Conservative motion calling on Telford to testify before another committee was defeated
Trudeau’s chief of staff to testify on foreign election interference
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff will testify before the committee probing foreign interference in Canada’s elections following weeks of pressure on the Liberals, who say talking to Katie Telford isn’t the ideal solution.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff has agreed to testify before one of the committees investigating the extent of the Chinese government's interference in Canada's elections — and what the Liberal government knew about it.
"While there are serious constraints on what can be said in public about sensitive intelligence matters, in an effort to make Parliament work, [Katie] Telford has agreed to appear at the procedure and House affairs committee as part of their study," says a Tuesday statement from the Prime Minister's Office.
The decision clears a logjam at the procedure and House affairs committee (PROC), where Liberal MPs have been filibustering over the past two weeks to stall a vote on calling Telford to appear.
The committee resumed Tuesday morning and voted to call Telford to appear for two hours between April 3 and April 14.
WATCH | Telford a 'critical witness,' says Conservative MP:
Katie Telford is 'a critical witness' on election interference: Conservative MP
St-Albert Edmonton Conservative MP Michael Cooper introduced a motion to force the prime minister's Chief of Staff Katie Telford to testify at committee on election interference.
Committee member and Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who first floated the motion, said that while Liberal MPs should answer for their actions in obstructing the committee, he's pleased with Tuesday's decision.
"It's critical that she testify. She's the second most powerful person in this government, arguably. But not only that, she played an integral role in the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns on behalf of the Liberal Party," he said.
"She is a critical witness to get to the heart of the scandal, which is what did the prime minister know, when did he know about it and what did he do or fail to do about Beijing's interference in our elections?"
Liberal MP Greg Fergus said he wasn't willing to call her to testify, but Telford volunteered.
"It allows us to move on to other business," he said. "The tradition is not to have political staff come before committees. It should be ministers who are really responsible for this. It makes a lot of sense. It's been a long-standing tradition of the House and one that should be broken with great hesitation."
The approved motion also invites the national campaign directors for the Liberal and Conservative parties during the 2019 and 2021 federal election campaigns to testify. It extends the invitation to Jenni Byrne, adviser to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and Tauscha Michaud, chief of staff to former leader Erin O'Toole.
Public and political interest in foreign election interference has intensified since the Globe and Mail alleged that China tried to ensure that the Liberals won a minority government in the last general election. The newspaper also published reports saying Beijing worked to defeat Conservative candidates who were critical of China.
Back in the fall, Global News reported that intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China's consulate in Toronto floated cash to at least 11 federal election candidates "and numerous Beijing operatives" who worked as campaign staffers.
Trudeau has said repeatedly he was never briefed about federal candidates receiving money from China.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) calls foreign interference activities by the Chinese government the "greatest strategic threat to national security."
An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election did detect attempts at interference but concluded that foreign meddling did not affect the outcome.
Conservative motion fails in House
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took credit for Telford's decision to appear on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Singh said his party would back the Conservatives in passing a motion compelling her to appear before another parliamentary committee — the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics — if the government didn't stop filibustering in committee. The PMO announced Telford's appearance not long after.
"I forced the government and I made it really clear today they had a choice. They could stop the obstruction in committee, allow the witness to testify or we would support the motion," Singh told reporters Tuesday. His party has a confidence-and-supply agreement with Trudeau's Liberal minority government.
The Conservative motion was defeated in the House of Commons Tuesday by a vote of 177 to 145.
NDP MPs voted on the side of the Liberals. They were booed by the Conservative bench.
Speaking to journalists after the vote, Conservative MP Andrew Scheer took a swing at Singh.
"I've served with several NDP leaders. I served in the house with Jack Layton, Ed Broadbent, Alexa McDonough and Thomas Mulcair. I've never seen an NDP leader like this, selling out longstanding principles that that party used to stand for, in exchange for who knows what," he said.
The former Conservative leader went on to lambaste the government for staging what he called a "theatrical display" at committee before climbing down and agreeing to let Telford testify.
"Now the prime minister is expecting, Justin Trudeau is expecting a gold star for exhausting every attempt to delay and block Ms. Telford from testifying," he said.
"None of this takes away from the urgent need for a full independent public inquiry."
Singh said he'll also still push for a public inquiry into the allegations of election interference.
"I've said clearly, both publicly and privately, that … we need a public inquiry and we need questions answered in the meantime," said Singh,
"Absent a public inquiry process, the only process that we have is the committee work."
WATCH | Conservatives want a 'partisan show' in committee, says minister
Conservatives want a 'partisan show' in committee, says minister
"The Conservatives have wanted to vandalize committees," said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc. "Many of the questions that they pretend they want to ask Ms. Telford are protected by national security confidences."
The Liberals floated making the vote on the Telford motion a confidence matter, but Trudeau shut that down — pushing off speculation about an early election for the time being.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister's Office also released the mandate for former governor general David Johnston's position as independent special rapporteur on foreign interference.
The terms of reference say Johnston will report regularly to the prime minister and must make a decision on whether the government should call a public inquiry by May 23, 2023. The PMO says the prime minister expects Johnston to complete his review by Oct. 31, 2023.
The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois have pushed back against Johnston's appointment, arguing that he is too closely linked with the prime minister.
Trudeau has shot back by accusing Poilievre of attacking Canada's "institutions with a flamethrower."
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