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Trudeau’s Chief of Staff to Testify on Foreign Interference at Committee

Published: March 24, 2023
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during the opening ceremony of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) at Plenary Hall of the Palais des congrès de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on Dec. 6, 2022. (Image: ANDREJ IVANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Chief of Staff, Katie Telford, will appear before a parliamentary committee to testify on foreign interference in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections, says the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

“While there are serious constraints on what can be said in public about sensitive intelligence matters, in an effort to make Parliament work, Ms. Telford has agreed to appear at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee as part of their study,” the PMO said in a statement provided to the National Post on March 21.

Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testifies via video conference during a House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance July 30, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (Image: DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

After the media reported that the PMO had been briefed multiple times on Beijing’s attempts to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian federal elections, opposition members on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) voted weeks ago to start a study into the interference claims. As part of the study, Telford is called on to testify on what she was told by security agencies because MPs believe that as Trudeau’s chief of staff, she can shine some light on what the government knew about foreign interference in the past two elections.

All of the opposition parties on PROC, including the Conservatives, the Bloc Quebecois, and the New Democrats, had voiced their support for a motion that would have ordered Telford to testify about the matter. However, Liberals on the committee held up votes at several meetings with a filibustering strategy to keep Telford from testifying. The committee’s work on the issue reached a political deadlock in early March.

After weeks of trying at the PROC committee, which is chaired by the Liberals, the Conservatives on Monday introduced a motion in the House of Commons to compel Telford to testify at another committee, Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which is chaired by the Conservatives. The motion also proposed to transfer the parliamentary investigation of foreign interference from PROC to the ethics committee.

“Telford is a key witness to get to the heart of the scandal, [which is] what the prime minister knows, and what did he fail to do about Beijing’s interference in two federal elections under his watch?” said the Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who tabled the motion.

Divided powers

The Conservatives had the support of the Bloc Quebecois but needed the NDP’s backing to push through the motion in the minority Parliament.

On March 21, a PROC meeting was going on, and the Liberals were still engaged in filibustering in their effort to prevent Telford’s appearance for testimony.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would back the other Conservative motion if the Liberals continued the “obstruction” of Telford’s testimony at the PROC.

“They have a choice. They can stop blocking that and they can allow the chief of staff to testify… or we will force them to do that,” Singh said.

A few hours before a much-anticipated vote on the Conservatives’ motion was to take place in the afternoon, the PMO made the decision to allow Telford to testify at the PROC.

Minutes after the PMO made its decision, Liberal members at the PROC meeting took their names off the list of people who wanted to speak, which ended the filibuster. The committee then voted in favour of calling Telford to testify on the issue.

Following the PMO and PROC, when it came time to vote on the Conservatives’ motion, the Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, Green, and Independent MPs voted in favour, while Singh’s caucus sided with the Liberals and defeated the motion.

Singh told reporters that Telford being allowed to testify rendered the Conservative motion “useless.” Singh said he “forced” the Liberals to allow Telford to testify by threatening that his party would vote for the motion.

“Liberals have not answered Canadians’ questions, and it’s really called out the importance of a public inquiry. That’s what would satisfy me, and more importantly to me, that’s what would satisfy Canadians who are worried,” he said.

Opposition House Leader and Conservative MP Andrew Scheer told reporters that the Liberals engaged in “desperate filibustering” for weeks, but it was only after the Conservative motion that they allowed Telford to testify, and Trudeau had “tried everything else.”

“And now Justin Trudeau is expecting a gold star for exhausting every attempt to delay and block Telford from testifying. None of this takes away from the urgent need for a full, independent public inquiry,” he said.

Former Governor General David Johnston has been asked by the federal government to act as a “special rapporteur” and decide by May 23 whether or not a public inquiry is needed.

The PMO said that he will send regular reports to the prime minister about what he finds. These reports will be shared with opposition leaders and all Canadians. His review is expected to end on Oct. 31.