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Foreign interference is real. Parties should act now

It has been a busy week in the world of foreign interference in Canada. The Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference released its first report and, days later, the Trudeau government tabled Bill C-70, to combat foreign interference in our elections.

 

Both the report and the bill are constructive additions to our understanding of foreign interference. and to our approach to combating it. While we consult experts on their contents here are the Canadian Future Party’s initial thoughts - and our own roadmap to interference-proof our party’s processes.

 

The Hogue Commission’s first report

 

Judge Marie-Josée Hogue, who heads the foreign interference commission, found foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections did not change the overall results. But it did undermine the confidence of Canadians in our electoral process. It poisoned our electoral ecosystem - and may have changed the results in some ridings.

 

Some testimony heard at the inquiry was alarming. In particular, the case of the Liberal nomination for the seat of Don Valley North:

 

Some information about the nomination contest, though not firmly substantiated, was provided before the election. Intelligence reporting indicated that buses were used to bring international students of Asian origin to the nomination process in support of Han Dong. Some intelligence reporting also indicated that the students were provided with falsified documents to allow them to vote, despite not being residents of the riding. The documents were provided by individuals associated with a known proxy agent.

 

Some intelligence reported after the election indicated that veiled threats were issued by the PRC Consulate to the Chinese international students, implying their student visas would be in jeopardy and that there could be consequences for their families back in the PRC if they did not support Han Dong. Furthermore, the report highlights how Justin Trudeau was made aware of this situation and, in his capacity as Liberal leader, he chose not to use his prerogative to remove the candidate.

 

Opening Canadian politics to new Canadians is desirable. Allowing temporary residents to participate in our politics is not. It jeopardizes our democracy and places the individuals involved at potential risk from their home government, who can leverage their control over family and other interests back home to encourage their citizens to participate in political interference in Canada. While this is true of citizens with overseas ties, Canada can offer little protection to permanent residents and no protection at all to international students and temporary workers.

 

The report concludes “this incident makes clear the extent to which nomination contests can be gateways for foreign states who wish to interfere in our democratic processes.”


The Canadian Future Party has been working to address this risk as we develop our constitution and policies, to be brought forward for adoption at our first National Convention in Ottawa, in November.

 

Because we recognize party processes are a key vulnerability in our system, we will be recommending:

 

1.     Only Canadian citizens can be voting members of the Canadian Future Party

2.      Permanent residents can be engaged but will be given an observer status

3.     Voting members will have to join the party well in advance of a nomination, if they want to vote in any nomination race or other party election

4.     We will use a strict vetting process and require disclosure of any potential candidate’s relationship to any foreign powers, including work as a lobbyist.

 

We are working with world-class experts to ensure our party’s internal processes and systems are resilient against cyber-attacks and other forms of interference. We will develop screening processes for all staff and volunteers to ensure we minimize the risk of interference and espionage.

 

We are looking forward to further reports from Justice Hogue, and to playing our part in making sure our politics are controlled by Canadians, and only Canadians.

 

BILL C-70 , An Act respecting countering foreign interference

 

Bill C-70 contains many positive elements the CFP has called for. The introduction of a foreign interests registry, new powers for CSIS and other agencies in Canada and abroad, and new offences that protect not only federal institutions and processes but extend those protections to provincial, territorial, municipal, educational, and First Nations, Inuit, and Metis institutions are all great steps.

 

We hope the Commission’s second phase will see further refinements, including changes to the Elections Act to strengthen oversight over party nominations – a glaring omission from BILL C-70, especially in view of the Don Valley North controversy.

 

Further, we are concerned that, in an environment where existing laws are often flouted by extremists and criminals, we still need a national conversation on how existing laws and the changes proposed in this Bill will be enforced.

 

Enforcement is complicated by the electoral calendar: Bill C-70 will take approximately one year to pass, meaning it will not be in force in time to protect the next election. By the time it passes - if it passes! – most candidates for the next election will already be nominated.

 

Because of this, the Canadian Future Party calls on Elections Canada to propose voluntary guidelines to allow all federal political parties to review and upgrade their internal processes and nomination rules to comply with the spirit of this law, and the initial findings of the Commission.


As the saying goes: know better, do better. That is what our Party will do regardless of official action, and we urge all other parties to do the same.


From the information released by Justice Hogue and the details included in C-70, this has been a good week for Canada: it seems more and more people are waking up to the dangers of foreign interference. Yes, all this should have happened years ago. Yes, there are still serious questions around enforcement and even whether the bill pass. But progress should be applauded, and the Canadian Future Party looks forward to taking part in the debate around C-70.

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