the proper mechanisms in place in terms of protocol and oversight, and in terms of what happened in the 2019 election and the 2021 election, and perhaps even in previous elections. Part of this motion doesn't refer to any of that.
With respect to the production of documents that was referred to, we just heard Ms. Jody Thomas, who was previously the deputy minister of national defence and is now the national security and intelligence adviser, explain very clearly that as guardians of “protected information”, obviously, the members of PROC do not have the security clearance to be able to see the documents that are classified as top secret. NSICOP, which has the necessary clearance, would be the appropriate place for parliamentarians to review documents in a non-redacted way.
When my colleague mentions blank pages, it's obvious he knows full well that none of us has the security clearance necessary to see unredacted documents of top secret clearance, and that releasing documents of top secret clearance would have major ramifications. While I understand where the member opposite is coming from, there are legislative prohibitions to releasing top secret documents. We have a mechanism in place to look at that, which is NSICOP.
We've just received a report from Mr. Rosenberg, the “Report on the assessment of the 2021 Critical Election Incident Public Protocol”, which has some recommendations in it that would be very worthwhile for this committee to dig into. That is something that I look forward to hearing more about.
With respect to this motion, quite frankly, it doesn't achieve what I thought PROC was looking for in understanding foreign interference and making sure that we have the tools in place. Are the tools in place robust enough to prevent this? There are questions still to be answered.
While I highly respect my colleague across the way, I think that this motion brings us away from the task at hand, which is to look at foreign interference in elections versus a focus on the . If that's his intent, that's his intent. My intent here is to look at foreign interference in elections to make sure that they are as robust as possible, and to make sure that the tools are in place so that we can protect our democracy.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I will be voting against the amendment that was put forward by my colleague. However, you'll recall, Madam Chair, that much earlier today, we circulated the NDP approach on how these hearings should be conducted. Mr. Turnbull has taken one small element of that, but has not taken the overall, comprehensive approach. I hope that once this amendment is defeated, I'll be able to move my more extensive amendment.
What we believe needs to happen is to ensure, first off, that we have a national public inquiry. That is something I hope we will debate tomorrow. I moved the notice of motion today. It will be in order to move it tomorrow, and I certainly hope that the motion for a national public inquiry will be supported by all members of this committee.
Until the government indicates it is willing to do that, we will have work to do as a committee. The key element, to my mind—this is where I would disagree with my Conservative colleagues—is that we need to be looking comprehensively at the Chinese government and state actor interference, but also at Russian state actor interference.
I want to flag the University of Calgary's school of public policy. It came out with a study just last summer indicating that in the Canadian Twitter ecosystem, around 25% of the accounts were “spreading pro-Russian talking points”. These were accounts that were talking about the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
An article reads:
This is from the University of Calgary's school of public policy.
—of the content of the tweets found similar pro-Russian views expressed among right-wing figures and their supporters in the U.S. and Canada, he said.
He said supporters of the “Freedom Convoy” and anti-vaccine movement, some of whom may not realize they have been digesting messaging originating from Russia, were also tweeting messages in support of the invasion of Ukraine.
Finally, one member of the team from the University of Calgary's school of public policy who examined the millions of tweets that were required for this very extensive study said in an interview:
...that the Russian "state apparatus" is associated with many accounts tweeting in Canada, and is influencing posts that are retweeted, liked or repeated by different accounts again and again.
There is a concern of Russian interference, as I mentioned earlier, in the United Kingdom with the Brexit referendum. The result is attributed to Russian interference. It's the same with Donald Trump's election and the allegations around the “freedom convoy”. The fact is, as we know from the report that the U.K. government finally issued after the 2019 election, that the Russian state actors were involved in heavily financing the United Kingdom's Conservative Party.
These are all of serious concern. If we do not have a public inquiry that examines all of those things, both Russian interference and Chinese interference.... As I mentioned earlier, Madam Chair, Chinese interference is to the extent that those allegations are serious enough that the electoral laws may have been broken. This requires the government and the to step up and call this public inquiry because of the seriousness of the allegations.
Violations of the Canada Elections Act are not something that should be taken lightly. I mentioned a couple of examples earlier today. We need to have the call this public inquiry. It needs to be comprehensive, on both Chinese state actor interference and Russian state actor interference, and there are a number of witnesses who need to be called.
As I've circulated to every member of this committee, in a way to be open and ensure that everyone is aware of what the NDP proposes in terms of a way forward, we will be proposing—and I'll move the amendment at the appropriate time—that Katie Telford and Tausha Michaud, chiefs of staff to the and former leader of the official opposition, come forward to this committee.
As well, we would be proposing that the national campaign directors for the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada during the 2019 and 2021 federal election campaigns also be brought forward and that we have an extensive request for documents that includes rapidly getting documents through to this committee, but also relies upon an agreement that we already have among all parties.
You will recall, Madam Chair, that under the Harper government, documents were almost impossible to come by. I remember those dismal years in which parliamentarians had no rights to documents. What we have put in place coming out of that, signed by all recognized parties, is a way of treating top secret documents, documents that deal with national security, that involves referral to that committee. If there is disagreement among the four parties for any reason at all, the national security document would be referred to a special committee of judges who would rule on whether or not they would be admissible or subject to national security. This is a way of ensuring that all documents are available to the committee and that we can compare the redactions as well.
This is a way of moving forward, Madam Chair, that is ensuring that we as a committee are doing our work.
I'll have a chance to move this later when, I hope, we will have defeated the amendment and there will be space for a new amendment to be moved.
That's what I would like to do.
I think it's really important that we look closely at all of the allegations. These are serious allegations regarding Chinese interference in the last election campaign, but also of Russian interference in our democracy, and potentially in our elections, as well, as several studies and articles seem to indicate. We need to get to the bottom of this and get answers for Canadians.
The NDP amendment, which has been circulating for hours now, would allow the committee to fulfill its duty. If a national inquiry is launched, the committee could then move on to other things. If no inquiry is called, the committee will have to do the work. As far as I'm concerned, our amendment is the best way to deal with this serious matter in the interest of all Canadians.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak during this round of questions. I hope it won't prevent me from speaking during a subsequent round, after we have debated this amendment, because I'd like to move a minor amendment to Mr. Cooper's initial motion regarding dates.
As for Mr. Turnbull's amendment, I won't be able to support it.
While we were discussing with witnesses here how the government has handled the interference, and while we are raising more questions here than are being answered, the held a press conference during which he strongly asserted that there are already enough tools to protect against foreign interference. This is the complete opposite of what our witnesses have told us today.
To reiterate, beyond what we can do as a parliamentary committee, we absolutely need an independent public inquiry. As for our committee, we must ensure that we continue to hear from more witnesses, including Ms. Telford, as stated in Mr. Cooper's motion. Mr. Turnbull's amendment would among other things remove the part of the motion calling on the committee to invite certain witnesses. Yet we need to hear from them because there are still many unanswered questions. The confidence that Canadians have in their democratic institutions is at stake.
We need to hear witnesses who can tell us what happened, who knew what, when, and why this was not made public. The Prime Minister has said that the existing mechanisms are effective, but I have the impression that is not the case. We therefore need to keep hearing from witnesses who can tell us that these mechanisms do not in fact provide for the timely sharing of information about foreign interference with Canadians. Further, these mechanisms do not assure us that foreign interference was not concealed in cases where it was politically convenient for the government, for instance, when that interference favoured its own candidates.
In light of this, I cannot support Mr. Turnbull's proposed amendment.
I hope we can now move to debate on the original motion. As I said, I have a very small amendment, which will be distributed to everyone in both official languages.
Sure. Absolutely. I have some thoughts to share, so I might as well share those while I have the floor. I'm sure this could go around in circles for a while, so I can always get back in line to share some more, but I want to give my initial thoughts on what's happening.
I was pleased with today's meeting. The motion that Mr. Cooper has brought forward and now the amendment that Mr. Turnbull has brought forward are giving me déjà vu. I'm sure they're giving the same feeling to many others in this room in that we're having a very similar discussion.
I know that the motion Mr. Cooper has brought forward is slightly different, but in essence, it's not all that different from the one we were discussing about a week ago. At that time, this committee came to a decision to move forward with studying and shedding more light and transparency on the issue of foreign interference. At that point, we voted to move forward and bring a whole bunch of witnesses to this committee.
Mr. Turnbull's amendment includes bringing Morris Rosenberg, who has just authored the “Report on the assessment of the 2021 Critical Election Incident Public Protocol”. That is a very interesting report, by the way, which was made public just a couple of days ago. In that report, they've done a lot of work. In essence, that report has, I think, shed a lot of light on what has happened.
Mr. Cooper talks about sunlight and all of those things, but in essence, it seems to me that Mr. Cooper is more interested in who heard what, and when, and the , and is wanting to create a big show out of our security agencies and out of our system.
What I am more interested in is continuing on with our meetings. Even in the last several meetings, we have discovered some really good information. We've been given some good suggestions and ideas, whether through the report that Mr. Rosenberg authored or through the witnesses we have seen.
I know many issues have come up, such as widening the scope that the SITE task force has so that it's not just during the writ period. That's a very interesting suggestion. We've heard time and time again that we should probably move forward with adding a registry of foreign agents. We've heard that Australia has been successful in doing so. We've heard a few other suggestions as well. I think those are all really great ones, and I think we can continue with the witnesses we have, because they are essentially the ones who are responsible for making these decisions.
We heard today from the national security advisor that they have all the tools and that CSIS has the tools that are needed in order to prevent or interfere when they have knowledge of an incident of foreign interference occurring. They have that capability.
I don't know what.... There's a discussion of a big public inquiry, and I see that there are obviously benefits to the public being aware about what is happening. We are in a public forum right now. I'm really hoping and urging that we can put the partisanship away and suggest how we can make this about our democratic system.
At this point, the SITE force has already assessed that the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 elections was not compromised, although they did it under a framework that perhaps Mr. Cooper is not happy with. Interference did not rise to the level that would have had an impact on the overall election outcomes. I believe Mr. Cooper has even said so in several interviews, and I think we have agreement on that fact.
I think there is this desire to drill into issues when we know, as my colleague Mrs. Romanado said, that we will not be able to get unredacted documents on some things. A lot of what is in that original motion is wishful thinking. It's never going to happen. We're not going to get unredacted documents. I don't even think the law clerk of Parliament has the ability to pass those on to us in that manner. There is a process, and I think we are confusing the public through a lot of this back-and-forth.
As responsible parliamentarians, we know that no party wants foreign interference to happen, whether it's by China or any other country. We know that many countries are involved in this type of activity in Canada and that it's happened for quite some time, not just in these last two elections. Our goal and our mission in this committee, within what we have control or purview over, should really be about strengthening our future elections. As the procedure and House affairs committee, we should be interested in this aspect, since it is within our mandate. It's not about dragging in staff members and dragging the name of the through what has been mentioned and whether he allowed somebody to run or didn't. It's really not about any of that. It's about protecting our democracy and our elections.
I think a lot of us already well understand the information and advice we've been given by our intelligence agencies and we understand what we should do in response. That's where I'm leaning.
Let's continue to have these meetings. We have a few more that are already laid out. After those meetings, we can see whether we're satisfied with the recommendations we can put forward at that point or whether we're not satisfied and there are other witnesses still to be heard from.
I'm sorry, but I think what the Conservatives are asking for is not for the greater good. It's about what happened in one particular riding, not about the overall election outcome. We've seen in the most recent report that it wasn't the case that this affected the general outcome of the election. Therefore, I think we should learn from what has happened. We should learn from all of the security agencies and the witnesses who are coming before us and we should take their advice. They see where the gaps are and they've been identifying the gaps for us. There are many other former intelligence officers we could also call forward to get their advice. Some have already come before our committee, and they've provided some good things.
I truly believe that if we put forth a strong report to Parliament, the government will be interested in acting on the advice of our committee and we could make a big difference through our work. If we want things to come off the rails and go sideways just so we can have a dog-and-pony show, so be it, but let's do this for the greater good and let's make a difference so we don't have to worry about talking about this again. We want to have transparency in future elections so this doesn't happen to any future candidates.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I listened to my colleague who just spoke and I couldn't disagree more.
I've been a member of Parliament for 17 years. I would hope that none of the work I've done could be referred to as a dog-and-pony show. This issue has captured the attention of the nation. This is the committee of the House of Commons that is charged with overseeing the integrity of our electoral system. The allegations are serious. The issues are serious, not only about the interference in the 2019 and 2021 campaigns most recently but even in nomination contests. They're two separate issues, but all have the same underlying problems.
It doesn't look like the third time is going to be a charm for the Liberals this time around. I would remind people who are watching this meeting right now that this is the third time my colleague Mr. Cooper has brought a motion like this before this committee. Once was on February 9. The Liberals and the NDP amended that motion to remove Katie Telford and others and remove the parts of the motion that dealt with the production of documents from that particular request on February 9.
Most recently, we did it again last week, and again the NDP and the Liberals amended the motion to remove Katie Telford and a few others, and again they removed the production of documents request from that motion. I am encouraged somewhat today by the change in tone from one of the parties here at the table that these kinds of amendments to basically water down....
If we took Mr. Turnbull's amendment, it would basically gut the motion. It would reduce the amount of work that this committee would do. It would remove summoning Katie Telford to the committee. It would remove inviting Jeremy Broadhurst to the committee. He was the Liberal Party of Canada campaign director for the 2019 election. It would basically remove the production of documents request and simply replace it with an ATIP request that any Canadian could do.
I think that undermines not only the intent of the motion but also the work that we do as parliamentarians. It continues to take this very serious issue nonchalantly. We're all supposed to sit here and just say that this and his caucus, his ministers....
They seem to be saying, “Just trust us. Everything's okay.” Everything's not okay. In the course of this meeting alone, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation returned $200,000 that it took. From the time this meeting started to where we are at right now, that has happened.
Mr. Michael Cooper: It's an admission of guilt.
Mr. Blaine Calkins: If we are to believe anything, it's that this issue is not going to go away. Gutting a motion and pretending that everything is fine, that there's nothing to see here, reminds me of Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun, riding a missile into a fireworks factory that goes off and explodes all over the place, and then he advises the watching public, “Back off, folks; there's nothing to see here.”
I doubt that Bob Fife and Steven Chase would agree. I doubt that Sam Cooper would agree. I doubt that Terry Glavin would agree. These are all credible investigative journalists who I think are doing yeoman's service on this issue.
I am glad to see the opposition members at this committee stand their ground, finally. The third time's a charm. Even though we haven't got a finalized agreement on what this motion will look like, at least this time—it appears, at least—the jig is up for the Liberal members at this committee to gut this motion.
I hope that all the opposition parties will work constructively to bring forward everybody and all of the information we need to make an informed decision and informed recommendations to the government, so that the people we keep summoning here—the people from CSIS, the people from the RCMP, the people from Elections Canada and the SITE task force and so on, the people who keep coming back here and saying that the current roles and the current protocols are not sufficient—can at least be provided with good information or good recommendations to their responses. This is what our job is as parliamentarians.
I look forward to continuing this conversation for as long as it takes.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank all my colleagues for taking part in this debate, as we have a motion and an amendment before us, in addition to the two notices of motion that were presented earlier.
First of all, I would like to say that this is an issue that concerns me. I sincerely believe that it is of concern not only to the members around this table, but to all members, because we are talking about reputations and interference in our democratic system. As the witnesses who have appeared before us have noted, we are dealing with foreign interference in elections, but foreign interference is not limited to politics. It is widespread in academia, in business, in the economy, and in all sorts of other areas. If you spread a rumour, it spreads everywhere. All of a sudden, we read about it on our electronic devices, it's picked up by the newspapers, and so on.
Today we heard testimony from people responsible for ensuring national security, and from a group of people responsible for ensuring the integrity of our elections and monitoring foreign interference. Unfortunately, their findings invalidate many of the points that are in the motion introduced by my colleague and friend, Mr. Cooper. I am always willing to have a frank and non-partisan discussion to examine these issues. However, when I look at many of the points in this motion and listen to the speeches of my colleagues in the official opposition, I find that they continue to repeat allegations that are not supported by the facts presented by the experts who have testified today. I therefore find it difficult to support the motion.
We sometimes jokingly say that our colleagues are very consistent in that they always believe the same thing, no matter what happens from week to week. However, we need to take into account the evidence we have heard here.
The main weakness of this motion is that it asks for top secret documents to be produced before this committee, which is a very serious problem. We know that a number of countries that are not our allies, if I can put it that way, are monitoring the electronic devices of members of Parliament and are looking for every opportunity to obtain information. I am not convinced that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in its current form is the appropriate forum to receive this top secret information. There is a committee of members of Parliament that is charged with examining all such matters in a transparent manner and has access to all unredacted information: it is the Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence.
If we insist on retaining the problematic points in my colleague and friend Mr. Cooper's motion, particularly point (f), it will be very difficult for me to support it. The motion as it stands would cause us serious problems. Indeed, Canada could get into trouble with its allies, especially those who work with Canada to guard against foreign interference.
We now have four different motions before us. I want to give my colleagues the opportunity to debate them. I hope that we can also find common ground. Once everyone has presented their motion, I hope that we will have time to think things through and have discussions among ourselves. I think we can find a way to proceed, ideally without partisanship. I hope that we are up to the challenge and that we act in the interest of Canadians and in the national interest of our country, rather than purely political and partisan interests.
I want to share my thoughts with my colleagues. I hope they are listening. I already proposed a solution for this evening. I hope we can apply it and come back tomorrow with an action plan to deal with the suggestions before us. That way, we'll be able to really do the work that Canadians expect of us.
Hello, Madam Chair. Can you hear me okay?
The Chair: Very clearly, and maybe too clearly.
Mr. Mark Gerretsen: Oh no. It's been a while since I've done this by Zoom. If I'm too loud for the interpreters, please interrupt me. If I need to adjust that, I'm happy to accommodate them.
I have a lot of notes here and a lot that I would like to talk about, but before I do that, I think I would like to reflect on the comments of my colleague Mr. Fergus, who spoke just before me and has raised a very good point.
Mr. Fergus, towards the conclusion of his speech—and actually at the beginning as well—spoke at length about the need for this type of work to be done in a non-partisan way, and I couldn't agree more. I think that at the heart of this we should all be very concerned about any foreign interference in our democracy. We all should look at ways to further enhance and protect our democracy, very much like this government, in my opinion, has done since 2015.
A number of things have been brought into play, some of which the Conservatives actually voted against. I will get to those in a bit, but I am specifically concerned about the partisanship in this issue.
The first thing that comes to mind is how deeply concerned I am with the comments made by a member of this committee. Mr. Calkins, a member of this committee who is sitting in the room right now, when he was in an airport on his way to this meeting, said in a video as he was talking about what he was coming to Ottawa to do and about going after the , “what the Liberals did about...one of their candidates being an agent for Beijing.” Mr. Calkins said that in a video and posted it on social media. He made that comment about a duly elected member of Parliament. I find that deeply troubling.
I mean, if I were Mr. Dong and I heard that, the first thing I would be doing is contacting a pretty high-profile lawyer to take on this case, because I think there is an incredible opportunity to go after Mr. Calkins for defamation in this regard. I think what we are witnessing coming from the Conservative Party and Mr. Calkins specifically in this regard is the story, in my opinion. That's the story of what's going on here. It's about Conservatives not genuinely caring about how we look at this in a non-partisan way and how we go about ensuring that our democracy is kept safe. Instead, it's about how we can turn this into a “gotcha, Liberal” issue. It's about how we can fundraise and how we can defame duly elected members of Parliament by calling them—and I quote—“an agent for Beijing”.
To the NDP and Bloc members of this committee, I ask you if this is what you want to be going along with. Do you want to be associating yourselves with those comments Mr. Calkins made on his way to this very meeting? I think you have to really stop and think about that, because I am fairly certain that the NDP and the Bloc are genuinely concerned about election interference, as they should be, and as all democracies throughout the world should be.
Going along with the Conservative approach on this issue and the comments by Mr. Calkins I find to be so incredibly troubling. To associate yourselves with them by standing and supporting motions that they bring forward.... I think the NDP and the Bloc either should reconsider their position or should go and talk to their friends in the Conservative Party about allowing comments like that from a sitting member of PROC and letting them stand.
I would really like to hear from Mr. Julian and Madame Gill whether they believe that is an agent of Beijing. I'd like to hear from other Conservative members on this committee whether they think he is an agent of Beijing.
I'd like to talk about some of the stuff that this government has done and why I believe that Mr. Turnbull's approach is the right approach in attempting to make this as non-partisan as possible.
One of the things this government did very early on, which the Conservatives were actually against, was to introduce Bill . Bill repealed a number of the initiatives brought forward in the so-called Fair Elections Act, which was introduced by no less than the member for , now the leader of the official opposition now. Another thing Bill C-76 did was to give and enhance the tools to combat foreign interference in elections. Conservatives voted against that. Conservatives voted against Bill C-76 despite the fact that they are using an opportunity now to grandstand on the issue.
I think it's important to look at what people are saying now versus how they were voting in the past and what actions they actually took. These Conservative members who are sitting on the committee weren't interested in putting resources into combatting foreign interference when it came to Bill in 2018; they actually voted against it.
The other thing this government put in place, which has been talked about a number of times—it was in place for the 2019 election and for the 2021 election—was the work to put in the critical election incident public protocol. This is a special committee of non-partisan experts, experts in the field of foreign interference, experts who come from our departments, public servants. They get together during the writ period and make sure they are ready to respond and have the authority to respond if any election interference is identified. They're also required to share that information with relevant parties when required. It's a tool that has been utilized in two elections, as I mentioned. Then, based on the information, reports are generated by a third party afterward. One of those reports regarding the 2021 election was tabled just yesterday. Those reports, both in 2019 and in 2021, indicated that the elections occurred in a transparent way and that there was no foreign interference, despite the fact that Mr. Calkins refers to the member for as an agent of Beijing. I think that's a very important tool. It's a tool that gives us the ability to have confidence in our democratic process and allows us to ensure there is accountability by non-partisan individuals and that a report can be generated after the fact, which we've seen.
The other thing, of course, that we have in place is NSICOP. I don't need to spell it out for you, because everybody on this committee knows what that committee is or what the acronym stands for. It is a committee made up of parliamentarians who have access to their heart's content to unredacted documents about these issues, what they need to look at, with the understanding that they have the classifications required to view these documents. The Conservatives have members on that committee when they decide to show up. Let's not forget that Conservatives used NSICOP as another political opportunity.
A number of times, Conservatives used NSICOP as an opportunity to politicize once again whatever their objective of the day was or whatever they were looking to fundraise off. The Conservatives did that.
The reality is that NSICOP is there for a reason. It's there to ensure that the members who are on that committee and have been appointed by the respective parties have access to that information. They have the ability to look at those completely unredacted documents.
Mr. Cooper, Mr. Calkins and the other Conservatives on PROC want to have a public inquiry. As we heard today from Jody Thomas, the national security and intelligence advisor for the PCO, a public inquiry isn't going to be able to have any more access to classified information than this committee. We know that.
It sounds good: “Public inquiry” sounds really good. I can understand why Mr. Julian and the Bloc would be tempted into wanting to do that, because it's sensational, but it's not going to do anything that this committee can't already do. We heard that from the experts. They are those who are in control of that very important and sensitive information.
What she said today at this committee is that the best place for that information was in NSICOP. What's going to happen? I can already tell you what's going to happen. We're going to have a public inquiry, or this committee will look into this stuff, and Mr. Cooper and Mr. Calkins will be throwing their hands up in the air and screaming bloody murder because there are redactions on the documents. Mr. Poilievre will walk out into a press conference and hold up and wave a bunch of papers that have blacked-out information and say, “Oh, look, they're hiding all this information from us.”
That's how you make it partisan. It's by doing things like that, and that's what you will do. That's what they will do, Madam Chair, if we get to the point of allowing this circus that Mr. Calkins and Mr. Cooper want to have. Quite frankly, that's where we're going.
It raises a question: Do we really want to get to the bottom of this so that we can protect our democracy and do it in a way that respects the classification of documents?
Why are these documents classified? It's because we don't want those foreign agents to know what's in them. That's why they're protected. That would never deter the opposition from taking an opportunity to exploit redacted papers with redacted information in them, saying someone's trying to hide something.
Mr. Cooper said it himself on a CBC panel just two nights ago. He said, “The Liberals will redact the documents. We don't trust them with them.” He knows full well the documents are not redacted by the Liberals. He makes it sound like it's happening in a political party's headquarters, with people sitting there redacting documents, but he knows full well the way that it really happens. It's done by the law clerk. That's not to say that they wouldn't jump on the opportunity to politicize the clerk's office either, from time to time, as we've seen, and those institutions that we hold to give us that information, because they've done that in the past.
If it's not about playing a political game and it's genuinely about protecting our democracy, why won't we listen to the experts who came to the committee today? They are the people who are in control of holding this information, I might add. Why wouldn't we listen to them when they say, “You discuss this stuff in public. We won't be able to give you all the information, because of the nature of it”? They're literally guarding our.... They're the ones who seem to want to protect our democracy more than Conservatives right now, so why on earth would we not listen to them? I mean, the NDP has representatives on NSICOP. Conservatives have representatives on NSICOP.
Madam Chair, I think I will leave it there for now, although I do have a lot more to add. I have a lot more notes here. Maybe I will get back on the list later.
I would really like to hear at some point soon, hopefully, comments from Mr. Julian and Madame Gill about whether or not they agree with Mr. Calkins that Mr. Han Dong, a duly elected MP for Don Valley North, is indeed an agent of Beijing. I would like to hear their comments on that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I've just joined the committee, but I have been following its work with interest. With all due respect to my colleague Mr. Gerretsen, I'm a little bit surprised by his reaction to what my colleague Mr. Calkins said. I heard his whole statement. Basically, what he said was that, no matter our party, we were trying to politicize things. That is, however, pretty much what he himself did from the beginning of his statement. That is the subtext I heard. I understand that he is expressing concern. However, as noble and laudable as his words may seem when he utters them, these concerns seem rather personal, if not partisan, to me. At the same time, it is pure conjecture. It's science fiction. We cannot know what or whoever else will do. I think it's quite a stretch to come here and talk about attacks.
We are talking here about protecting democracy. That is at the very core of all this, we all agree. I think that what we are asking for is also what our fellow citizens would want. I do not believe it would be a problem for a committee, a number of committees or a number of people to be given information, and I say this without specifying the nature of the information. It's also our duty. While there are experts who can look at this, at the end of the day, we are the elected members. Part of our role is to be accountable to the electorate, whether we like it or not, whether we are concerned about politicization or not.
Mr. Gerretsen said a number of times that much of the information is of a very sensitive nature. We are obviously talking about protecting the government and protecting Canadians and Quebeckers. At the same time, we were told earlier that there was practically nothing to worry about, that there wasn't really any need to worry, and that it therefore wasn't necessary to tell Canadians and Quebeckers about all this information. On the one hand, we are told it would be extremely dangerous and perilous to do so, and on the other, we're told there is absolutely nothing to worry about.
In short, I hope we will reach a consensus, or even unanimous agreement, on a motion so that the work can be done. All I see right now are attacks going from one to the other. We're told we have ulterior motives, myself included, when I don't see why I would comment on Mr. Calkins's statement. This is off topic, irrelevant, and we are being led down what could be a slippery slope.
We are not doing the work we are supposed to be doing, in my humble opinion. If the three or four meetings we want to add per week are actually going to be used to do exactly what is happening right now, that is, not say anything and not work for Canadians and Quebeckers, that's completely unappealing.
I hope this is a good response to Mr. Gerretsen. I hope we'll be able to move on to other things quickly, discuss the proposals in front of us and do something constructive. I think it's what people expect of us, instead of seeing members make a big fuss about partisan hypotheses that may not even happen.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Our preference, that is, that of our leader and caucus, remains a national public inquiry, because this in an extremely important issue. If the refuses to launch the inquiry, it is up to the committee to conduct an in‑depth review. I hope the inquiry will be held but, in the meantime, we have to do our job, and that is what I am proposing with my amendment.
It’s important to look at all foreign interference, not just from China, but also from Russia. There are also concerns at the international level about Russia’s involvement.
That’s why we are suggesting to hear from a number of people who were involved in recent election campaigns, not just on the Liberal side, but on the Conservative side as well. We want to hear from Katie Telford, chief of staff to the , as well as Tausha Michaud, the former chief of staff to the .
We are also asking for documents to be provided quickly, and for them to be unredacted. What we are proposing is the best way to access these documents, which are still matters of national security.
The amendment that I'm offering does a number of things. First off, my preference, and the preference of the leader and of the NDP, is that the call a national public inquiry. It is important that this be public and that Canadians get the answers they are looking for.
The reality is that I do not buy the argument that there's nothing to see here. There are concerns that have been widespread. There are allegations that potentially the electoral laws of our country were breached. This is serious. It's not something that should be set aside. Having a national public inquiry allows us to respond to that.
We've also heard the leader of the official opposition talk about a national public inquiry, but in a very restrained way, talking about China's involvement, when we have seen on multiple occasions the involvement of the Russian state government, the Russian state actors. We saw it with Donald Trump's election. We saw it with the Brexit referendum. We saw it with the financing of the United Kingdom's Conservative Party. We have found allegations, credible allegations, around the involvement of Russian state actors in supporting the so-called freedom convoy as well in Canada, and concerns—I mentioned the University of Calgary study—that indicate a widespread misinformation campaign that is generated by Russian state actors. I don't buy what the leader of the official opposition is saying, which is that there's nothing to see here with regard to Russian implications and Russian involvement and Russian interference.
We need to tackle this together. That means ensuring that we are hearing from credible witnesses. I've mentioned the two chiefs of staff, Katie Telford and Tausha Michaud, the campaign directors of both the Liberal Party and Conservative Party's campaigns, and Jenni Byrne, who is the senior leadership adviser to the leader of the official opposition. We saw a great deal of activity around the “freedom convoy”. Hopefully, there are no concerns there, but there are questions that definitely need to be asked. I think it is important that Jenni Byrne come before the committee to answer those questions—and ministers as well; the ministers that we are already convening, and we are looking at other potential witnesses as well.
Finally, there is the issue of documents. My colleague Mr. Turnbull had wording similar to what we put forward in a motion that I distributed this morning, talking about getting documents as quickly as possible from the ministry officials themselves. However, they would be redacted.
The Conservative motion—the original motion suggested by Mr. Cooper—asks for unredacted documents, but through the law clerk in a fairly cumbersome process.
I am suggesting the process that all parties had already agreed to in the memorandum of understanding that we all signed on October 31, 2022. That MOU allows an ad hoc committee of parliamentarians to look at those documents. If there are divisions as to whether or not they are concerned with national security, they would go to a panel of judges, who have already been chosen, that would allow the committee to ultimately have the unredacted documents that have been passed through that vetting process, in comparison with what we see from the ministry, which is likely to be, it's fair to say, substantially redacted. What this amendment does is provide for both sides, unredacted and redacted, in a way that allows access to the documents we need. That is what I'm proposing in terms of the amendment. It improves the committee.
I want to reiterate one more time that a national public inquiry is the way to handle this. That is not just me speaking or Jagmeet Singh speaking; I believe other opposition parties have also said the same thing. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the head of Elections Canada, has a significant and stellar reputation, and a number of other actors from right across the country have called for a national public inquiry. This is not something that is singular to one or two people. It is something that I think has a broad consensus within our country.
That would be the preference. We'll have that debate tomorrow, when I hope to move the motion on the national public inquiry for which I provided notice of motion today. I hope we can have the committee endorse that motion tomorrow. Ultimately, the needs to make that decision, and I believe he needs to make it in a timely way.
I thank members of the committee for their consideration. I know that we have a drop-dead time in a few hours. Hopefully, we'll have some debate in the meantime.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
In terms of Mr. Julian's proposal that he will bring forward tomorrow, I think that the ask for a public inquiry is one that can definitely be explored as well. Once again, I think this committee should get back to the work we have planned for tomorrow. Something like that could end up becoming a recommendation that this committee could provide in its final report on foreign interference.
In terms of the amendment that has just been brought forward by Mr. Julian—and I like Mr. Julian a lot, so I don't criticize just for the sake of criticizing—I want to point out that once again I feel as though I'm having déjà vu and we're having the same type of discussion we had last week on these issues, except now, unfortunately, Mr. Julian is taking a different side of the issue, or a contradictory side, if I may say so.
Just the other day, when we went through a motion very similar to what Mr. Cooper has brought forward today, Mr. Julian sided with the position of not bringing forward or inviting staff. I can actually quote many things that were said in that meeting and many things on which I agreed with him then, and still do, in part. I just don't know which frame of thought Mr. Julian is bringing on any given day, because he did caution this committee against inviting staff.
He wanted to cite a number of people for the record and, Madam Chair, if you remember, you permitted him to quote many other people on this issue around having political staff being brought forward to testify, as opposed to ministers. He said they should come forward to explain what they did, what they knew and what actions they'd taken to ensure that whatever circumstance had occurred does or doesn't happen again. He quoted a former House leader, stating, “There is a clear case to be made that the accountability of political staff ought to be satisfied through ministers. Ministers ran for office and accepted the role and responsibility of being a minister. Staff did not.” Mr. Julian quoted that day from former Conservative government House leader Jay Hill.
Then he moved on to name another member, a cabinet minister. He said:
we believe that cabinet ministers are responsible for what happens in their names and responsible to Parliament. This is called ministerial responsibility and it is one of the oldest traditions here in our country.
The Liberal leader wants to do away with this tradition. Instead, he wants to import a foreign U.S. committee system that is used as a political weapon to bully, to intimidate, and to humiliate opponents, something that I believe should never happen.
Ministerial accountability is the reason why cabinet ministers answer questions in question period and it is why they appear before committees to answer for their offices.
We hope that all opposition committee chairs will follow the rules and procedures.
This is the member for , who is the current Conservative deputy whip, who was being quoted about the importance of not involving staff but of ensuring ministerial responsibility.
Then he even went as far as reading a third quote, which I still agree with, stating that this was a very germane conversation and, “the hon. member knows very well that for hundreds of years, the principle of ministerial accountability has been paramount here in the House and in its committees.” This member was speaking again of the idea of inviting political staff rather than ministers. That final quote is from the member for , who is currently, as you know, the .
Though Conservatives have said very eloquently in the past that we should not have political staff brought forward and that the issue of ministerial accountability is fundamental, and Mr. Julian then agreed with them. I have to say that I'm disappointed to see that Mr. Cooper has gone down that road again, and now Mr. Julian has switched sides and is also going down that same road of wanting to bring in staff instead of the accountable ministers and those who are in charge.
Once again, I have to state that I think we're onto something. We were on a good roll. Our meeting today was a great meeting. We had a really good meeting today. I could tell that everyone was eager to ask questions. I know that I have many more questions. I'd even be happy to have some of those same panellists from today come before us again, because they are the ones with knowledge as to what is happening in the foreign interference realm in this country. They are the ones who can best identify gaps.
From what we have just received, again, from the public protocol committee, we have many recommendations. I think that's something our committee could look at as well. I think on page 45 or so of the report, for those who have the report and are following along or who are intending to read through it, we have a good 16 really great recommendations from people who have good knowledge as to how we can better safeguard our democracy. I think we should also incorporate that report. Many of us have probably read it. We should debate and bring forward witnesses to discuss how they feel, perhaps, about some of these recommendations that are in the report, and whether they agree or disagree with them.
I think that's how we should move forward, ideally, so that we get value out of what is happening and not just headlines. I'm afraid that what we're doing is just chasing headlines right now. What we're not doing is making sure that whether it's in the grand scheme of the general election or whether it's in an individual riding.... I know that this is the point of contention here, and that this is what Mr. Cooper and others and we all want to fight for and we all want to see not happen.
This is not the only time. I'm not just saying this off the top of my head. You can go ahead and google many other news articles on foreign interference taking place, whether it's in the election context or whether it's in between elections, to intimidate members of Parliament. In many countries that's taken place, and those types of activities.
I think it's really important that we keep abreast of them but that we do it in a very balanced way and that the public understands this in a responsible and balanced way. What we're seeing right now, through what I would say also.... There are some failures. I think it's great that the media and many journalists have brought the issue to light, but I think they bear some responsibility in the way they report the issues as well. I think we all bear some responsibility.
My colleague Mr. Gerretsen just said that it was a very irresponsible move for Mr. Calkins to have already decided that one of our members of the House of Commons is a foreign actor or agent. It just goes to show once again that we are coming at this from a very “minds made up” type of situation. We're not coming at it from an honest place, where we want to put in place a system that builds upon the system that our government has already put forward.
We've already taken steps. We are the first government that's properly acknowledging this and putting together a framework to address this issue. Is it enough? No. That's what we're realizing: It wasn't enough. These are initial steps.
This has never been done before. We are in an area where, yes, foreign interference has always been a thing, and that's what we're hearing from all our security advisers, but we're also hearing that there might be an increase from some actors over others. How do we go about protecting our institutions in a day of social media, which also wasn't a reality?
I can recall that in my 2015 election, social media were important, but not as important as they had become by the time the 2019 election rolled out and then by the time the 2021 election rolled out. It makes us all the more susceptible in our institutions, and it makes our election process more susceptible to the information that gets shared on these social media platforms or through WeChat or WhatsApp. We've all seen a lot of false information being spread. A lot of times, we don't know the origins of that information, and at times we've also read in many reports that the origins of that information come from abroad or through bots run by foreign actors.
What we need to get to the core of is, how do we not let that situation happen again? I think we all agree that interference has occurred. We have been told what level of interference there was and whether it rises to the point of making an impact on the general election or not. We, as a committee, can now change that framework, right? We can at least recommend to have that framework changed. If we think the threshold needs to be changed on all of those things, we can do that, and we have the knowledge and the people with the expertise at our disposal to come forward before this committee.
Once again, it is a public forum. Perhaps the government moves in a direction of a public inquiry in the future. Perhaps that's also something that we will recommend at the end of our report. I'm open to all of those discussions, but I think what we're doing right now is having an intermission, I feel, in the middle of our study, which is a valuable study.
I think we can discuss having more meetings so that we can accommodate redistribution and we can accommodate this extremely important topic, but I think that the way we are going about it, pretending and fooling ourselves that we can somehow receive all these unredacted documents and then also drag in all the staff who have ever served....
I have to thank Mr. Julian. At least he is to some degree being non-partisan and trying to bring in staff from both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. That's a good step forward, but it can still leave me a little confused, because I think the principle was that the ministers are accountable and that the heads of departments, the deputy ministers, are extremely knowledgeable. That's what we should be doing: We should be having a very serious discussion about this and not just trying to make headlines and scare Canadians about foreign interference in a very irresponsible way.
I feel that we are headed down that path of irresponsibility, and once we go too far.... Well, you know what has happened in other countries. I feel that if we go too far and exaggerate what is happening to the point where we devalue our own institutions, then we are going to have quite the reckoning in the coming years. It is up to us to protect our institutions. I'm not saying to keep them the same and I'm not saying “don't improve things” and I'm not saying to let foreign interference be, to let it occur; I'm saying “let's identify it”, which is what we have been doing. Let's identify the gaps and let's move forward. Let's fix this so that we don't have an increase in these types of incidents.
That's how I think we should all be coming together to approach this matter, this serious issue. Most of the articles and things that I am reading express concern, and constituents I've spoken to are concerned. They are worried about this, as am I. I am worried about this—this information.
I've been on this committee for a long time. There are a lot of things that keep me up at times. One of the main things is the stability and integrity of our democracy, and making sure that we continue to protect our democracy, because I truly believe in a democratic system. We are seeing authoritarian states emerge quite rapidly all around us, and I don't want to see us go down a path that leads us to end up destabilizing our own system. We should be very cautious, perhaps even about the influences that might be encouraging us to go down that path. Be mindful and be wary of why we're doing these things and of what you want as the end outcome.
If the end outcome is just “I want some flashy headlines”, “I want the to look bad” or “I want to be in power”, okay, because that's what it seems like. However, if the end outcome is, regardless of who is in government—and it could be anyone tomorrow—that we want to make sure that we continue to have strong, fair and free elections....
That is something that Mr. Rosenberg's report has indicated. It said we had a fair and free election, but it didn't deny the fact that there was interference. I don't think anyone is denying that, nor is anyone looking to bury that or walk away from that fact. That's still my position.
I'm going to have a hard time flip-flopping now and going back to supporting this amendment, because we've made it quite clear that we were all on a similar page. The Liberal members and even Mr. Julian were on a similar page when it came to not inviting staff and making sure that the ministers were those who were accountable.
I think this is becoming too sensationalized, and that's not the approach we should be taking in this committee.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the amendment by my colleague for , a great parliamentarian with years of experience. He is someone I have a lot of respect for.
Like my colleague for , I have some reservations. I must say that I find it fascinating to see how quickly positions have changed on the need to invite staff of ministers or of the to appear. It almost gave me whiplash.
I clearly recall, at our last meeting, my colleague from British Columbia speaking very eloquently about ministerial responsibility being an important tradition. The principle is that ministers are responsible for their political staff. We were looking, at the time, at a motion tabled by my dear colleague for , which was also aimed at inviting the chief of staff to the to appear. The motion was worded almost exactly the same as the one we are looking at today. The committee rejected that portion of the motion, however, mainly because of the fine and very relevant points made by my colleague for , who said that we had to avoid inviting political staff. He quoted Jay Hill, former government leader in the House of Commons for the Conservative Party, and , when he was a minister in Mr. Harper’s government. He had set out a clear argument.
I’m therefore surprised at this sudden change of position. If Mr. Julian has the opportunity to do so, I would like him to take note of my question and tell me the reason for this change of heart, when he was saying just last week that it was not acceptable.
I do like a portion of his amendment, however. For members who do not have the clearance to access top secret documents, it would be useful to have a system similar to the one we had for documents from the Public Health Agency of Canada. I am ready to examine that portion.
We must find a way to ensure that we are not jeopardizing the people working in national security and intelligence while keeping the confidence of our allies who send us intelligence and, most importantly, we must make sure that countries that are not allies do not gain access to these documents and determine where the intelligence comes from, which could jeopardize the brave women and men who serve our country or our allies. Our main objective and our ultimate responsibility as parliamentarians is to protect the interests of Canadians and our great country.
I would like Mr. Julian to clarify something for me. He began his comments by saying that the best solution was to have a national public inquiry into these issues. In that non-partisan inquiry, secret information would be protected and we would get to the bottom of this situation to determine the extent of foreign interference in this country by not only China, but also other countries, like Russia, that are causing us trouble. Not only have these countries interfered in elections, but they have also influenced events such as the occupation of Ottawa. Their actions have also had an impact on people who have been victims of misinformation.
All of this is intended to weaken our democratic institutions. Those countries know that our country's secret ingredient is the fact that everyone has the opportunity and the freedom to express themselves. This is very important. Those countries do not respect freedom of expression, but they take advantage of that freedom to spread misinformation. Through that misinformation, they want to weaken the democratic debate that is going on in Canada and in other democratic countries around the world.
I like the idea of holding a public inquiry. If this committee decides to support my colleague's motion or to make a recommendation to hold a public inquiry, that would be great. However, I want to get clarifications on something. If we get this tool, does that mean that an end will be put to all the studies on this subject that are currently being conducted by our committee, by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, by the non-partisan committee responsible for considering the issue and by the committee on China? After all, there are four parliamentary committees in the House of Commons that are carrying out studies on the same topic. I would like to know if the idea proposed by my colleague—that is, to hold a public inquiry—means that these other inquiries will end. That does not make sense. There is a first duplication and then a second one. It's like my Conservative colleagues like to say: triple, triple, triple the inquiries on the same subject. It doesn't make sense.
I would like to understand my colleague's intent a little better. I hope he will be kind enough to clarify that for me, for everyone around this table and for all Canadians listening to this debate at home.
This is a debate of fundamental importance. We are all concerned about this issue.
Under the best of circumstances, Canada and Parliament have been able to act independently of the petty interests of respective political parties. We have seen that a number of times, including at the beginning of the pandemic. All political parties and all members of Parliament rose to the challenge and rose to the occasion. It touched my heart deeply. We had targeted a common threat, the virus, and everyone did their part to help Canadians. Members of the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, the New Democratic Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party all did a remarkable job. We were proud to work together, in every province and territory, from coast to coast to coast.
Once again, we are faced with a common threat, one that puts the health, sustainability and integrity of our democratic institutions at risk. These institutions deserve everyone's efforts.
I have been working here on the Hill for a long time. I arrived here in 1988. I remember when Mr. Bouchard left the Conservative caucus to form the Bloc Québécois. I remember very well the debates that took place outside Quebec. People wondered why some were dedicated to breaking up our country and questioned their place in the federal Parliament. Yes, I was a staunch federalist. Yes, I am a staunch Liberal. But I have always defended everyone's right to hold any viewpoint, and I will do so for the rest of my life. It is important. If a person can convince their fellow citizens to vote for them, they deserve their place in Parliament.
I say this because I believe it is much better to have discussions than to resort to violence. Our political institution—
I want to reassure my dear colleague: If I’m saying all this, it’s to highlight that it’s in the common interest of all Canadians to defend and protect our political institutions. Canadians have a right to do so. It’s our duty as parliamentarians to set aside our individual interests and make sure we can defend our political institutions from foreign interference.
This is therefore an invitation I’m extending to my colleagues.
I have no problem with maintaining a parliamentary committee. Unfortunately, currently, some colleagues seem unable to set aside their partisan interests. I say that with all due respect for my colleagues. Indeed, commentators in the political world even noted it.
That is why I really like my British Columbian colleague’s idea of asking for a public inquiry. In fact, it could be a way of eliminating partisanship from an inquiry into the sources and extent of political interference in Canada’s democratic institutions.
My colleague from mentioned that one of our colleagues had accused another of being an agent for another country. I just found out about it, and I was disappointed as well. Indeed, that runs counter to the House of Commons Standing Orders. We have no right to sow doubt about another member’s character. All members are honourable members. Saying that someone is serving another country goes well beyond what we expect in terms of an acceptable debate in the House. I hope that colleague will withdraw the tweet or video on social media. If he doesn’t do so publicly, I hope he will at least have the decency to call the member he insulted and apologize privately. Let’s hope so. I’m sure the member is an honourable man. Going off the rails can happen from time to time, but I hope he will apologize.
Recently, I myself apologized to Canadians. I didn’t mince words. My apology was entirely sincere. It’s important to say that anyone can make mistakes, that’s not a problem. What we do afterwards and the way we react to a situation really give the measure of a person’s character.
We have an opportunity here to set aside our partisan interests and act in citizens’ common interest, regardless of their origins and political affiliations. This is a key moment in our history. I hope we will decide to look for the truth rather than defend overly narrow interests.
I’m concerned about another aspect of my colleague Mr. Julian’s amendment.
Excuse me, I think I have the wrong document in front of me. I seem to have lost it, but there was something else in the amendment that drew my concern.
Wait, I think I have the right version of the amendment in electronic format.
Actually, I’m grateful to Mr. Julian for suggesting we look into the possibility that there was foreign interference in our country during the 2011 and 2015 general elections, as well as those in 2019 and 2021. I think it makes sense, especially since we’ve observed a disinformation trend for some time, since the beginning of social media. That’s what national security experts and those who gather national intelligence said when I asked them the question. They said it started well before 2019. It became evident after 2016, but it did indeed exist before then.
The amendment therefore proposes that we look into "efforts by, or on behalf of, foreign governments or other foreign state actors to interfere in the 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2021 general election". I think that’s a significant improvement with respect to the main motion proposed by my colleague, the member for .
As for inviting political staff, as I said, it doesn’t reflect the principle of ministerial responsibility, which is part of a long tradition in the British parliamentary system.
I’ve just been informed that I was touching my mic while speaking, so I apologize to the interpreters. I hope I didn’t cause them any problems. I’ll do everything I can to keep my hands in front of me and not play with the mic.
I’d like to seize this opportunity to express, on behalf of all the members here, our deep gratitude to the interpreters and all members of the House of Commons staff. They work tirelessly to support us, not just during this late evening meeting, but every day.
As I said at the beginning, August will mark the 35th anniversary of my move here to the region. I started working at Parliament as a page, and I haven’t left the Hill for 35 years. Every day, I’m very grateful to the Parliamentary Precinct staff, who do their best to make sure members can do their work and serve Canadians well. I congratulate and thank them.
Let’s come back to the subject.
So, I was talking about ministerial responsibility. There’s a part of the amendment that leaves me a little cold. It’s point i in part b), which invites Ms. Katie Telford, the ’s Chief of Staff, and Ms. Tausha Michaud, the’s Chief of Staff, to appear before the committee. Again, there’s some inconsistency.
I’ll quote what Mr. Julian said last week. Unfortunately, I don’t have the French version on hand, but here’s the English version:
I caution on the issue of inviting staff. I wanted to cite a number of people for the record, Madam Chair, if you'll permit me. Around the issue of political staff, as opposed to having ministers being brought forward to testify, I support having ministers come forward to explain what they did and what they knew, and what actions they've taken to ensure that this never happens again.
First, Mr. Julian quoted a former leader of the government in the House:
There is a clear case to be made that the accountability of political staff ought to be satisfied through ministers. Ministers ran for office and accepted the role and responsibility of being a minister. Staff did not.
Mr. Julian quoted the former Albertan Conservative member, Jay Hill, who became leader of the Maverick Party in Alberta, which is demanding independence for that province.
Mr. Julian then quoted a second member:
Mr. Speaker, we believe that cabinet ministers are responsible for what happens in their names and responsible to Parliament. This is called ministerial responsibility and it is one of the oldest traditions here in our country.
We are talking here about the principle of ministerial responsibility.
Mr. Julian then continued to quote the member:
Ministerial accountability is the reason why cabinet ministers answer questions in question period and it is why they appear before committees to answer for their offices.
We hope that all opposition committee chairs will follow the rules and procedures....
He quoted the member for , currently the official opposition’s deputy whip in the House of Commons.
Mr. Julian concluded his statement with the following quote, which is really the icing on the cake, in my opinion:
The hon. member knows very well that for hundreds of years, the principle of ministerial accountability has been paramount here in the House and in its committees.
Mr. Julian was quoting the member for Carleton, , when he was a minister in Mr. Harper’s government. He is now leader of the official opposition. I hope he has many years, or even decades, to master the role.
For all those reasons, I take issue with the amendment of point i, part b), in my colleague’s proposal.
We have here an opportunity to make sure we do our job and do it without overlap, duplication or even triple, triple, triple, as conservative members habitually say dozens of times a day in the House of Commons. It makes me wonder if they accumulate points every time they say it.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Let me start again, reading my amendment into the record. It is that the amendment be amended (a) by replacing the proposed new paragraph (b) with the following: “(b) invite Katie Telford, chief of staff to the Prime Minister, to appear alone for four hours, within two weeks of the adoption of this motion, provided that she be sworn or affirmed; (c) invite the following individuals to appear before the committee on a two-hour panel: Tausha Michaud, Jeremy Broadhurst, Azam Ishmael, Hamish Marshall, Walied Soliman, Jenni Byrne, Jennifer Howard and Anne McGrath;” and (b) by deleting the paragraph in the amendment concerning paragraph (f) of the main motion.
Madam Chair, I will now make some brief remarks on the motion.
First of all, let me just say that it is important that Katie Telford appear alone and that she appear to answer the questions of this committee, because Katie Telford is in an entirely different position from any of the other witnesses in that she is the 's chief of staff. She has been with the Prime Minister through all of the relevant times concerning the 2019 election and the 2021 election. She has security clearance. She is privy to classified information. She's privy to briefings that the Prime Minister would have received, and she is not just any chief of staff. As the Prime Minister is reported to have said, “When you're talking to Katie Telford, you're talking to me.” It's important on that basis that Katie Telford appear on a stand-alone basis for four hours.
With respect to the names I have added—Jennifer Howard and Anne McGrath—Jennifer Howard is the chief of staff to . It seems appropriate, if we're going to have other chiefs of staff, that Jennifer Howard, the NDP chief of staff, also be invited, as well as national campaign directors and managers of the Liberal Party and of the Conservative Party, to come before the committee, and that we also hear from Anne McGrath of the NDP. The motion is simply that we would hear from chiefs of staff and campaign chairs of all three parties, not just Liberals and Conservatives, all of whom may have insights regarding the 2021 election.
With respect to the production order, we are proposing...or the effect of deleting the rest of Mr. Julian's motion would be to maintain the production process that is set out in the main motion, which provides that the parliamentary law clerk would be in a position to undertake redactions or determine the appropriateness of certain redactions and make the final call, having regard for national security considerations.
It must be noted that the parliamentary law clerk is independent. He has a full security clearance. The language contained in our motion was drafted in consultation with the parliamentary law clerk.
I would note that there is a precedent for this. This is precisely the process that was proposed and adopted with respect to the Winnipeg lab issue.
The NDP voted four times for that type of production process involving the parliamentary law clerk, twice at the Canada-China committee and twice in the House of Commons.
With that, I urge the adoption of this subamendment.