ANALYSIS: How a looming vote on Katie Telford may test the Liberal-NDP deal

Click to play video: 'Looming vote on Katie Telford may test Liberal-NDP deal'
Looming vote on Katie Telford may test Liberal-NDP deal
WATCH ABOVE: What did the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, know about election interference? The federal Conservatives want Telford to testify before a House of Commons committee and are set to force a vote on it as early as Tuesday. This could test the strength of the Liberal-NDP alliance. David Akin is digging deeper into this – Mar 17, 2023

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to say Friday if he would make an attempt by Pierre Poilievre‘s Conservatives to force his chief of staff to testify on foreign election interference a matter of confidence.

MP are expected to vote as early as Tuesday on a Conservative-sponsored motion calling on Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford to testify at one or the other of two House of Commons committees investigating allegations of election interference. That vote could test the strength of the deal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made last year with  Trudeau to support the Liberal minority government on matters of confidence.

During a press conference in Guelph, ON, Friday, Trudeau was asked directly if he would make the vote on that Conservative motion a matter of confidence and, while he criticized the Conservatives for playing “political games” he did not answer the question.

“Everyone can see clearly that they are more interested in political theatre,” Trudeau said in reference to the Conservatives.

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The debate on the Conservative motion is likely to happen Monday with a vote after daily question period on Tuesday.

All three opposition parties believe Telford has important information about when the prime minister was briefed on alleged election interference in the 2019 and 2021 general elections. Both Global News and The Globe and Mail have reported on those allegations, citing unnamed national security sources.

Those sources say the Communist government in China actively sought to influence or interfere in the elections.

“The Prime Minister’s chief of staff was intimately involved in his leadership campaign and in all of his federal election campaigns,” Poilievre told reporters in Vancouver Friday.  “She knows all the secrets. It’s time for her to come forward and honestly testify about what happened. What was Beijing’s role in supporting Justin Trudeau.”

There is no evidence that the outcome of either the 2019 or 2021 election was changed by any alleged election interference or that the outcome in any individual riding should be considered illegitimate.

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Nonetheless, the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP have all called for an independent public inquiry to assess the allegations.

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The prime minister has, so far, not agreed to convene any inquiry but this week Trudeau named former governor general David Johnston as his special rapporteur to, among other things, advise him as to whether a public inquiry should be held.

In the meantime, two different House of Commons committees — the House procedure and affairs committee (PROC) and the access to information, ethics, and privacy committee (ETHI) — are both in the midst of their own inquiries into the issue of election interference.

Motions have been put forward at both committees calling for Telford to testify.

At PROC, Liberal MPs are nearing 24 hours of filibusters to prevent a vote calling on Telford to testify. As they do in the House of Commons, the Liberals have a minority of votes on Commons committees.

Conservatives believe Liberals will try similar stalling tactics at ETHI when it is time to vote on Telford’s testimony.

But a party’s opposition day motion in the House of Commons cannot be avoided.

Click to play video: 'Pressure on Trudeau for answers to foreign interference claims'
Pressure on Trudeau for answers to foreign interference claims

The Conservatives believe the BQ and NDP will support their opposition day motion and, if those other parties do indeed support the Conservative motion, Trudeau will be forced to either obey the wishes of the House and allow Telford to testify or ignore the vote. Ignoring the express wishes of a House of Commons vote could bring on additional political peril for the minority government, including the possibility that contempt proceedings against the government could be initiated.

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But Trudeau could designate the vote on the Conservative opposition day motion a matter of confidence.

That would put the spotlight on the strength of the NDP-Liberal deal in which the NDP promised to vote with the government on any confidence matter through to June 2025 so long as the Liberals uphold their end of the deal, most of which involves meeting NDP demands on providing universal dental care, universal pharmacare, improved housing and other issues.

The supply-and-confidence agreement, as it is called, says nothing about inquiries into foreign election interference.

If Trudeau designates the Telford motion as a confidence matter, it would heighten the stakes for the NDP who would have to decide whether to side with the government and defeat the motion calling Telford to testify, or risk toppling the government and possibly precipitating a general election.

David Akin is the chief political correspondent for Global News.

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