Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I thank everybody who has had the opportunity to speak prior to me. I've certainly learned a lot. I think there was a lot offered, in particular in the comments made by Ms. Vandenbeld and Mr. Long. We really heard some interesting perspectives.
Ms. Romanado, you speak all the time and I'm always moved by your comments, but we had two special guests today, and I felt as though they were able to bring a perspective to this that was very interesting, a perspective that is perhaps outside of what we're used to talking about in this committee.
I know we are talking to the amendment to the motion, so, Madam Chair, in the interest of making sure that I stay relevant, I want to talk about and read out where we are with this motion and then the amendment.
The original amendment says:
That the Committee, in relation to its study of foreign election interference, invite Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, to appear alone for three hours during the week of March 13, 2023—
I think there will have to be an amendment to this at some point, given the date prescribed.
—provided that she be sworn or affirmed.
An amendment that was added and since passed says to “invite the following individuals to appear before the committee as part of the study provided that they be sworn”. It lists the national campaign directors of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party for the 2019 and 2021 campaigns. Then it lists the leader of the official opposition's senior leadership adviser and the former chief of staff of the former leader of the opposition.
That amendment was passed, and we are now dealing with Mr. Turnbull's amendment. The amendment asks that the motion be amended by replacing the words after “in relation to its study of foreign election interference” with the following:
Invite the 2019 and 2021 national campaign directors of each recognized party in the House of Commons and the security-cleared party representatives to the Security and Intelligence Threats to Election Task Force during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
That's where we are right now on this.
I have some comments that I would like to offer in relation to this, but before I do that, I think something bears repeating, because every time I have had the opportunity to speak at this committee since it occurred.... I brought up the fact that a sitting member of this committee, Mr. Calkins, who hasn't spoken a word in quite a while, made a rather offensive comment when he referred to one of our colleagues, the member for Don Valley North, as “an agent of Beijing”. He did that in a video he took of himself when he was walking through the airport on his way to a committee meeting here.
I have yet to hear the member who made the comment, a member of this committee, apologize for it or provide some insight into how he has come to that conclusion. I also have yet to hear any of my colleagues, on the Conservative side in particular, try to either defend or denounce those comments. It is extremely unfortunate, because I think that as members of this committee and as honourable members, it's extremely problematic when MPs start to refer to other MPs as agents of Beijing. I'm still waiting for that patiently. I have yet to see it. I note that Mr. Calkins hasn't contributed to the meeting pretty much since the day he shot that video or the day after. I hope he will soon be here to address it.
It's true—and I don't think it's going to come as a surprise to anybody—that the Liberal members on this committee are filibustering because we don't believe in the appropriateness of this motion. That's why we're doing this. We don't call political staff to question period, do we? Are political staff asked to answer questions in question period? No, they are not.
The accountability lies with the minister. For accountability, the ministers are willing to appear before committee. We've already had a couple come before this committee. It's their job to speak on behalf of the committee.
When I say we are intentionally delaying this, it's because we're trying to ensure that ministers remain accountable. I would say I'm just trying to be consistent. I'm trying to be consistent, but not with our side of the table; I'm trying to be consistent with the Conservative side of the table.
Let me read you something, Madam Chair. These are the words of Pierre Poilievre. Listen to what he had to say:
The reality is that Mr. Soudas—
He was the director of communications for the Prime Minister's Office at the time.
—is not going to be testifying anyway because of a tiny, little inconvenient problem that the coalition parties have, which is this 300-year-old concept of ministerial accountability, meaning that ministers answer questions on behalf of the government and not staff.
We're not going to be changing 300 years of history all of a sudden, at the behest of the coalition parties. We're not going to have staff members appearing in question period to answer on behalf of the government. We're going to do it the old-fashioned way, the way it's always been done right up until the last several months, and we're going to keep ministers, the guys in charge, responsible for their duties.
Those were the words of Pierre Poilievre—when he was a minister—on CBC on June 4, 2010. He was explaining to Canadians why it is inappropriate to be calling staff before committee. As I said, I'm just trying to be consistent with the Conservatives and consistent with the Leader of the Opposition, Pierre Poilievre. Those were his words. He's the one who said this is a 300-year-old tradition. How can we break from this tradition?
If anybody out there watching this is wondering why the Liberals are filibustering this.... If you're filibustering something, it must mean you're up to something nefarious and you're hiding something. However, the reality is that I'm participating in this because I want to be just like Pierre Poilievre. Can you believe that? That's my objective here. I want to live by the words of Pierre Poilievre.
That's why I'm participating in this process. That's why I think it is incredibly problematic to bring staff before this committee. It's not because I think staff can't answer the questions or that they don't have the capacity or the ability to do it. It's because I agree with Pierre Poilievre when he says that the buck stops with the minister. The minister is responsible for answering questions. That's my position on this, and I'll take the great advice given to us by Pierre Poilievre, as minister at that time, when he suggested that it would be completely inappropriate.
If anybody wants to see that video—this won't surprise many people here—I tweeted it. If you want to go to my Twitter feed, Madam Chair, you can see in the flesh a young Pierre Poilievre from 13 years ago saying that. It's available for people to witness and view.
It begs the question: Why the double standard? Why was it completely inappropriate 13 years ago, when Poilievre was in the other position, to be saying that staff should appear before committee, but now, when we're effectively doing the same thing, Mr. Cooper says there's something to hide? Why is that? Explain it to me. I will talk as long as necessary to get an answer from the Conservatives that satisfies my concern over why it is okay for Pierre Poilievre to make that comment in 2010 and to take that position in 2010, but suddenly now, it's not okay for us to take that position.
I can ask questions. I can encourage my colleagues to respond to that. I have a feeling they won't, because it doesn't fit the political narrative that Mr. Cooper in particular is trying to spin out of this whole process.
I think he's underperforming, by the way. I don't think he's convincing Canadians with his approach on this, and I think the vast majority of people would agree. The buck stops with the minister. I would agree with Mr. Poilievre that the buck stops with the minister. It's up to the minister to come testify and appear before committee and answer the committee's questions. We've already had a number of ministers do that.
This goes back to why the Conservatives are doing this. I talked about this last time. They're not doing this because they genuinely care about the outcome. They don't care. What they care about is the sound bites and the clips they can make along the way. It's not just my saying that. Fred DeLorey, the Conservative campaign manager from 2021, recently said in an interview that it seems like the opposition is just trying to create issues and to use this as a political tool. Nobody stands to gain more from it, by the way, than those who would want to interfere with our elections.
I won't stop at Mr. DeLorey. How about former senator Vern White, a Conservative-appointed senator? I know Ms. Romanado earlier spoke a bit about what former Senator White said.
All of my colleagues are bringing me various forms of lozenges, so thank you very much.
This is what Vern White said to CBC on March 11, just a few days ago: “Everybody who wrote about the reports of the committee”—and he's referring to NSICOP—“wrote in glowing terms that we were doing our job. That's all you can do. And my circle of influence never extended into PMO or PCO. That could have caused people to react. I think we did our job.”
Later on, former senator White said:
One is you'll get the transparency that you're allowed to receive. I don't think you'd get more through a public inquiry process either. You're not going to get what you can't get, right? I mean, ultimately, you're not going to get the techniques, all of those kinds of things you heard from the CSIS director last week, who is a spectacular guy. I think he was very clear on what he can and can't tell.
I realize, Madam Chair, that this relates back to the public inquiry, and I'm going to tell you in a second how it comes back to the issue we're dealing with in this motion specifically. Senator White is basically confirming everything we've been saying all along, which is that it's not appropriate to be discussing this information in public and that it should be done somewhere like NSICOP.
If we try to haul before this committee Katie Telford, or other staff who might have the proper security clearances to have seen this, they're not going to be able to provide us any information, even if we thought it would be appropriate to invite them here. This is where Mr. Poilievre and I don't agree. We don't think it would be appropriate to bring staff here.
We can recognize that. Why do you want someone here for three hours to comment on this information when you know they can't do it? It brings me back to my point that the Conservatives must be playing games to create sound bites. They want three hours' worth of video in order to clip something out of it afterwards. That's what they want. That's all that they want. I think everybody knows that. I think the partisan hacks know that. I think anybody in the Ottawa bubble or anybody who's paying attention to this knows that. That's all they're really after.
Senator White goes on to say:
I think NSICOP would be quicker than a public inquiry [and] a hell of a lot cheaper than a public inquiry.... I think this team, both the secretariat and committee, are ready to run. It's too bad politics—
This is coming from the Conservatives.
—is becoming the player here in discussion around whether or not NSICOP should manage it. But you can go back and ask any member of NSICOP. Regardless of whether they were with the Conservative party, the NDP party or the Liberal party, they will all talk about the strength of that committee.
This is the part of his interview Ms. Romanado referenced as well. I think it's very important, because it underlines and solidifies, in my opinion, my argument about taking politics over the genuine interests of this country. The interviewer Catherine Cullen says, “Pierre Poilievre has talked about this as being both a secret committee and suggested that they're under the control of the Prime Minister. You used to be a Conservative. I know you left caucus, but what do you think about hearing that from the leader?”
Of course, I should have referenced that Senator White was appointed by a Conservative, which is what I said. He was a Conservative senator, but then I think the Conservative Party veered way too far into extremes, even for a Conservative senator, and he decided to join another caucus in the Senate.
Here's his response to Catherine Cullen's question. He said, “Obviously it's BS. They're not under control. Look, our work was done unfettered—unfettered—until the report goes forward, and then there are strict rules on things that need to be redacted. Read the legislation. It's very clear.” That's what Senator Vern White says.
This is what Senator White says about Pierre Poilievre:
He's allowing the politics to take over, the same as Erin O'Toole did, to be fair, when he refused to put members on that committee.... I won't be surprised that maybe Pierre will pull his folks off it, like Erin did. I'm not sure, but it's too bad because I think this committee does great work. Nobody has questioned this committee's independence. We had former ministers, a number of ministers under Stephen Harper's time, sitting on that committee. Not one of them ever questioned the credibility of that committee, and it's disappointing to hear people question it.
This is Senator Vern White, a retired senator. He just retired recently. He was appointed by a Conservative and was a Conservative sitting senator until he decided to join another caucus that wasn't so extreme. These are his comments about Pierre Poilievre and the approach he's taking as it relates to “allowing the politics to take over”, in his words.
Madam Chair, here we are, and you can't help but wonder. I started off by telling you about what Pierre Poilievre did in 2010 and the strong position he took on protecting staff and not allowing them to appear before committee. He was so matter-of-fact about it. He said, “The reality is that Mr. Soudas is not going to be testifying”. That was the Conservative approach to this back then. I would suggest to you, Madam Chair, that we're just being consistent with Pierre Poilievre. We said staff will not be testifying, and it's the right thing to do.
I've told you about Mr. Poilievre's position on this 10 years ago. I've told you about Senator White's interpretation of what is going on, the impact it has and what he thinks is really happening. You can't help but wonder: Why would Pierre Poilievre be so invested in this if it wasn't for anything other than partisan and political gain and trying to score cheap points?
I'll tell you what's going to happen. This committee will adjourn today at some point. Mr. Cooper is going to send out an email blast—he's nodding his head, great—or it will be Mr. Poilievre. It will be Mr. Cooper saying, “The Liberals filibustered for 17 more hours. They're hiding something. Help us find the truth”, and there will be a big “donate now” button underneath.
That's why we've been dragged to Ottawa during a constituency week. It's so that the Conservatives can continue to fundraise. I doubt there is any other reason or any other motivation on their side of the table than exactly that. It's partisan cheap shots and political fundraising. That is it, in my opinion.
I think it would be very useful to talk about what another Conservative senator has said. He was a Conservative senator who represented my area, Mr. Barrett's area and Mr. Reid's area before he retired. That's Senator Hugh Segal. Senator Segal had a lot to say about this as well. He was a Conservative senator who, I would note to you, Madam Chair, was appointed by a Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin. That was back in the day before Stephen Harper got a hold of the Senate and before the mess and debacles that came about as a result of his appointments. That was back when a Liberal Prime Minister could say, “Hey, I don't care what political party you are. I think you would be a good fit for the Senate and, therefore, you're being appointed.” That's how Hugh Segal, a Conservative, got appointed by a Liberal Prime Minister.
Let's listen to a bit of what Hugh Segal had to say. He contributes to the Toronto Star, and this is specifically about this particular issue and where it all started. After I talk about this, I'd really like to hit on a point that Ms. Blaney made at the beginning of today's discussion when she was talking about the motivation and trying to be careful when it comes to journalistic integrity. Mr. Segal wrote this:
It is possible that Canadian Security Intelligence Service is unofficially correct and that the People's Republic of China (PRC) embassies, consulates and United Front networks and agents have been, and are, involved in specific efforts to unlawfully impact the outcome of Canadian federal elections.
After all, Australia's Security Services has openly discussed evidence relating to their election. And European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that European countries must keep up their guard against these interferences.
But one wonders what the summary is about the perceived incoherence of Canada’s security establishment reported?
“Leaks” from national security organizations are against the law and are currently being investigated by the RCMP.
Further, the Chicken Little nature of the Official Opposition is apparently resistant to demonstrating any balance or regard for a measured or broad national interest beyond its own narrow coyote approach to public discourse. Yes, there are questions to be answered. But rather than co-operating in an effort to get those answers, the “gotcha” moments appear to be far more important.
He's talking about you, Mr. Cooper.
He goes on to say:
Unfortunately, political gamesmanship can put people in harms' way as has been shown by the 300 per cent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Inflaming segments of the public, who might use the information as rationale for taking matters into their own hands, is dangerous and racist.
As for the media, some seem to favour “the instant over the substantial.” Any suggestion that China, or Russia or Iran interfered in our elections must be investigated. However, any suggestion that classified information must be made public or shared is not acceptable. I would hope the media understands the difference.
A conjured-up crisis about how our Canadian national security was organized (or not) would generate more dislocation, misunderstanding, disunity and apparent national and political incoherence than any alleged gaggle of Chinese spies or agents hovering around or elected to Parliament.
Again, for those who are just joining us, these are the words of Senator Hugh Segal, a Conservative senator, from prior to retirement.
He goes on:
In other words, the purveyors from within Canada's political establishment with no Chinese connection could and would do more harm to Canada’s competitive interests with the PRC, than some potential Chinese agents.
It's as if some of the actors in our political media system have drunk from the same fountain of odd fluids that generate a loss of measured judgment and a tendency to overstate what could threaten national security and dilute any actual facts that protect our democracy.
Public inquiries can be helpful. They can also lead down dark roads—especially when sources, for various reasons, are secret sources that need to stay secret. Should these sources be forced to discuss their intelligence on the record, in public, they would weaken the mission of protecting Canada and Canadians from foreign assaults on our human rights, economy and armed forces. Further, they could imperil Canadian diplomatic and immigration personnel worldwide.
Only governments in power need to worry about this. Coyote-style opposition parties and their media fans do not.
The PRC could very well use the current sowing of discord as a tool equally as helpful as actual espionage or political interference. Just as the Russians had a major impact on U.S. politics by floating the Donald Trump conspiracy—partially true or utterly false—so too would the Chinese see benefit in the apparent overwrought Canadian establishments' both media and political, quixotic overreaction to a leaked CSIS document whose accuracy is less than clear.
Canada has gone through real crises, two world wars, the depression, the War Measures Act, the 2008 recession and Trump, to name a few. The powers-that-be in Parliament, government and the media did not lose their heads.
There is no reason to do so now.
Those are the words of Senator Hugh Segal, the senator who represented my area, Mr. Barrett's area and Mr. Reid's area, a Conservative senator.
I also read to you the words of another Conservative appointed senator, Vern White. They're both retired now. Those are their words about what the official opposition is doing right now: playing political games, dragging parliamentarians to Ottawa on a constituency week when we could be working on behalf of our constituents and dragging us here so they can drum up video and sound bites for fundraising.
Before I started reading that I said I would address Ms. Blaney's point. I think Ms. Blaney has a very good point. We need an independent media in our country that is able to properly do its investigations and properly report. I think that's very important, but I would refer her—notwithstanding the incredible comments by Mr. Segal, who pretty much just addressed this point—to the fact that we had experts here who were sitting on the panel activated during an election. I said to them very specifically that they are getting reports across their desks on intelligence, and they assess those reports and then decide what to do with them. They concurred. The point is that the RCMP also said they're not currently investigating anything.
It doesn't take a lot to conclude that an intelligence report—which as we know does not mean evidence and can feed into the system to determine the validity of it and what to do with it—is something that is not necessarily always true. That's what he said. He said intelligence reports quite often are based on rumours. Those were his words, not mine, when he appeared before committee.
If The Globe and Mail, or any reporter for that matter, intercepted an intelligence report without understanding how it was dealt with or what validity was associated with that intelligence report, if that occurred.... We have been told nothing is being investigated, so it leads me to believe that the intelligence report, or those intelligence reports, didn't contain enough to pursue an investigation. Therefore, they were not given or were not treated as extremely.... I don't want to say how they were treated, because I don't know. That's how the system works. The point is that there are currently no ongoing investigations.
I appreciate what Ms. Blaney is saying, when she says we have to be very careful, and we have to allow the journalists to do their work. I'm sure this journalist was able to verify, by multiple sources, the intelligence report, but we heard very clearly that intelligence reports are not evidence because they are only one part of gathering information in order to determine how to act on information, if it's necessary.
I agree with Ms. Blaney that we have to be very careful, but I also think it's important for people to understand exactly what we're talking about. We're talking about reports that are out there that are based on information and that went to the leadership charged with dealing with that information. I don't know if it was accurate or not. I don't, but it's important to point out that it is possible, especially based on the questions and answers from the witness, that it isn't accurate. It is possible, but I, obviously, don't know because it's not my position to weigh in on that stuff.
One thing I forgot to mention is that not only was Senator Segal—I read out his entire statement in the Toronto Star—a senator, but he was also the chief of staff to former prime minister Brian Mulroney. I can only imagine that former Senator Segal never came before the committee as a chief of staff back in Brian Mulroney's days. It's important to reflect on the fact that you have an individual here that has been on both sides of this. He has been an actual chief of staff to the prime minister and also a senator, and he's basically blasting the approach of the Conservatives.
I must be honest. I didn't expect so many Conservatives were going to line up on this side of the table. So far I've referenced three: Fred DeLorey, the former campaign manager for the Conservatives in 2021; the former Conservative senator Vern White; and former Conservative senator Hugh Segal. All have blasted the Conservatives for their position on this.
Notwithstanding the fact that Pierre Poilievre also blasted his own position on this, although he did it 13 years in advance of taking the position. I guess I should hand it to Mr. Poilievre. He's completely entitled to changing his position on it.
However, I think he owes it to Canadians, to this committee and to parliamentarians to at least explain why the rules should have been different for Mr. Soudas compared to Ms. Telford. Why are the rules suddenly different? He may have very well changed his mind, but he has yet to explain why he changed his mind.
There's more from Mr. Poilievre, and I think this speaks very well to exactly what he's up to. I don't know if he meant to answer this question like this last week, but in doing so, I think he revealed a lot about what his intentions are.
Mr. Poilievre, last week on March 7, was trying to clarify a position he had taken the day before with a reporter with regard to his having access to this information. I believe the exchange centred around the idea of whether Mr. Poilievre would be content if he had access to the information that CSIS and NSICOP have.
Mr. Poilievre responded by saying:
The question yesterday was whether I would go in and personally get briefed about secrets of the state, and the answer—if I could answer your question—I gave was “of course not”, because then they would use that to silence me from speaking out any further. It would then become illegal for me to speak out.
Isn't that fascinating? If you read between the lines there, Madam Chair, you know what Mr. Poilievre is up to. He's more interested in the politics of this, and it's clear from that. He's basically saying, “If I get briefed on this, I'm never going to be able to speak about it again, and I raise a lot of money speaking about this, so I'm not going to stop speaking about it.” That's what I read from Mr. Poilievre's approach on this.
He's basically saying that he doesn't want the information. He doesn't want to know the truth, because if he knew the truth, he couldn't keep up the rhetoric that he's currently throwing at Canadians and that continually flows out of his mouth on a day-to-day basis. He would suddenly, in his words, be silenced, and he could no longer get in front of the microphone, cry foul and suggest that the Prime Minister, in Mr. Cooper's words, is trying to cover something up. He wouldn't be able to do that, because suddenly he would have all the information, and he would have been sworn to secrecy in order to receive that information.
Now what do we have? I have Mr. Poilievre conflicting with himself in his comments from 2012. I have Senator Vern White saying they're just playing politics. I have Fred DeLorey, the Conservative campaign manager from 2021, saying they're just playing politics. I have Hugh Segal, a well-respected senator across the aisle, saying the same thing, that they're just playing politics. They are all Conservatives.
I have Mr. Poilievre's own words, saying that if they briefed him on this, he might know the truth, but then he couldn't talk about it and he couldn't keep scaring Canadians. That is so telling of what the intentions of the Conservatives are here today.
We heard Mr. Long speak at length about NSICOP and the membership on NSICOP. I heard a lot of that and I know others have spoken about it too. I thought it would be important to refresh people, because the Conservatives, through their motion here, which Mr. Turnbull is trying to amend, are basically saying that they want to bring staff here to answer questions, which they know they can't answer for security reasons. I thought it would be beneficial to review who has the ability to look at this information as it currently stands.
As we know, the chair of the NSICOP committee is the Honourable David McGuinty. He has been chairing this committee pretty much since its inception.
Who are the members on this committee? In particular, who are the Conservative members? Mr. Rob Morrison is currently on it, as well as Mr. Alex Ruff. Both are Conservative MPs. Rob Morrison is a retired senior executive chief superintendent with the RCMP, and Mr. Ruff is a retired colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, with 25 years of service.
I don't even have to know what political party these two individuals belong to, Madam Chair, to know that I have faith in them to look at this information and do what they think is necessary to protect Canada.
I take the words of Mr. White very seriously and to heart when he says that the committee was able to work collaboratively, regardless of partisanship or political party, for the best interests of Canadians. I have great faith in Mr. Morrison and Mr. Ruff, who have that wealth of knowledge and expertise from their lives prior to being elected as members of Parliament, knowing that they contribute along with, currently, Mr. Davies, Mr. Bergeron and Senator Lankin.
These individuals sit on that committee with three Liberal members to review classified information, to formulate and to ask questions where they think necessary, and to formulate responses that go back to Parliament and are tabled for Parliament to review. That is just who is currently on the committee, Madam Chair.
Prior to that, in the last Parliament—the 43rd Parliament—we had Leona Alleslev, who was a Conservative member, and Mr. Falk. They were both on that committee. We had Mr. Morrison and Mr. Motz on that committee.
Again, Ms. Alleslev is a retired captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Mr. Morrison is a retired senior executive chief superintendent with the RCMP, as I previously mentioned. Mr. Motz retired from the Medicine Hat Police Service in 2015.
Again, these are extremely qualified Conservative members of Parliament who sit on the committee along with Bloc and NDP MPs and a few senators. Once again, they are charged with reviewing the information that comes before them, asking the questions, getting answers, formulating opinions together and submitting reports to Parliament.
I have great faith in all of these Conservative MPs, regardless of the fact that I might not be of the same political party. First and foremost, I think the nature of these meetings—having to be kept in secret and the information revealed in secret—just by default is going to create a more collaborative environment.
I heard Ms. Vandenbeld tell the story of what Peter Milliken used to do. As Peter was one of my predecessors, I've had a lot of opportunity to chat with him. I can remember him saying that it was always the behind.... Parliament used to break for lunch back in the day. I think it was between one o'clock and two o'clock or something like that. When it would break for lunch, everybody would go for lunch together. It would force members of different political parties to sit together, to chat and to understand each other without having a camera in front of their faces. I think Ms. Vandenbeld made some excellent points about the benefits of that. I've heard Peter Milliken speak about that at length in the past too.
The reasons that those behind-the-scenes, off-camera interactions can contribute to collaborativeness and working together are the exact same reasons that I believe this committee does the same thing. When you are sworn to secrecy, you have to leave all communication devices in a locked cabinet. You have to descend, probably, into the basement of somewhere around here—I don't even know where it is—where special protocols are taken to ensure secrecy and to ensure that the material is handled the right way.
Madam Chair, I think that is when you're going to get people to just be themselves, to ask questions candidly and to not be worried about how the opposition will spin what they just said to benefit themselves? This is where, quite frankly, we need to be sharing these very important conversations and these secrets that are out there.
A lot of people ask, “Why does the information have to be kept secret and why is this stuff classified?” It's not just about the impact that sharing this would have at home. It's not just about the impact that it would have on our adversaries, who are enjoying watching this circus going on right now. It's not just for that, although they do enjoy watching that and seeing this. It's also about the fact that we work with allied partners throughout the world. We work with other countries. We share information. We give them secrets. We rely on them to give us secrets so that we can all stay safe. If Canada suddenly starts showing that it doesn't know how to keep its information safe, why on earth would our allied partners trust us and want to continue working with us and have confidence in our ability to maintain that degree of secrecy where necessary?
When NSICOP was first formed in the 42nd Parliament, Madam Chair, a number of different Conservative MPs served on it: the Honourable Diane Finley, a former Stephen Harper minister; the Honourable Rob Nicholson, a former Harper national defence minister, foreign affairs minister and attorney general; and Tony Clement, another Conservative MP and a former Harper health minister, industry minister and president of the Treasury Board. Gord Brown, Mr. Barrett's predecessor, was on that committee, as was the Honourable Vernon White, senator, who was then a member of the Conservative Party and whose comments on this I previously talked about at length. All of these people were participating on that committee in that collaborative manner with NDP, Bloc and Liberal members of Parliament, as well as the Senate representation that was there.
I think it's extremely important when we reflect on this that we genuinely look at whether or not the objective here is what's in the best interests of Canadians. It's important for us to make sure that we use the information and the tools that we have. I would suggest to this committee that calling staff before it is not appropriate for the reasons that.... Ignore the reasons that I've put on the table. It's for the reasons that Pierre Poilievre has put on the table. Those are reasons enough in themselves. That's why it would be inappropriate to bring staff here. More importantly, it's just inappropriate to be having these conversations. They won't have these conversations with us at this table about highly classified information.
I can't help but wonder what the real motivation is here. It's pretty clear to me that this is more about politics than anything else. When you look back at what this government has actually done as it relates to foreign interference, we've actually done a lot.... We've taken this extremely seriously since day one of being elected. We've brought in a number of various different measures, which we've used to help combat foreign interference. I think it's worth considering that stuff and talking about that stuff.
The special panel that was created to deal with election interference in real time, as it's happening, consists of independent, top civil servants who have access to what they need to have access to in order to monitor what's going on and provide a conduit for political organizations to feed information into as it relates to foreign interference. That panel was established to deal with that, to be the conduit for that, and to assess and to take action where necessary. It was something that was put in place very strategically, I think.
When members of Parliament are busy running an election campaign and are not focused on what's going on in Ottawa, this would be the best time for any actor who is looking to interfere in our democratic process to attempt to do so, in particular as it relates to elections. We have this panel that can receive information from the Conservative Party, Liberal Party, NDP and basically the parties out there running in the elections. It can receive that information, act on it, decide what to do and report back where necessary.
The reports generated from the work done by those panels in both 2019 and 2021 demonstrated, when they reported back, that elections were conducted in a free and open manner. No interference contributed to the outcomes of the elections. The irony is that I know that Mr. Poilievre has even mentioned that. He's even said that he believes the results of the last election were legitimate, but it doesn't stop Conservative members of Parliament on this committee from sowing doubt in people's minds that perhaps it isn't the case. It won't stop them from trying to generate fundraising off this particular issue.
That's one thing we did since we came to power in 2015 to try to assist with what was going on in terms of interference in our elections. Another thing we did, of course, was to pass Bill C-76 in 2018. First of all, Bill C-76 undid a lot of what Mr. Poilievre did when he was minister that was making it more difficult for people to vote. We believe it's important that we have fair elections that encourage as many people as possible to vote. Our democracy, the concept of democracy, depends on people casting their ballots. Why on earth would a government of the day try to limit people's ability? It would appear to me that the only reason they would do that is if they saw gain in doing it, and I'm sure they did. However, we made it easier for people to vote through Bill C-76.
One other thing that happened through Bill C-76 was that it specifically closed some of the avenues by which foreign donations could be made into Canada's election process. I think that was extremely important as a first step in trying to combat any kind of influence, through monetary sources that would come and put money into our election process.
Now, with Bill C-76, regardless of the reason for it.... Perhaps Conservatives just thought at the time, “The Liberals have a majority, so it's going to pass anyway. We'll look better if we vote against this.” I don't know if that was the rationale or if they genuinely had an issue with those things that I just mentioned. I don't understand how they could, other than the fact that Mr. Poilievre was the one who had made it more difficult for people to vote.
Nonetheless, Bill C-76 was voted on. Conservatives voted against it. They voted against the idea of encouraging people to vote. They voted against, more importantly, closing loopholes or closing avenues that allowed foreign actors to donate within our political systems.
Then, of course, there's the other thing the government did—the most important thing, in my opinion. The thing that gets little attention outside these discussions was bringing in NSICOP and ensuring that we had a mechanism in place where parliamentarians had the ability to oversee the secrets that were being collected, gathered and held by our security agencies in this country.
I think that's extremely important, because we do need parliamentary oversight on that, and that's what we had out of NSICOP, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. That gave them the ability to monitor and watch what was going on. It gave accountability and oversight where it was needed.
When we talk about a public inquiry, as the opposition parties have insisted upon, I think it's important that we reflect on the fact that we have these great mechanisms that have already been put in place—that I just mentioned—that are there to ensure that we have the ability to make sure our elections are done in a free and transparent way and that things are kept in the hands they belong.
I think it's also important to reflect on the more holistic discussion that we're having today: that the last election was decided by Canadians, and by Canadians only. The suggestion, as I know the official opposition would like to lead you to believe, is that there was interference that changed the result of the last election. From all of the intelligence reports and from any questions that have been answered at this committee, that is not the case, full stop.
This isn't to say that we don't worry and shouldn't always be worried about what is going on as it relates to the public domain in terms of interference. I know that attempts at interference have been going on for a long time in one form or another, and we know this happens in other countries too. As a matter of fact, by the nature of democracies being open, they give the opportunity for attempts at interference. That's why it's incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure that we put the right processes in place to allow for the necessary steps to be taken when it is determined that interference is potential or ongoing.
Let's not forget that the objective of foreign actors, when they look to interfere in our democracy, is to sow division. What they're trying to do, what they want to see, are the discussions that are going on right now in this committee. They benefit from it. They want Canadians to question their democracy. They want Canadians to stop and think about whether outside forces are interfering in their elections. Those actors become more powerful when we become less confident and less trusting in our systems, and in particular our democracy.
That's why I've always maintained that it is very important that issues like this are done in a non-partisan way. I know I'm the first to jump up in the House and aggressively display my partisanship from time to time. I get that. I know that. It's who I am. I also respect the fact that....
Are you concerned, Madam Chair, because you don't believe that? News flash: I'm partisan from time to time.
My point is that there are certain issues that I think have to be treated in a manner that is non-partisan. Where better to do that then away from the television cameras and in an environment that all stakeholders can participate in and not be influenced by that?
When I know that foreign actors are watching us and seeing the division that exists in our country, I am genuinely concerned, because I recognize it is not something that I would like to see. I think that people, at the end of the day, would rather know that we are capable of handling these things without having to worry about that, but nonetheless, here we are.
I've talked at length about various different individuals who have come forward, in particular Conservatives who have contributed to the discussion that's ongoing right now. I don't know how many more Conservatives have to come forward for Mr. Cooper to realize that Mr. Poilievre is right in that the proper place for staff is not at the end of a committee table answering questions, and that it is up to the minister to properly answer questions. The buck stops at the minister. The minister is responsible.
Let's be honest. If any staff person did something that Mr. Cooper found offensive, I'm sure that he would be calling on the minister to come and take responsibility for it. Why he wouldn't accept the minister's taking responsibility to answer these exact same questions is beyond me. I think it's a bit of an issue to be approaching it that way.
I know I've been dragging on here, Madam Chair, but the last time I spoke, I realized afterwards that I forgot to talk about this and I don't want to miss the opportunity again. Mr. Long brought this up in his conversation. It's about one of the other things we've done. I listed the three: NSICOP, the special panel during an election and Bill C-76.
What the Prime Minister just announced in the last couple of weeks was an independent expert—hopefully that's better terminology for the Conservatives to accept—who will look at where any holes exist within current organizations like NSIRA and NSICOP and determine if there is anything that needs to be done or make recommendations on how to further strengthen those organizations.
The other thing that the independent expert is required to do is to look at the issue of this foreign interference and determine the best place for a study to occur. The Prime Minister said in his statement that he would accept whatever they put forward. If the independent expert or the rapporteur—whatever we're calling them—agrees that Mr. Cooper was right all along that a public inquiry is the only answer here, we will accept that and we'll move forward with that, but we let an independent individual do that. We don't make it a partisan issue.
I don't see why, unless you're afraid that you will never find somebody who's impartial out there who will agree with a public inquiry.... If you're afraid that you'll never find that, then I can understand why you would be against the idea. Based on the information that's come forward, based on the experts who have come to this committee and based on Conservative senators and Conservative campaign managers, they all say the same thing: that NSICOP is the place where this belongs. It doesn't belong in the public forum.
If you're willing to accept a special expert to look at this, if you're genuinely worried about making sure that this is dealt with in the right way, if you strongly believe the right way is through a public inquiry, and if you feel that's the best way, then put your faith in an expert to decide that. Put your faith in that expert coming to the same conclusion.
The only reason they're not putting their faith in the expert is that they know that they're wrong and they know that the position they're taking is inaccurate. They know that, once that happens, the issue is over and they no longer have the opportunity to fundraise off this. That's why they're not giving up on this.
What I actually find really surprising, if I'm being honest, is the position of the Bloc and the NDP. I would have thought they would have come around to understanding two things: that a public inquiry is not.... This is not me trying to convince my Bloc and NDP colleagues. Just listen to the experts. Listen to the people who came to this committee whom we asked.
Not a single person who came before this committee actually said that the best place for this is in a public inquiry, not a single one. I get the Conservatives' politics on this. What I don't get is the Bloc's and the NDP's, because you would think they would be interested in listening to an expert and what an expert had to say about it, but they're not.
The other thing I take issue with in terms of the approach of the NDP and the Bloc is the approach of dragging staff before a committee. I don't know—in 2010 I wasn't here—what their position on it was back then. Maybe the NDP were in favour. They must have been at that time. I don't know the logic behind it. Perhaps they are being consistent. I don't know, but they must know that accountability does not lie with staff people, regardless of whether they are the director of communications or the chief of staff. Accountability lies with the minister. If a senior staff person did something wrong and the minister ought to have known about it, you would be calling on the minister to resign, not the senior staff person.
I've witnessed it many times in the House of Commons. To now suggest suddenly, against Pierre Poilievre's advice, that it is totally appropriate to be holding staff accountable, I think, is disingenuous and I think it's just playing politics.
As I near completion of my intervention at this point, Madam Chair, I'll just end where I started, which is that we all know—everybody sitting around this table knows—that it's not appropriate to bring staff before a committee and to try to interrogate them as though they are accountable to us, because they are not accountable to us. Staff are accountable to their minister, and the minister is accountable to us.
If the Conservatives were sitting on this side of the table, they would be arguing exactly the same thing. As a matter of fact, Mr. Poilievre has argued it in the past, so we know that.
If the NDP were sitting on this side of the table, they would argue exactly the same thing. Come on—this is the NDP. This is the party that purports to be on the side of labour, and you're trying to tell me that you think it's appropriate to drag staff, individuals, before the committee? You would never get away with that in a unionized environment, but it's suddenly acceptable because it's political staff. We know the NDP would argue the same thing we're arguing.
If the Bloc were sitting on this side of the table, the country might look a lot different than it currently does, in fairness to my Bloc colleagues here, but I know they would be doing the responsible thing too, which is saying that, no, staff should not be brought before committee. It's not for parliamentarians to drill down and ask staff questions in that manner.
When I was involved in municipal politics in Kingston, we didn't drag.... The only staff who ever spoke to city council were commissioners. These were the individuals who were charged with answering the questions. If you ever attempted to go and talk to somebody who was responsible to a commissioner, especially without the commissioner's knowing about it, that was considered to be a huge no-no.
That was considered to be extremely egregious, and I would suggest it's the same thing here.
I know that it's not as sensational to do it the way we're supposed to do it, because it doesn't play itself into the hands of the optics that the official opposition would like to see, but it is what it is. You don't have to take my word for it. You just have to take Pierre Poilievre's words for it—and I'll conclude with this, Madam Chair. He said:
The reality is that Mr. Soudas is not going to be testifying anyway, because of a tiny, little inconvenient problem that the coalition parties have, which is this 300-year-old concept of ministerial accountability, meaning that ministers answer questions on behalf of the government, and not staff.
We're not going to be changing 300 years of history all of a sudden, at the behest of the coalition parties. We're not going to have staff members appearing in question period to answer on behalf of the government. We're going to do it the old-fashioned way, the way it's always been done, right up until the last several months, and we're going to keep ministers, the guys in charge, responsible for their duties.
That was Mr. Pierre Poilievre on June 10, 2010, on CBC's Power & Politics, when he was the parliamentary secretary to Stephen Harper.
I don't have to listen to anybody else at this table. I listen to the incredibly insightful words of Mr. Pierre Poilievre to know that we're on the right side of this issue.
Thank you, Madam Chair.