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Conservatives call for committee’s foreign interference probe to resume

The Conservatives are calling for a House of Commons committee to resume its probe into foreign election interference in Canada, citing a disinformation operation which targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong.

The House of Commons procedure and House affairs committee (PROC) has been holding hearings on foreign election interference in Canada. The committee began its study after a spate of media stories reported Chinese government efforts to interfere with Canadian elections and institutions. The House of Commons has risen for its summer break, and PROC has not held a meeting since June 20.

Global Affairs Canada said on Wednesday it found evidence earlier this year of a disinformation campaign against Conservative MP Michael Chong. The department said Beijing was likely behind the operation, which spread lies about Chong on the popular Chinese social media platform WeChat.

In a letter to committee chair Bardish Chagger, the Conservative Party’s democratic reform critic Michael Cooper said news of the operation makes it necessary for the committee to resume hearings — and represents a government failure on the issue.

“Conservatives attempted to recall the committee to continue its work. The NDP and Bloc members of committee refused to join Conservatives and recall committee to bring transparency to Beijing’s ongoing interference campaigns in Canada,” Cooper said in a statement Friday.

“By doing so, the Bloc and NDP, along with the Liberal government, further embolden Beijing to meddle in Canada’s democratic institutions as the communist regime does not fear repercussion and view Canada as a ‘high-priority target’ according to CSIS.”

The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc have been united in calling for a public inquiry on foreign interference, which the Liberal government has so far resisted. The government has also faced opposition pressure to establish a foreign agent registry and expel Chinese diplomats from Canada.

A Globe and Mail story from May reported earlier Chinese government efforts to target Chong, who is the Conservative foreign affairs critic. The story said Zhao Wei, a diplomat based at the Chinese consulate in Toronto, had been assigned to work on the file. The federal government expelled Zhao from Canada shortly after the story was published.

Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Michael Chong rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong rises during Question Period in Ottawa on Nov. 14, 2022. Global Affairs reported details of a recent disinformation operation against Chong. The department said the Chinese government was likely responsible. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied interfering in Canada’s affairs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed former Governor General David Johnston as special rapporteur on foreign interference in March. Johnston resigned in June after criticism over his relationship with the Trudeau family. The government and opposition parties are in discussions about a replacement for Johnston.

The Liberals have defended their efforts to protect Canada’s democracy, pointing to the establishment of two oversight committees, NSICOP and NSIRA, on foreign interference and reports which said foreign interference did not affect the outcomes of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

But Cooper said the government hasn’t done enough. 

“The new revelations demonstrate again that the Liberal government has failed to take meaningful action on Beijing’s interference in our elections and democracy,” he said.

“Common sense Conservatives will continue to expose Beijing’s interference in our elections and democracy, and it is vital for the NDP and Bloc opposition to fight for transparency, instead of covering up for the Liberal government.”

The NDP has not yet provided CBC News with a response. The Bloc Québécois declined to comment.

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