The Prime Minister appears to be throwing out what feels like a new message every day on the China interference issue, to see if anything will stick. The announcement of a special rapporteur feels like a glorified stall tactic – unfortunately for Trudeau, the issue isn’t going away. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick
In case you missed the news earlier this week, the Prime Minister attempted to put allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections to bed by announcing the appointment of a special rapporteur.
A rapporteur is a fancy word for an independent investigator. Trudeau said he was open to consulting other parties on his preferred Liberal pick, but we’ve all seen this story play out many times over the last eight years. As history has taught us, Canadians are right to view this latest announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism.
According to Trudeau, the special rapporteur will be tasked with investigating the matter and coming up with a series of recommendations, one of which may or may not include calling a public inquiry.
For a government that is used to back-of-the-napkin solutions to put political scandals to bed, the news went over like a lead balloon. Trudeau masked the last-minute announcement in complicated jargon that even seasoned political insiders couldn’t make sense of and failed to provide the straightforward answers Canadians are looking for on the questions of who knew what, when.
The leaks from Canada’s security agency haven’t stopped, and media have latched onto the fact that the Prime Minister and his office appear to have been warned on several occasions that foreign money was being filtered into Liberal campaigns. Instead of offering up his Chief of Staff to answer questions, the Liberals are using tried and true stall tactics to hold up a parliamentary committee that is attempting to get the facts straight.
Any hope of putting the issue of foreign interference to bed before the visit of President Biden to Ottawa later this month has all but been quashed. Barring any new answers from the Prime Minister’s Office, the issue also threatens to overshadow the federal budget that was supposed to turn the page on a government that has appeared to be operating without direction since parliament resumed in January.
For all intents and purposes, the Prime Minister appears to be throwing out what feels like a new message every day, to see if anything will stick. The announcement of a special rapporteur feels like a glorified stall tactic. If it is determined that a public inquiry is necessary, it begs the question of why this step wasn’t taken earlier, given the precarious nature of minority governments and the fact that an election could be called at any point.
There is no running from this issue. Delay tactics serve only to erode our system of free and fair elections, as Canadians cast doubt on the integrity of our institutions, and on the politicians who are elected as their byproduct.
It is a likely outcome that at some point, Trudeau will be forced to call a public inquiry. It may be because the special rapporteur outlines it in his recommendations. More likely, however, is that the political pressure will ramp up to the point where the Trudeau government can’t punch through on their political agenda.
While this may not be the scandal that brings down the government, it could just be the one that creates the conditions for voters to seek out alternatives to the governing Liberal Party in the next election.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.