OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office says his chief of staff, Katie Telford, will testify at a House of Commons committee on the issue of foreign interference in the last two Canadian elections.
The move came Tuesday as Trudeau’s office issued the mandate for special rapporteur David Johnston, giving him until May 23 to recommend whether any additional mechanisms — like a formal public inquiry — are necessary.
Johnston will have until the end of October to complete his review of foreign interference issues and make further recommendations for how the government should proceed.
Trudeau told reporters Tuesday morning that Johnston will have access to all relevant documents, including classified information.
The Liberals’ decision to drop their opposition to having Telford testify at committee made moot a vote planned for Tuesday afternoon on a Conservative motion asking the entire House of Commons to demand her appearance.
Liberal members of Parliament had been filibustering the Procedures and House Affairs committee for several weeks to prevent a similar motion that would compel Telford to appear.
The announcement on Telford’s testimony came moments after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would back the Conservative motion if the government didn’t stop filibustering at the committee.
Singh insisted the committee is not the best placed to get to the bottom of the foreign interference problems, and he wants a public inquiry. He said the Liberals and Conservatives are too bent on scoring political points at the committee for it to do the best job.
Trudeau has not heeded the calls for an inquiry thus far, but has said he will listen if Johnston recommends one.
Trudeau appointed Johnston, a former governor general, last week amid allegations Beijing attempted to influence the results of both the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
The government and opposition parties have said those attempts did not compromise the validity of the elections, a contention backed up by the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
But opposition parties have been demanding the government produce more information about what Beijing tried to do, what Trudeau knew about it and what he did about it. They want a full public inquiry but Trudeau instead appointed Johnston to look into the issue and make recommendations.
He has said if Johnston recommends an inquiry he will abide by that.
Trudeau said earlier Monday he wanted the issue of foreign interference to be treated with the seriousness it deserves and accused Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre of turning the matter into a “political circus.”
The Liberals left the door open on Monday to making the vote on the Telford motion a confidence matter, but Trudeau shut that door firmly Tuesday morning.
“No, it’s not going to be a confidence motion,” he said, prior to the Liberal cabinet meeting.
“Obviously, it goes to how important the issue of foreign interference is, and I’m actually pleased to contrast the approach that we’ve taken.”
He said the process the Liberals are following “is an expert process that will dig into this in a nonpartisan way.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.
The Canadian Press