Conservatives say they will back Liberal government’s foreign interference bill

Click to play video: 'Ottawa tables bill to counter foreign interference'
Ottawa tables bill to counter foreign interference
WATCH: Ottawa tables bill to counter foreign interference – May 6, 2024

The opposition Conservatives will work quickly to pass the Liberal government’s proposed foreign interference legislation, foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said Tuesday, pointing to the tight timeline to get the measures in place before the next federal election.

In a letter to Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Chong said Conservatives are proposing to move a unanimous consent motion at the end of the debate during the second reading of Bill C-70. If adopted it would allow the bill’s “expeditious passage” through the House of Commons and committee before receiving royal assent.

“As the general election draws closer, time is running out to strengthen the confidence Canadians have in our elections,” wrote Chong, who has testified that he was among those targeted by China.

“Conservatives will work in good faith to ensure the rapid progress of Bill C-70 through the House while ensuring sufficient scrutiny of the bill’s measures. I look forward to working with you to see the passage of this legislation through Parliament.”

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Bill C-70 proposes new powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to investigate and combat foreign interference, as well as new and updated criminal offences for sabotage, political interference and other crimes committed on behalf of foreign entities, along with increased prison sentences that range up to life behind bars.

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Chief among the proposed measures is a foreign influence registry that would require anyone working for a foreign government, business or other entity involved in policymaking or political campaigning to register their activities with a new independent commissioner.

Click to play video: 'Foreign interference bill welcomed but needs work, diaspora groups say'
Foreign interference bill welcomed but needs work, diaspora groups say

The bill, which was introduced in the House of Commons on May 6, provides for a one-year timeline to get the foreign influence transparency commissioner’s office up and running, along with the other proposed reforms.

The next election is scheduled to be held no later than October 2025, putting pressure on the House and the Senate, which has yet to consider the bill, to get the legislation passed quickly.

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Achieving that, Chong said in a statement issued by the Conservatives Tuesday, is “vital to ensuring that Canadians can head to the polls in confidence and free of intimidation or fear.”

LeBlanc said after tabling the legislation that he was hopeful all the provisions included in the bill are in place by the time of the next election.

“I’m not pessimistic that we can’t build a consensus around the importance of having this legislation in place as quickly as possible,” he told reporters.

The legislation comes amid increasing pressure on the federal government to strengthen its measures against foreign interference, particularly against elections and diaspora communities.

A public inquiry into the matter has noted attempts by foreign actors to meddle in the last two federal elections undermined Canadians’ trust. Chong testified as a witness at the inquiry.

The statements mark a rare moment of Conservative support for Liberal legislation. The opposition has spent months voting against nearly all of the government’s priority legislation, arguing it is spending too much at a time of economic uncertainty for Canadians.

During heated testimony at a House defence committee meeting Monday, Conservative MP Pat Kelly told Defence Minister Bill Blair the party would continue to vote down government spending initiatives as a sign of non-confidence.

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“We will vote non-confidence in this government at every opportunity,” he said.

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