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Election interference: eye on the ball, please


9 minute read

David Johnston, who should be beside the point

People living in Canada are having their democratic rights undermined. Fixing that should be everyone’s goal.

Back from vacation, I’m delighted to see nothing has changed. It’s David Johnston this and David Johnston that and David Johnston the other. That last link is about how Johnston has hired Navigator, which is reliably identified as a “crisis-communications firm” in stories like this, to help him figure out what to say. To which one possible answer, given the current storm of excrement, is: My God, wouldn’t you?

I prefer not to pile onto stories that absolutely everyone else is writing about. Today constitutes a bit of an exception to that policy. I’m working on a bunch of stories on topics that will stray very far abroad from this one. But while those other stories percolate, here are a few thoughts on Canada’s response to election interference.

First, we’re in the phase of the story where everyone digs in. Johnston has a mandate from the Prime Minister of Canada which extends to October. He plans to keep working until then. I never thought he was right for this job. But nobody should be surprised that, having taken it, he intends to keep doing it.

But, we are told, Parliament has voted to demand that he stand down! Indeed, that’s how I’d have voted too. Yet Johnston persists. This too is hardly surprising. Ignoring Parliament is easy enough, and it often feels great, as when Parliament voted to express profound sadness over a cover illustration in a magazine where I used to work. Johnston could have taken Parliament’s counsel, but since we are, as I’ve noted, in the phase of the story where everyone digs in, he’s digging in instead.

There is a school of thought that believes this sort of situation must lead straight to a confidence vote and an election. Brother Coyne is that school’s headmaster. I’m always in favour of the largest possible number of elections too, especially since I now make a living selling political analysis. I fondly hope the next campaign will be excellent for business. But I seem to recall that the last time Parliament followed its convictions all the way to a forced election, Canadians responded by sending the Parliament-flouters back with reinforcements. I don’t know whether that would happen now. But the opposition parties are allowed to make such calculations. No surprise, then, that they too are digging in — but not all the way.

Where does this leave us? First, with a process terribly compromised by lousy design. Justin Trudeau sought to outsource his credibility by subcontracting his judgment. The credibility transfusion was supposed to flow from Johnston to Trudeau. Instead it has gone the other way. The PMO hoped they’d found somebody whose credibility nobody would challenge, because he comes from the sort of precincts that impress them. Now they’re stuck insisting that challenging Johnston’s fitness or his conclusions is uncouth. The number of Canadians who decline to take etiquette tips from the PMO continues to surprise the PMO.

So far I have discussed all of this in terms of the usual Ottawa obsessions: Parliament, status, tactics, winners and losers. This sort of scorekeeping comforts Ottawa lifers, soothes us because we have been doing it most of our lives.

But there is another audience here.

It is Canadians and permanent residents who live here and experience intimidation all the time. Most are members of diaspora communities, Chinese and other. They have been saying for years that their freedoms of speech and assembly and their right to security of the person — their Charter rights — are being targeted, infringed and impinged by agents of Beijing’s thug regime. What Cherie Wong, executive director of the Alliance Canada-Hong Kong, says every time she is asked, is that it’s time for action. ACHK’s latest report reads a lot like its earlier reports, like the reports from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians that Trudeau admits he ignored. There’s not much new here, just as there would not be much new after Johnston’s process, or after a theoretically better process launched by some future government.

So Ottawa’s current process obsession, while understandable, is not at all helpful.


The ACHK report includes recommendations that could be implemented before the next election, if parties were less obsessed with using foreign interference to win the next election. The Trudeau government is indeed moving ahead on some elements of ACHK’s recommendations, including a foreign-influence registry. That’s a fraught process that presents real pitfalls — overreach and stigmatization at one extreme, and at the other, a once-over-lightly framework that would not capture the sort of clandestine activity that’s the problem. As indeed the political scientist Stephanie Carvin discusses in the ACHK report. So it’s not something to be rushed. But all due dispatch would be welcome.

(For a discussion of the complexities of foreign-influence registries, readers could do worse than to look at the proceedings of a February meeting of a joint committee of both chambers of the Australian Parliament, considering amendments to Australia’s own foreign-influence registry six years after it was implemented. The comparison with our own debate does not flatter Canada’s Parliament. Australian politics can be raw and tough, and Beijing’s influence is, if anything, a more pressing issue there than here. But members from all parties in Australia discuss the issue calmly. They treat witnesses as sources of useful information, not as sticks to beat their political opponents with. I’m not sure how Canada can get there from here, but it’s refreshing to be reminded it’s possible.)

I suppose what I’m proposing here is a dose of pragmatism informed by a sense that Parliament can be something more than an endless pissing match. I was an early member of the skeptics’ club on David Johnston’s suitability for this particular task. I don’t feel chastened by subsequent events. But that ship has rather spectacularly sailed. Trying to turn the next five months of his work into a bigger fiasco won’t help the people living in Canada in fear and worry. Neither will adding another commission with grander pretensions for a report sometime after the next election. The question facing parliamentarians now is to work on solutions instead of trying to win arguments. There’ll be plenty of arguments later.

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Charges against couple who refused to quarantine withdrawn

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With permission from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms


MISSISSAUGA, ON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is pleased to announce that the charges against an Ontario couple who refused to stay in a quarantine hotel have been withdrawn by Crown prosecutors.

Audrey and Douglas Davies departed Canada for Florida in January 2021. On June 26, 2021, they returned to Canada through the Toronto Pearson International Airport but were charged with breaching the Quarantine Act for refusing to stay in a quarantine hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Davies immediately completed a form on the reverse of their ticket, requesting an early resolution meeting with prosecutors.

It was not until June 2, 2023 (almost 24 months later), that a notice of an early resolution meeting was signed by the Court Clerk of the Ontario Court of Justice. The early resolution meeting occurred on July 20, 2023. At the meeting, the Davies’ lawyer expressed concern with the delay, citing Section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that “[a]ny person charged with an offence has the right to be tried within a reasonable time.” The Crown nonetheless insisted on prosecuting the case.

According to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v. Jordan, trials for cases in Provincial Courts must be completed within 18 months of charges being laid. If trials are not completed within 18 months, prejudice is assumed, and a stay of charges will result, barring exceptional circumstances or delays caused by the accused. From approximately March 2020 to April 2022, however, the division of the Ontario Provincial Court dealing with the Provincial Offences Act was closed to in-person proceedings, even though other divisions of Provincial Courts had been open. Remarkable and lengthy closures like those affecting the Davies were considered to be “exceptional circumstances” and did not, therefore, count toward the 18-month threshold.

On August 14, 2023, lawyer Chris Fleury sent a letter to the Crown, reiterating the Davies’ concerns regarding the delay and demanding that the matter move forward as quickly as possible. On August 30, 2023, the Crown informed Mr. Fleury that the charges against Mr. and Mrs. Davies had been withdrawn.

Lawyer Chris Fleury, whose efforts on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Davies have been supported by the Justice Centre, stated, “This is a bittersweet result for the Davies. It is an excellent outcome for them personally. But, it is frustrating for Canadians who will not get to challenge Ontario’s decision to keep Provincial Offences Courts closed, while all other Ontario courts were open. We were looking forward to challenging established case law and ensuring that section 11(b) of the Charter is enforced consistently across the Provincial Courts.”

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Canadian innovation beats EU precaution in agriculture sustainability

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From the MacDonald Laurier Institute

By Stuart Smyth

Canada should learn from, not follow, the EU’s agriculture policy errors

The world needs a lot of food to feed eight billion hungry mouths. Even though global production for the most important crops – rice, wheat and maize – reached all-time highs last year, inflation, geopolitical interruptions and misguided policy have disrupted our ability to make food abundant and affordable for everyone.

Crop breeding, more efficient fertilizer and chemical use, and investments in farming equipment and technology offer tried and true strategies for increasing production while enhancing sustainability and reducing GHG emissions.

The European Union is rejecting these proven strategies through policies that dramatically reduce fertilizer and chemical use and ban modern crop breeding technologies. Regrettably, Canada’s federal government is looking at the European approach as a model for its emissions reduction plans. Canadians must reject the ideologically driven, counterproductive policies pursued in the European Union and must insist on science and outcome-driven policies to promote a strong, sustainable agricultural sector that can help satisfy the world’s growing needs.

Innovation is fundamental to modern societies and economies. Governments constantly encourage innovation and enact policies to incentivize investment into the research and development required to bring new products and processes to market. In recent years, environmental sustainability has been a primary concern and Canadian agriculture has been at the forefront of sustainable innovation. Fundamentally, sustainability in agriculture means maximizing efficiency: producing more pounds of crop per acre of land for each pound of input (seed, fertilizer, pesticides, labour) applied.

Prior to the widespread adoption of modern crop technologies, all crop and food production was done through what are now known as organic production practices. With organic production the only way to produce more food is to use more land. However, beginning in 1960, food production became decoupled from increased land use, increasing by 390% while using only 10% more land. Innovations in crop breeding technologies such as GM crops (genetically modified), fertilizer and chemical use, and farm industrialization have all contributed to this increasingly sustainable food production.

This increase in productivity has allowed the world’s population to flourish from just 3 billion people in 1960 to 8 billion today. Although the global agricultural sector is a significant source of greenhouse gases, total emissions have remained flat since 2000 even as production increased, and the sector’s share of global emissions has declined.

Despite this incredible success story, modern agriculture is often viewed with suspicion, particularly in the European Union. They have incorporated precaution-based regulations which dramatically reduce fertilizer and chemical use and ban modern crop breeding technologies. Presently they are proposing to triple organic production, from 8% of current land to 25%, by 2030, as part of what’s known as their “Farm to Fork” strategy to reduce agricultural GHG emissions.

Inevitably, the strategy will not necessarily reduce emissions but will certainly reduce production. Declines are expected: -26% in cereals, -27% in oilseeds, -10% for fruits and vegetables, -14% of beef and -9% of dairy. All of these production decreases will contribute to even higher food prices in the EU, which has been experiencing double digit inflation increases for most of the past year.

By contrast, Canada allows all plant breeding technologies to be used in the development of new varieties, and fertilizer and chemical use is based upon risk appropriate, science-based regulations. The benefits of this approach are unambiguous.

In Saskatchewan, only 3% of crop land requires tillage – mechanical turning of the soil to control for weeds and pests and prepare for seeding. In the European Union, 74% of crop land requires it. Removing tillage from land management practices not only reduces soil erosion and increases moisture conservation; it also reduces the amount of carbon released and increases the sequestration of carbon through continuous crop production. 90% of Saskatchewan farmers indicate that efficient weed control provided by the use of glyphosate increased sustainability in their practices, and 73% said production of herbicide tolerant canola, which is predominantly GM, did.

An assessment of EU agricultural GHG emissions concluded that had genetically modified crops been adopted there in a timely fashion, total EU agricultural GHG emissions would have been reduced by 7.5%. This amounts to 33 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. At any rate, their reduced yields have left them heavily dependent on imports of GM livestock feed from Brazil and Argentina.

Comparing sustainable agricultural production between the EU and Canada reveals two very different situations. The EU has rejected GM crops due to politics and precaution and as a result still heavily relies on tillage. Canadian farmers have enthusiastically adopted GM crops, virtually eliminating tillage. The EU is proposing additional precaution-based regulations that will further reduce crop and food production. Canadian farmers have demonstrated the ability to produce more food with fewer inputs, while the EU is poised to produce less, with more land requirements.

Opposing paths have been selected in the EU and Canada. The evidence to date confirms that it is Canadian agricultural production that is increasingly sustainable. The government must learn the right lessons from Europe’s mistakes when adopting strategies for reducing emissions from our agricultural sector. Canada should continue to improve sustainability through innovation. Canada should not follow Europe’s failed attempts to reduce emissions by producing less food.

Stuart J. Smyth is Professor & Agri-Food Innovation & Sustainability Enhancement Chair at the University of Saskatchewan.

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