A lot of ink has been spilled recently on the subject of potential Chinese interference in Canadian elections. Michael Harris writes:
A lot of people are in a lather over alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections. I am not one of them. Am I concerned? Of course. Would I like to know more about what happened in certain ridings? Absolutely.
But is my blood pressure going through the roof like the editorial board over at The Globe and Mail, which is howling for a public inquiry? It is not, and here’s why.
For starters, Canadians already know that whatever the Chinese did or didn’t do, it did not affect the outcome of elections in either 2019 or 2021. Just read the report by former deputy minister of foreign affairs Morris Rosenberg for the details. Even Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who is leading the hue and cry for a public inquiry, acknowledges that.
So there is no question that the results of the election were in any way corrupted. Certainly not the whole story, but an important part of it. The federal Liberal government is as legitimate now as it was before this curious story was broken. Thank heaven for that. At least this has not turned into a saga of election denial, or the nonsense spouted by former CPC leader Erin O’Toole who claimed that Chinese interference cost the party eight or nine seats in the 2021 election.
However, the matter must be investigated. The question is what is the best way to do it?
In tandem with investigations by a parliamentary committee, the commissioner could theoretically complete the work in a more timely manner than a full-fledged public inquiry, which could take years. If there is truly an emergency here, why delay addressing it? I think most people would agree that it would be beneficial to have findings and recommendations concerning alleged foreign interference in our politics before the next federal election.
There are some advantages, of course, to a public inquiry, particularly when it comes to the scope of evidence gathering. But since this particular situation is steeped in serious national security issues, how public would such an inquiry be? My guess is that a lot of evidence would have to be heard in-camera. And if there are documents, they would have to be seriously redacted. The old sources and methods dilemma might end up hiding more than it could potentially reveal.
And would such a public inquiry settle disturbing doubts about a potentially dangerous vulnerability in our democratic elections? It might, but I doubt it.
In the present circumstances, it should be noted that the Conservative Party of Canada hasn’t always been so sanguine about ferreting out potential interference in our elections. It did not, for example, ask for a public inquiry into the Robocall Affair of 2011, in which 31,000 Canadians in 247 out of 308 federal ridings complained of false and misleading calls aimed at suppressing their votes.
In subsequent court actions involving the Council of Canadians, Justice Richard Mosely found that the “most likely source of information used to make the misleading calls” across the country, and in seven close ridings won by the Conservatives was the CIMS database. That database was controlled and maintained by the Conservative Party of Canada.
Although the CPC denied any knowledge of the fraudulent use of its data, it never asked for an investigation into how CIMS had been compromised, or provided investigators with a list of authorized users of the party’s database in the days leading up to the election. Strange, that.
There will be a lot of sound and fury about this. But let's not get paranoid.