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Federal Election 2021

Liberals float possibility of making motion on foreign interference a confidence vote

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Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leaves after a meeting of the Liberal Caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The federal Conservatives are trying to force Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top aide to answer questions about allegations the Chinese government interfered in Canada’s last two federal elections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

By Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Liberal House leader Mark Holland isn’t ruling out turning a Conservative motion on foreign interference into a confidence vote that could topple the government and would test the strength of the supply-and-confidence deal between the Liberals and the NDP.

The Conservatives tabled the motion in the House of Commons Monday demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, appear at the House ethics committee before the middle of April. They want her, along with more than a dozen other witnesses, to answer questions about allegations that the Chinese government interfered in Canada’s last two federal elections.

The move follows weeks of filibustering by the Liberals to prevent Telford from being summoned to appear at the House procedure committee on the same topic.

Alberta MP Michael Cooper said Telford is “a critical witness to get to the heart of the scandal.” He said she should be able to answer what Trudeau knows about Beijing’s attempts at meddling, when he learned about it and what he did about it.

The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois both seem prepared to vote in favour of the motion. The NDP has yet to say where it stands on this specific motion, but intends to push its own motion demanding a full public inquiry be called on the issue of foreign interference.

NDP House leader Peter Julien reiterated Monday that his party wants an inquiry to look at the issue as a whole, rather than focus only on China. But the Conservatives have rejected calls to expand the probe to include meddling by other governments, such as Russia and Iran.

The Tories challenged the NDP to side with them instead of the “corrupt government.”

“While this motion is a test for this government, it is also a test for the NDP,” said Cooper.

It certainly could be the first real test of the supply-and-confidence arrangement the NDP and Liberals agreed to a year ago. Under that deal, the NDP is supporting the government on budgets and other votes that are automatically viewed as confidence matters, in exchange for the government moving on key NDP priorities such as dental care.

A confidence vote is one that the government must win — or be forced to resign.

The agreement, reached in early March 2022, does address situations in which the government declares a confidence vote on other matters. It requires the Liberals to inform the NDP of a confidence vote as soon as possible, and the NDP to discuss with the Liberals how its MPs intend to vote before announcing so publicly, “to permit discussions” to take place.

Holland hinted those talks are underway now, when asked specifically if the government would move to declare the Conservative motion a confidence matter.

“I think it’s not helpful to jump to the end of a process when we are still having conversations in a contemporaneous circumstance,” Holland said in a scrum with reporters outside the House Monday afternoon.

The Liberals are on the same page with the NDP about wanting to look at foreign interference from all other countries, not just China. However, thus far, Trudeau has rejected calls for a public inquiry, choosing instead to appoint a “special rapporteur” to oversee an investigation on the issue.

Trudeau named former governor general David Johnston for the role. The prime minister has committed to abiding by his advice, including any recommendation to hold a full public inquiry.

Holland accused the Conservatives of playing partisan games with the very serious issue of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic processes. He said the government has offered to bring its national campaign chairs from 2019 and 2021 to the committees to answer questions.

He said the Conservatives won’t offer the same, though the Conservative motion Monday includes not just Telford but more than a dozen others, including all the campaign chairs for every official party in the House of Commons for both the 2019 and 2021 elections.

The campaign chairs and co-chairs were briefed during the elections about any signs of foreign interference.

Holland said the decision to focus so intently on Telford is entirely about partisan politics.

Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer said the Tories would support the motion even if the Liberals made it into a confidence motion noting the issue is important enough.

“It’s up to Justin Trudeau to make those kinds of decisions. And it’s up to the NDP to decide whether or not they’re going to allow themselves to be bullied around to cover up Liberal scandals,” Scheer told reporters on Parliament Hill.

Scheer rejected Holland’s contention that seeking Telford’s testimony amounts to partisan games. He argued she is one of the few people in Trudeau’s orbit during both elections and regular government work.

“She also would have had incredibly sensitive information as to the Liberal campaign itself, and that’s why it’s so important.”

— With files from Dylan Robertson

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.

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Crime

O’Toole says CSIS told him he was focus of Chinese misinformation, suppression effort

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Conservative member of Parliament Erin O’Toole speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. O’Toole was speaking on an opposition motion regarding the public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference and being informed by CSIS that he is a target of China. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

By Jim Bronskill, David Fraser and Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Conservative MP Erin O’Toole says Canada’s spy agency has told him he was the target of Chinese interference intended to discredit him and promote false narratives about his policies while party leader.

 

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Federal Election 2021

Former Trudeau Foundation CEO says she resigned after pushback on donation audit

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Flags of Canada and China are shown in Beijing, China, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. The former CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation says she resigned because some members of the board refused to recuse themselves for an independent forensic audit into a 2016 donation that she says was linked to China. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP

By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa

The former CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation told a parliamentary committee Friday that she resigned from that position earlier this month because of a breakdown in trust on the organization’s board of directors.

Pascale Fournier said the tensions arose after she pushed for an independent forensic audit into donations made by Chinese businessmen — and received pushback when she insisted that some members of the board recuse themselves from any such investigation.

In a statement issued after Fournier’s testimony, the foundation said it strongly contests her version of events and is looking for an opportunity to schedule its own testimony in rebuttal.

Fournier and eight other board members announced their departure in a public statement April 11 that cited the recent politicization of 2016 and 2017 donations from Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin and another Chinese businessman, Niu Gensheng, that totalled $140,000.

The foundation created an emergency committee in February after the Globe and Mail reported, citing an unnamed source, that the donors had connections to the Chinese government.

Fournier told the House of Commons ethics committee on Friday that the report prompted her to review emails from before her tenure as CEO.

She said she discovered that the China Cultural Industry Association was communicating with foundation employees about omitting information on a donation tax receipt.

After Fournier discovered two different tax receipts associated with the same money, she said she sought to have the details examined by accountants and lawyers.

And she said she wanted members of the board who were involved in the organization’s dealings at the time of the donations to recuse themselves from the process.

“Other members were saying, ‘Recuse yourself. We want an independent committee,’ and that was the heart of the tension,” Fournier said.

The Canadian Press reported earlier this month that the website of the China Cultural Industry Association says it adheres to the “total leadership” of the Chinese Communist Party and was formed with state approval. It lists Zhang Bin as its president.

But the Globe and Mail had reported that a different company called Millennium Golden Eagle International (Canada) was listed as the donor on a receipt.

The China Cultural Industry Association says Millennium Golden Eagle International is one of its executive board members and was created with the approval of China’s culture ministry. Zhang is listed as chairman of Millennium Golden Eagle International on multiple privately-run Chinese company registries.

The foundation, which provides scholarships and mentorship programs, took significant issue with Fournier’s comments in a statement released on Friday.

On behalf of its interim board of directors, Edward Johnson, one of the foundation’s founding members, said “we strongly contest several of the statements made during this testimony.”

Johnson said that the foundation contests some of the facts or their interpretation by Fournier — though he did not spell out any details — and “the reasons given to justify the resignations of the directors of the board.”

He said the foundation is in contact with the committee to set a date for its own testimony, and they “look forward to this opportunity to correct some of the statements and assertions which have been made.”

After Fournier’s resignation the foundation asked the federal auditor general to look into the donations.

But the auditor general’s office denied the request, saying auditing private donations or business dealings falls outside its mandate.

The donations to the foundation named after the current prime minister’s father were made in tandem with a $750,000 contribution to the Université de Montréal.

The Globe and Mail cited an unnamed source who alleged that the Chinese government orchestrated the donations in the hopes of influencing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The prime minister has repeatedly said that he has had no involvement with the foundation for about 10 years.

Later reports by Le Devoir, a Quebec-based newspaper, suggest that the donors intended for all of the money to go toward the university, and noted that the businessmen also made a $800,000 contribution to the University of Toronto in 2013.

The House of Commons ethics committee has been trying to get to the bottom of the matter as part of its broader study into foreign interference, amid accusations that Beijing meddled in the last two federal elections.

On Tuesday, the committee is set to hear from the foundation’s former CEO, Morris Rosenberg, who was Fournier’s predecessor.

Rosenberg also authored a report summing up senior officials’ efforts against foreign interference in the 2021 election.

He said on Friday that he continues to welcome an independent inquiry into foreign interference. Former governor general David Johnston, who was appointed to assess the government’s response to the issue, is tasked with telling the government whether an inquiry is needed by late May.

On Wednesday, the committee expects to hear from Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, who volunteered to testify.

He was a member of the foundation’s board of directors when the donations in question were made, Fournier said.

“It is no secret to anyone my brother has been deeply involved in the Pierre Elliott Trudeau foundation for many years, and he will answer questions as they are asked of him,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday at a news conference in New York City.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.

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