EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to more clearly state that while the House of Commons could not compel David Johnston to step down, it can compel the government to produce documents including ones related to national security.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is defending his party’s decision not to include binding orders in its foreign interference motion, which called for David Johnston to step down as special rapporteur, and says an election does not “make sense” if the goal is protecting Canada’s democracy.
Singh told The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview that aired Sunday that he wants to get a better understanding of the full extent of allegations of foreign interference.
“I want to see some steps being taken to safeguard our democracy instead of triggering an election because I’m worried about interference in our elections. To me, (it) sounds self-serving,” he said.
“It’s something that Mr. Poilievre and Mr. Blanchet are calling for because I don’t think they’re very serious about dealing with this issue.”
Earlier this week, the NDP’s non-binding motion calling for an inquiry and for Johnston to step down was adopted in the House of Commons by the opposition parties.
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While such motions can’t bind Johnston as an individual to step down, House of Commons motions can — and in the past, have — included binding orders for the government to produce all kinds of records about matters the parties allege are not being handled properly.
The power comes from the right to order the production of documents. Former House of Commons Speaker Geoff Reagan wrote in a ruling in 2018 that “should the House, by way of a formal motion, order the information from the government, it will be under an obligation to produce it.”
As the standing orders note: “It is well established that Parliament has the right to order any and all documents to be laid before it which it believes are necessary for its information.”
In 2021, as the government disputed an order from the House of Commons to hand over documents about the firing of scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory, Speaker Anthony Rota affirmed the House of Commons and its committee have unlimited power to order the production of any documents, even those with national security implications.
The Conservatives also pushed a motion through in 2020 that forced the government to hand over reams of documents around Canada’s contracting of COVID-19 vaccines, thousands of pages of which were later made public.
Following the vote last week, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Johnston said he would continue in the role of special rapporteur investigating foreign interference.
Trudeau reiterated his support for Johnston in comments on Friday, and blasted both the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois over their ongoing attacks.
“They have refused to get security briefings on the actual facts surrounding the intelligence and question of foreign interference because they want to continue to smear a man of unimpeachable integrity and deep commitment and service to Canada,” he said.
Singh has agreed to an offer for a security briefing for himself.
The prime minister added he was looking forward to Johnston holding public hearings across the country in the coming months to “include Canadians in this important conversation.”
The NDP leader said he was disappointed Johnston would not step down and that they were using the tools they had to push for a change.
“What it does is it raises the pressure and makes it clear that we’re putting out our position,” Singh said. “So we’ve been very careful and prudent and very reasonable with our approach. And we’re saying now the government’s got to listen.”
Stephenson asked: “Have the Liberals threatened to make this a confidence vote? I guess I’m not understanding why you haven’t gone to the next level already.”
Singh responded: “Well, this is something that we believe in. So we’re pushing it and we’re using the tools that we have to push it: voting in the House, making it known that the will of the Parliament is for Mr. Johnson to no longer continue.”
He added he had hoped the display of the will of the House of Commons in adopting the motion “would have a powerful impact on him.”
“It didn’t. And so I disagree with the fact that Mr. Johnson isn’t stepping down. We’ll continue to put pressure. The other tools that people have suggested, one is to trigger an election. I don’t think triggering an election makes sense if the goal is to protect our election from interference.”
The issue of foreign interference has been a consistent topic both in and outside the House of Commons over the past several weeks. Reporting by Global News and the Globe and Mail over recent months has focused on allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 campaigns, and led to the appointment of Johnston.
But Johnson recommended against a public inquiry, and opposition MPs have called for his resignation, with some Conservatives calling his role a “fake job.”
Singh and the party have been facing questions over their continued support for the Liberals, which is keeping the minority government in power until 2025 under a governance deal.
Meanwhile, the number of MPs sharing their stories of being targeted by China continues to grow.
Conservative MP Michael Chong’s family was targeted, while former Conservative leader and Durham MP Erin O’Toole revealed this week he had been told by CSIS he is also a target.
Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan also revealed she had been briefed by CSIS that she has been a target of Chinese government interference for years, something she called “disturbing.”
While she has yet to divulge more details on the interference, citing national security reasons – though she has the option to invoke parliamentary privilege on the floor of the House to do so – Kwan said she would not be deterred.
“Coming out of that briefing, more than ever I’ve resolved to say I will not be silenced, I will not be intimidated,” she told Stephenson. “I am going to continue to fight for human rights.”
Kwan went on to say members of the Chinese Canadian community she’s spoken with are “deeply concerned” about reports of foreign interference, and that she believes some are “also being targeted.”
She added that MPs need to step up and be the voice for the community who are concerned that their families could become targets in China for their speaking up in Canada. It’s why, she said, a public inquiry is needed with a commissioner agreed upon by all parties.
“The prime minister really needs to listen to the people,” Kwan said.
“They want this public inquiry for two reasons; one is that we need to protect our democracy. We need to send a clear message to foreign interference actors that we will not tolerate this. And most importantly, we need to say to the community that we’ve got their backs.”