A Conservative bid to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fire his top aide over her handling of a 2018 allegation against Gen. Jonathan Vance has failed.
In an opposition day motion, the Conservatives alleged that the prime minister’s chief of staff Katie Telford was “complicit in hiding the truth from Canadians” when she didn’t tell Trudeau about the 2018 allegation against Vance, first reported by Global News.
But the motion, which demanded she be fired, failed when a majority of MPs voted against it in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon.
One Liberal MP, Bob Bratina, voted in favour of the motion in what he said was an error. He clarified that he has the “highest respect” for Telford and did not intend to vote with the Conservatives.
“I apologize for that,” Bratina said.
The Conservative call for Telford’s firing comes three months after Global News first reported allegations of inappropriate behaviour levelled against Vance, the former chief of defence staff.
In the weeks since, military police have opened investigations into Vance as well as Adm. Art McDonald, Vance’s successor as chief of defence staff. Multiple women have also spoken out publicly, sharing allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
Vance denies all allegations of inappropriate conduct. McDonald declined to comment, citing legal advice and the investigation that remains underway.
Following Global News’ reporting, multiple parliamentary committees launched studies into the issue of sexual misconduct in the military. It was at one of those meetings that Telford’s former colleague Elder Marques shared new information that prompted the Tories to call for Telford’s firing.
Marques, who was a senior advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018, told a committee that Telford was aware of a 2018 allegation against Vance and that he kept her updated as bureaucrats at the Privy Council Office opened a probe into the matter — which they abandoned shortly thereafter.
The revelation raised questions about why the prime minister’s closest confidantes allegedly opted not to share any details of the complaint with him.
Trudeau has spoken out in defence of Telford, stating last week that she is the reason the current government calls itself a “feminist” one.
“It’s because of Katie that I have sat down with multiple women leaders within the Armed Forces and elsewhere to have conversations about this over the years to look at what more can and should be done,” he said.
During debate on the motion on Tuesday, the Bloc Quebecois made it clear they had no intention of supporting the call for Telford to be fired.
“We will be voting against this motion,” Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin said at the time.
“Although this situation is deplorable and deserves appropriate sanction to be meted out, what we really need is for the minister of defence to appear before committee and we need a clear timeline of what happened. We want to hear the truth.”
The Conservatives spent much of Tuesday’s debate implying Telford may have been taking the fall for the prime minister.
“If she covered it up, she deserves to be fired. But if she didn’t cover it up and he’s not telling the truth, he needs to stand up, tell the truth, own up to what he’s done and … take responsibility for his mistruths, for his conduct and for his cover-up,” said Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen.
She added that “something about this whole story that’s being told just doesn’t ring true.”
“But it’s indeed what the prime minister is saying. So we’re going to call him to act on it,” Bergen said.
Despite the failure of the opposition day motion, the Conservatives are still pushing to bring Telford before the national defence committee to question her about the 2018 Vance allegation. Debate on that motion was supposed to continue on Monday, but the meeting was abruptly cancelled just before its scheduled start time.
When asked about the Conservatives’ efforts on Tuesday, Trudeau accused them of playing “extremely aggressive partisan games with this issue.”
“Our focus as a country needs to be on supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment and recognizing that the systems that have been in place for many years in the military and elsewhere have not given people comfort to come forward, share their stories, and demand consequences,” Trudeau said.
“That is a failing that we have collectively had, particularly in the armed forces, and it’s something that needs to end.”
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly