The Hamilton Spectator

We need proof elections are free and fair


The best argument so far for an independen­t inquiry into foreign election interferen­ce in Canada has come from the least independen­t voices in this escalating furor — politician­s and members of Parliament.

A hearing at a Commons committee on Wednesday vividly proved the point. National security discussion­s should come with a warning label — don’t try this at home. Or more accurately, don’t try this in the House.

It comes down simply to this: the question of whether foreign actors have been meddling in Canadian elections is simply too important to be litigated by the people who were players in those elections, with vested interests. That goes for all the political parties: the governing Liberals and their opposition rivals.

Opposition parties are in fact on side with the idea of some independen­t inquiry, though Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre also wants MPs to continue their Commons committee investigat­ion, such as it is right now.

But if Wednesday’s Commons hearings were any indication, Canadians aren’t going to get many answers from the political arena. Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, explained as much during her testimony.

“We cannot talk about national security informatio­n in a public forum,” said Thomas, who stared down this committee with the same, flat, no-nonsense tone she brought to last fall’s public inquiry into the “Freedom Convoy.”

Thomas said at those hearings that she was one of the influentia­l advisers saying yes to a declaratio­n of emergency on the convoy last winter. On Wednesday, she made clear she’s one of the people on the inside arguing against a wideopen public inquiry.

A lot of the back and forth between MPs, Thomas and other senior security officials testifying on Wednesday proved the national security adviser’s point. MPs — who do come from political parties — were gamely trying to get the security people to say how much political parties were in the loop about possible election threats in 2019 and 2022.

Sorry, the politician­s were told — that’s top secret. (Though the officials did manage to reveal that the RCMP is not investigat­ing any of the allegation­s surfacing in the media of late, which is significan­t.)

The problem with politician­s looking into political interferen­ce is that they’re not the ones who need to be reassured that Canadian elections are free and fair. It’s the voting public, and the news on that right now is not good.

An Angus Reid poll released this week showed that a disturbing two-thirds of Canadians believed that China either definitely or probably tried to influence the past two elections in Canada.

An even more disturbing 42 per cent of past Conservati­ve voters were inclined to believe the elections had been “stolen.” Sound familiar?

That means that the horse is already out of the barn on this one. Reassuranc­es from the Liberal government will just feed the cynicism of non-Liberal voters, while opposition’s continuing attempts to cry foul could make those parties sound like they have an axe to grind — a pox on all their houses, in other words.

The opposition leaders are right to ask that their parties have a voice in determinin­g the shape of any future inquiry. On something as important as democracy and electoral legitimacy, you don’t want anyone saying that the ruling party put its thumb on the scale.

Trudeau continues to say that we have all the inquiries we need into electoral interferen­ce right now and they need to run their course.

The current Commons committee hearings, with no offence to any of the MPs doing their questionin­g, is not going to be the final word — any more than the various parliament­ary hearings into the convoy, which paled in comparison to Justice Paul Rouleau’s inquiry.

Trudeau’s next move should be to convene a meeting of all the opposition leaders, swear them to the highest levels of security clearance, and hammer out how they can get a grasp on this issue before the public gets any more cynical about the fairness of elections. That one gesture in itself would prove that the politician­s are putting democracy over their partisan interests.

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