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Liberals must do more to ‘safeguard’ democracy from foreign interference: O’Toole

Click to play video: 'Liberals must do more to ‘safeguard’ elections from foreign interference: O’Toole'
Liberals must do more to ‘safeguard’ elections from foreign interference: O’Toole
WATCH: Liberals must do more to ‘safeguard’ elections from foreign interference: O’Toole – Jun 18, 2023

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says as more reports of alleged foreign interference have surfaced, including ones involving himself, the Liberals and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have not done enough to “safeguard” democracy.

In a wide-ranging interview with Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block that aired Sunday, O’Toole responded to questions over the Canadian Security Intelligence Service informing him that he and his party had been the target of an “active voter suppression campaign” by China in the 2021 election. O’Toole said he believes Trudeau hasn’t done enough to stop foreign interference – and that’s why he has been avoiding a national inquiry into the matter.

“So these are big questions. These aren’t little political spin of the day questions. This is, are we doing enough to safeguard our democracy? I don’t think the prime minister has,” O’Toole said.

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Last month, O’Toole broke down four separate “categories of threat” on the floor of the House of Commons that he said CSIS briefed him on.

That included foreign funding and the alleged payment of funds from China through its United Front Work Department to create “misinformation” targeting O’Toole.

Click to play video: 'Erin O’Toole says he was targeted by China as Conservative Party leader'
Erin O’Toole says he was targeted by China as Conservative Party leader

The former Tory leader stressed he did not believe that Beijing had cost him the 2021 election, noting he congratulated Trudeau both by phone and publicly on election night, but said it was a close election and he had been disappointed by the results.

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“Let’s not think about the last election. Let’s think about safeguarding the next 10,” he added.

Asked whether he had concerns about his family’s safety given he was targeted personally, O’Toole said no and praised the work of CSIS and Canada’s intelligence services.

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But O’Toole took aim at reports regarding communication about issues involving foreign interference, including former special rapporteur David Johnston finding that intelligence about Chinese officials seeking information on Conservative MP Michael Chong didn’t reach Trudeau, the then public safety minister or Chong himself until after it was leaked and reported to the media.

O’Toole pointed the finger at politicians, rather than intelligence services for that issue.

Click to play video: 'Canadians are ‘hurting,’ Poilievre says in response to Erin O’Toole’s call for civility'
Canadians are ‘hurting,’ Poilievre says in response to Erin O’Toole’s call for civility

“That’s all the political masters, that’s the ministers where it sits on their desk. That’s the ministers who don’t read their emails,” O’Toole said, also noting concerns over what Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino knew about Paul Bernardo’s transfer to a medium security prison last month.

Mendicino has faced calls to resign after the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) revealed it alerted the minister’s office months before Bernardo was moved to a medium-security prison.

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Leaving politics 'bittersweet'

O’Toole announced in March he would be leaving politics after serving 11 years at the federal level.

He delivered his final speech to his colleagues in the House of Commons earlier this week calling on MPs to seek debate not division and warned of the dangers of “performance politics.”

Click to play video: 'O’Toole says Beijing orchestrated ‘sophisticated’ campaign against him'
O’Toole says Beijing orchestrated ‘sophisticated’ campaign against him

Speaking with Stephenson, O’Toole said he made the decision to step down as MP because he felt it was a “good opportunity” to take his experience from politics and bring it to the private sector, adding that new Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre deserves the chance to lead.

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O’Toole said he would, however, be nearby to provide advice to Poilievre and the party should he be asked for it.

O’Toole entered politics in a byelection for Durham, Ont., in 2012. The lawyer and former Royal Canadian Air Force member served first as parliamentary secretary to then-trade minister Ed Fast, before being promoted to cabinet as Minister of Veterans Affairs in the final months of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government.

“It’s been an honour to serve in all roles,” O’Toole said. “I’ve seen a lot of positives in politics. I’ve seen some of the dark side of it and the challenges and the stresses on families.”

O’Toole added that serving the public is an “honourable profession” and shared his mixed feeling about leaving.

“It’s a bit bittersweet because I really love Parliament, but I’m also excited about returning to the private sector.”

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