And the contrast between Ottawa’s and Queen’s Park’s handling of the situation couldn’t be starker. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld
It’s hard to know what Canadians should be angrier about – China’s increasing efforts to interfere with our political processes or the Prime Minister’s appallingly bad attempts to deal with it.
For weeks now, Canadians have been treated to a series of stories from major news outlets that China has been trying to influence the country’s politics by intimidating Chinese Canadians, by using large and potentially illegal political donations and by launching disinformation campaigns. The goal is to elect politicians friendly to the Chinese Communist cause.
China has even established so-called “police stations” across the country to expand their ability to threaten Chinese Canadians.
It is truly alarming. But even more worrisome has been Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response. He has ducked, he has weaved, he has dissembled and downplayed the stories. He has accused those asking questions of being racists and the country’s security forces of deliberately leaking inaccurate information. He has tried to claim that he knew nothing of this in the face of clear evidence that he and his office had been alerted to the threats many times.
He has refused to call an independent inquiry despite non-partisan calls to do so. Instead, he has tried to deflect critics by asking former Governor General David Johnston to consider the matter.
Normally, the highly respected Mr. Johnston would have been a good choice for such a task. But his independent status is in serious doubt as it has been revealed that he is a close family friend of Trudeau and he has an inside role on the Trudeau Foundation – a charitable organization that raises money for projects in memory of Justin’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and one that has received questionable donations from prominent Chinese sources.
Canadians tend to be naïve about the big bad world we live in. Partly because, as a country, we have not experienced major invasions or bloody, civil wars on our soil and partly because we live next door to one of the most powerful countries in the world.
But as the stories continue to stack up – not only from leaked security reports but also from individual Chinese Canadians who have been on the receiving end of communist China intimidation – the rest of the country is growing more aware and concerned about the situation and the federal government’s mishandling of it.
More and more commentators, including those who usually give the federal Liberals a break,
are speculating that the Prime Minister must be hiding something. Certainly, on the face of it, the deep financial ties many people identified with the federal Liberals or Trudeau personally have to China is worrisome.
It is hard not to ask such questions. Watching federal Liberal MPs twist themselves into pretzels over the past few days, filibustering a House of Commons committee trying to look into the matter has been a shameful sight.
The contrast between Ottawa’s and Queen’s Park’s handling of the situation couldn’t be starker. When allegations arose that one of Premier Doug Ford’s sitting MPPs was linked to the controversy and might have been involved in questionable political fundraising on behalf of a federal Chinese candidate, the Premier’s office first removed the individual from his position as a parliamentary assistant to a Minister and then rapidly accepted his resignation from the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The Premier then issued a statement expressing support for his caucus member but that the steps had to be taken to give the individual an opportunity to focus on clearing his name.
That is the way political scandals or potential scandals used to be handled. For example, during the administration of Ontario Premier Mike Harris, a staff member of the Minister of Health leaked the name of a physician who was accused of inappropriate billing. The Minster immediately resigned, an investigation was launched and when the Minister was cleared, he was re-appointed to cabinet. The guilty staff member was removed from his post.
It is called accountability and it is becoming a vanishing characteristic in the nation’s capital.
Trudeau decries those who spread “misinformation”, he pretends to fight racism and criticizes those who seek to undermine the integrity of federal institutions or the public’s trust in our democracy.
But it is getting harder and harder to match his rhetoric with his actions. This has gone far beyond partisan politics.
By refusing to acknowledge the truth or recognize Canadians’ growing concerns, by being visibly and deliberately evasive, by pretending there is nothing to be concerned about, by appearing to lie in the face of independent facts, he has become the thing he says he most detests.
This country deserves better.
Janet Ecker is a former Ontario Finance Minister, Minister of Education, Minister of Community and Social Services and Government House Leader in the governments of Premier Mike Harris and Premier Ernie Eves. After her political career, she served as the founding CEO of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, a public-private partnership dedicated to building Toronto region into an international financial centre. She currently sits on a number of corporate and non-profit boards, agencies and advisory committees.
Ms. Ecker received the Order of Canada for her public service contributions and was recognized as one of the “Most Influential People in the World’s Financial Centres” by Financial Centres International. She also received a “Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award” from the Women’s Executive Network and the Richard Ivey School of Business, among other awards. She is also one of the founders of Equal Voice, a national, multi-partisan organization working to elect more women.