Former Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is not happy with how the report on Chinese interference with Canadian elections was conducted, calling out the special rapporteur’s apparent lack of thoroughness in interviewing members of their party for the report.
O’Toole said Special Rapporteur David Johnston did not reach out to the Conservative Party, his office, or current Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s office until the final week of his initial assignment.
“He waited until the very end to meet with the current and former leaders of the Party that had been the central target of the foreign interference he was charged with investigating,” O’Toole wrote in his Substack. “If I am to believe media reports, Johnston interviewed the Bloc Quebecois leader about events alleged to have taken place in British Columbia and Ontario… before he finally got around to me or the present Conservative Leader. This makes no sense.”
After a series of stories in The Globe and Mail and Global News revealed a range of Chinese government operations to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections and influence policymakers and institutions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Johnston as an independent special rapporteur on foreign interference in March.
O’Toole ran an unsuccessful campaign against current Prime Minister Trudeau in 2021. He admits, however, that “Trudeau and the Liberal Party won that election” and that “political interference from the Chinese Communist Party was not the reason the Conservatives lost the election.”
The current MP of Durham, nevertheless, felt the need to speak about the foreign interference issue after the report by Morris Rosenberg on the issue came out.
In early March, a report was released evaluating the actions of top civil workers tasked with monitoring and warning the public to foreign influence in the 2019 and 2021 elections. It discovered that, while there were attempts to tamper with the voting process, those attempts had no effect on the overall integrity of the election.
Rosenberg, a retired senior public servant of more than 30 years, wrote the report. But as he was also the Trudeau Foundation president at the time when Zhang Bin, a wealthy Chinese businessman and Chinese government consultant, donated $200,000 to the organization in 2016, the report was viewed to be marred with bias.
“The Trudeau government must ensure that the very credible reports on election interference are investigated in a meaningful and impartial manner, rather than trying to spin them as unimportant as they clearly have tried to do here,” the Conservative Party said in a media statement.
O’Toole said in his recent article that suggesting Rosenberg had worked with all parties as he claimed in his report is “simply false and it calls the entire report into question.”
“The 2021 election saw a considerable amount of foreign interference targeted towards the Conservative Party, several candidates and me personally. So it was baffling that the man commissioned to report on foreign interference in the 2021 election, Morris Rosenberg, conducted his analysis of the campaign without speaking to a single Conservative,” he explained.
The former Conservative leader now draws parallel with Johnston’s report.
“I was still waiting to receive a CSIS briefing on foreign interference that had been promised the week before when my office was called by the Johnston team and told we only had two days to make the meeting work,” adding that Poilievre also received a request to meet on the same day but declined the meeting.
O’Toole said his team put together “a solid dossier with predictive modelling analysis as well as evidence from the ground and from WeChat,” including insights from several key 2021 Conservative campaign officials and considerable amount of social media and polling information.
But he was disappointed when Johnston came to his office for the meeting, only to learn that the report was already undergoing French translation.
“I was flabbergasted and realized that nothing I was going to provide to the Special Rapporteur was going to impact his work,” O’Toole wrote. “I was left with the clear impression that my meeting was nothing more than a box checking exercise.”
While he considers Johnston to be “a great Canadian”, O’Toole said he’s disappointed that the special rapporteur “lent his incredible goodwill to a flawed exercise” and that the “examination into election interference has been an unserious exercise.”
“He was appointed to be the ‘Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference’ but a quick review of his mandate shows that his examination of election interference largely consists of talking to the same political leaders and senior officials who have presided over the ineffective and trust eroding decisions that led to the leaks in the first place,” he lamented.
He noted, however, that Johnston’s report “was an improvement over the Rosenberg Report.”
“None of the central actors from the 2021 Conservative campaign were interviewed for the Rosenberg Report. And the Report was defensively released by the government in the immediate aftermath of damning news reports,” he added.
O’Toole then called on to prevent the Trudeau government “to continue to grade their own homework on this issue any further,” pushing restoring confidence in Canada’s democracy and its institutions.
“The cavalcade of intelligence leaks shows that some of Canada’s leading intelligence officials have lost confidence in the Trudeau government and their response to the 2021 election has my confidence eroding as well… Now is the time to show Canadians and our allies that Canada is a serious country and that we will valiantly defend our democracy from the attacks upon it.”
O’Toole’s commentary on the matter comes as Johnston is expected to release his report on Tuesday, which would determine a recommendation on whether Canada needs a public inquiry into foreign interference.
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