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Trudeau says Canadians decided 2021 election outcome in spite of Chinese meddling

Report: China worked to help ensure a Liberal victory and defeat Conservative politicians
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departs for Nassau, Bahamas, from Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Trudeau is playing down a report that China tried to sway the last federal election, saying Canadian voters alone decided the outcome.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadian voters alone decided the last federal election as he played down a report Friday that China tried to unduly sway the outcome.

The Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper, citing classified Canadian Security Intelligence Service records, said China worked to help ensure a Liberal minority victory in the 2021 general election as well as defeat Conservative politicians considered unfriendly to Beijing.

The story said the spy service quoted one Chinese diplomat as saying Beijing likes it when Canadian political parties are fighting with each other, whereas if one has a majority, the party in power can easily implement policies that do not favour China.

The newspaper also said that, according to CSIS, Chinese diplomats are behind undeclared cash donations to campaigns, and have business owners hire international Chinese students and assign them to volunteer in election campaigns.

Neither CSIS nor the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa had immediate comment on the Globe story. The spy service also did not say what, if anything, it was doing about the public disclosure of its own classified documents.

The embassy has previously said China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Under a federal protocol, there would be a public announcement if a panel of senior bureaucrats determined that an incident — or an accumulation of incidents — threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.

There was no such announcement in 2021 or concerning the 2019 election. In both ballots, the Liberals were returned to government with minority mandates while the Conservatives formed the official Opposition.

“All Canadians can have total confidence that the outcomes of the 2019 and the 2021 elections were determined by Canadians, and Canadians alone, at the voting booth,” Trudeau said Friday when asked about the Globe story.

The prime minister allowed that he has long said that China is trying to interfere in Canada’s democracy, including during elections.

“We are aware of this. And I can assure you that our intelligence and security agencies have been working very hard over the past many years to develop more and more tools to counter this, to make sure that our institutions are kept safe.

“This is not a new phenomenon. This is something that countries around the world have been grappling with for a long time, and Canada is no exception.”

The Globe story said China’s former consul-general in Vancouver boasted in 2021 about how she helped defeat two Conservative MPs.

Trudeau said “the fact that a Chinese diplomat would try to take credit for things that have happened is not something that is unseen in diplomatic circles around the world.”

As for the disclosure of classified information, Trudeau said: “It’s certainly a sign that security within CSIS needs to be reviewed. And I am expecting CSIS to take the issue very seriously.”

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Friday that Trudeau chose not to be transparent about Chinese interference because it benefited him. “It’s clear that Justin Trudeau has been covering up the interference of the authoritarian regime in Beijing.”

Suggestions that China tried to sway the outcome of the 2021 federal election are not new.

A federal research unit detected what might be a Chinese Communist Party information operation that aimed to discourage Canadians of Chinese heritage from voting for the Conservatives.

The Sept. 13, 2021, analysis by Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, which tracks foreign interference, said researchers observed Communist Party media accounts on Chinese social media platform Douyin widely sharing a narrative that the Conservatives would all but sever diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Among the Conservative platform planks in the 2021 election campaign were promises to stand up to Beijing on human rights issues, diversify supply chains to move them away from China, adopt a presumption against allowing Beijing’s state-owned entities to take over Canadian companies, and work toward less global reliance on critical minerals from China.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said late last year the Liberal government is preparing to consult the public on the possible creation of a foreign agent registry as a means of preventing outside interference in Canadian affairs.

—Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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