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Conservatives push motion calling on Katie Telford to testify on foreign interference

Click to play video: 'Conservatives push for Katie Telford’s testimony on election interference, question NDP stance'
Conservatives push for Katie Telford’s testimony on election interference, question NDP stance
WATCH ABOVE: Conservatives push for Katie Telford's testimony on election interference, question NDP stance – Mar 20, 2023

Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff be called to testify on foreign election interference? Or will the Liberals risk toppling their own government to avoid it?

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is sponsoring a motion that calls on Katie Telford to publicly address the matter.

The motion, which was tabled Monday, calls on Telford, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and several others to testify before the House ethics committee. The Conservatives have attempted to have Telford appear before the House affairs committee, but filibustering by Liberal MPs has prevented a vote.

“We need to know exactly what (Telford) knew and what the prime minister knew,” Poilievre said in the House of Commons on Monday.

“Only she can answer these questions.”

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A vote on the motion is expected after daily question period on Tuesday, but led to hours of debate in the House of Commons on Monday.

Conservatives argued Telford, who has been a top aide to Trudeau since before he became prime minister in 2015, can answer key questions about briefings on election interference Trudeau received and what actions — if any — he took in response.

The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois both seem prepared to vote in favour of the motion.

But the New Democrats, who are supporting the Liberals through a supply-and-confidence agreement, have not committed to doing the same — despite its members agreeing Telford must testify.

Instead, they tabled their own motion on Monday that seeks a broad public inquiry into foreign interference that looks beyond China to other alleged meddling by actors like Russia and Iran. Conservatives have rejected calls to expand the probe.

Poilievre and other Conservative MPs on Monday challenged NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on if he will support their motion or continue to help the Liberals with their “cover-up.”

Click to play video: 'Looming vote on Katie Telford may test Liberal-NDP deal'
Looming vote on Katie Telford may test Liberal-NDP deal

Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons Monday, Liberal House Leader Mark Holland wouldn’t rule out the possibility of turning the Conservative motion into a confidence vote. That would force the NDP to choose whether to throw out the supply-and-confidence agreement over compelling Telford’s testimony.

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The agreement, reached in early March 2022, does address situations in which the government declares a confidence vote on other matters. It requires the Liberals to inform the NDP of a confidence vote as soon as possible, and the NDP to discuss with the Liberals how its MPs intend to vote before announcing so publicly, “to permit discussions” to take place.

Holland hinted those talks are underway now, when asked specifically if the government would move to declare the Conservative motion a confidence matter.

“I think it’s not helpful to jump to the end of a process when we are still having conversations in a contemporaneous circumstance,” Holland said.

 

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All three opposition parties believe Telford has valuable information about when Trudeau was briefed on alleged Chinese 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 Beijing’s communist government actively sought to influence or interfere in the elections. Trudeau has said Canadians can be assured that the integrity of both elections was not compromised.

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

Trudeau hasn’t yet agreed to launch an inquiry, instead tasking 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, the House affairs committee and ethics committee are both in the midst of their own inquiries into the issue of election interference. Trudeau has also tasked the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians with probing foreign interference in the last two elections.

Conservatives believe Liberals will try similar stalling tactics at ethics 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.

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If the NDP joins Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois and support the Conservative motion, Trudeau will be forced either to obey the wishes of the House and allow Telford to testify or to ignore the vote.

Click to play video: 'Pierre Poilievre alleges China ‘targeted’ Conservatives in alleged election interference'
Pierre Poilievre alleges China ‘targeted’ Conservatives in alleged election interference

Ignoring the 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.

Trudeau also refused to say Friday if he would make an attempt by the Conservatives to Telford to testify on foreign election interference a matter of confidence.

The NDP promised last year 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.

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The supply-and-confidence agreement says nothing about inquiries into foreign election interference.

— with files from Global News’ David Akin

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