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Federal Election 2021

Why opposition MPs want to question Trudeau’s chief of staff on election interference


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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. Opposition Conservatives say if Canadians want answers about China’s meddling in the past two federal elections, they need to hear from Katie Telford, who has served as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff since the Liberals were swept into power in 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa

Opposition Conservatives say if Canadians want answers about China’s meddling in the past two federal elections, they need to hear from Katie Telford, who has served as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff since the Liberals were swept into power in 2015.

Here is a look at why opposition MPs say she needs to testify before a parliamentary committee investigating foreign interference, and how the Liberals are responding.

What do the Conservatives expect her to know?

Conservative MP Michael Cooper presented a motion before a House of Commons committee on Tuesday calling for Telford to testify for three hours.

It’s his fourth attempt to get her in front of the committee.

The committee has been looking into interference after allegations reported by Global News and the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper that said security officials briefed Trudeau about Chinese election interference attempts.

The Conservatives and NDP say they accept the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, which both resulted in a Liberal minority government.

A panel of bureaucrats was tasked with assessing threats to both elections. That panel did track interference attempts and was empowered to issue a warning to Canadians if the integrity of either election was under threat. However, whatever activity the panel was monitoring did not meet that threshold.

Still, the NDP, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois say reports of interference by China are concerning and that Trudeau’s government must provide answers.

To get those answers, Cooper says, MPs must hear from his top aide.

“What is the heart of the issue is what the prime minister knows, when he first knew about it and what he did or failed to do,” Cooper told MPs on Tuesday.

Questioning Telford is “crucial to getting to the truth,” he said.

What is her job?

Telford is the highest-ranking political staffer in the Prime Minister’s Office, which supports not only Trudeau, but his entire cabinet. It is a powerful, yet largely behind-the-scenes role.

There have been occasions during the Liberals’ time in power, however, when Telford has stepped into the spotlight — most recently during last fall’s public inquiry into the government’s use of the Emergencies Act during the “Freedom Convoy” protests in 2022.

Telford testified that unlike other public servants, her job is a political one, in that she and others in the office work for Trudeau and the Liberal party during elections.

Besides managing his office and working with the chiefs of staffs of other ministers, Telford also acts his senior adviser.

That means providing Trudeau “with all the advice and the inputs that he needs to make the best decisions he can for Canadians,” she testified.

That job description has meant Telford has been called to testify before other Commons committees when Trudeau has found himself in hot water.

In 2021, Telford was called to appear when Trudeau’s office was accused of improperly handling a misconduct allegation against retired general Jonathan Vance, the former defence chief.

She also appeared before MPs in 2020, over the Liberal government’s decision to have WE Charity, which had ties to Trudeau’s family, run a multi-million dollar program for students.

Liberals decry “partisan games”

Liberal members of the procedure and House affairs committee, where Conservatives are pushing Telford to testify, talked out the clock on Tuesday. This meant MPs did not actually have time to vote on whether to call her as a witness.

NDP MP Rachel Blaney said while she typically disagrees with calling political staff to testify, in this case she is “persuaded” to think otherwise. The Bloc also signalled a willingness to lend its support.

Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell told MPs she is inclined to reject the motion because Trudeau has called for new investigations into foreign interference attempts. She said bringing Telford before the committee will not achieve the result of improving processes for the next federal election.

“As long as we’re going to play partisan games with national security, I’m going to fight really, really hard to make sure that mature, responsible and reasonable decisions are made,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2023.

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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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