In failing to call for a public inquiry into China’s blatant interference in Canada’s electoral process – and, indeed, many facets of life here and elsewhere – special rapporteur David Johnston set himself up for criticism.
He came under fire from the opposition almost immediately following his appointment by the Liberal government because of his perceived ties to the Trudeau family. To the most vocal critics, his findings were destined to be unacceptable.
Johnston’s rationale against a public inquiry is based on the fact most of the material germane to analyzing Chinese manipulation, and the government’s reaction to it, is classified – there could be no shining of a public light on the information. That may be so, but accusations of favouritism still followed.
Johnston could also have argued that public inquiries are generally little more than public relations stunts, designed to waste a great deal of time and money as a way to distract from some egregious conduct by the government. Even well-intentioned inquiries end up as reports gathering dust on a shelf.
With this matter, we already know the government was too friendly with China, that it failed to notify the public of the threats to our democracy and that it failed to look out for the interests of Canadians, not only due to donations but also in allowing China to gain any economic foothold in this country. The latter admittedly a problem in much of the world, one that is only now starting to generate pushback from the US and others, as we saw at the most recent G7 summit in Hiroshima.
Finger pointing and partisan politics are what we’ve seen since the revelations of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. (Realistically, we can assume the fraudulent behaviour goes back well beyond the last four years.) What we need from Trudeau is a clear admission the government dropped the ball, that attempting to do business with China is a thing of the past and that every effort will be made to cut off and cut out those interfering in any and all aspects of Canadian life.
Of course, that may be asking too much from a government that’s waffled in the face of mounting reasons to excise China from the agenda. Trudeau has done nothing to secure national integrity.
Leaving aside the coronavirus backlash – which the government did – the list of issues Canada should have with China includes trade extortion, hostage-taking (former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor), Chinese “police” stations, corporate espionage on top of concerns about real estate prices and money laundering.
Current foreign investment rules fail to properly protect intellectual property and new technology. Foreign governments, China principal among them, have access to research and intellectual property, often through working with Canadian universities. Security agencies have warned against such partnerships, among a host of concerns about China. Again, Ottawa has been slow to act.
Throw in the longstanding globalization issues and it’s clear Canada shouldn’t see eye to eye with the communist state.
The latest news of election interference in which Chinese officials or proxies looked to game riding associations and to boost the prospects of Liberal candidates indicates the Chinese Communist Party seems to believe it’s in its interest to have Liberals in power. (Witness, for example, Canada’s slow response to banning state-controlled Huawei from the development of 5G networks, unlike other allies. Huawei stands accused of both stealing technology and being subsidized by the communist government to aid in the spread of its equipment as a means of spying on a large scale.)
In case the PM isn’t sure, that’s not a good thing.
In that light, Trudeau should be taking a hardline approach to China, joining with other Western nations to roll back China’s influence in all spheres, starting with bans on ownership of any assets on Canadian soil.