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Opposition Responds to Launch of Foreign Interference Inquiry: A Positive Development for Democracy

Opposition parties have reacted with varying degrees of enthusiasm to the launch of a public inquiry into foreign interference, with the Conservatives saying it took too long and the Bloc Québécois and NDP calling it a good day for Canadian democracy.

“Never forget that Justin Trudeau has tried to do everything to avoid this. He had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the point where we’re at today,” said Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer on Sept. 7 from the party’s convention in Quebec City.

Mr. Scheer said his party accepts the terms of reference and the nomination of Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue as commissioner. But he warned Conservatives would be “watching like hawks to make sure that Canadians get the real answers that they deserve about foreign interference in our democracy.”

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The Conservatives say the pressure they’ve applied on the government is responsible for the holding of a public inquiry going ahead.

National security leaks started appearing in the media in November last year and opposition parties started calling for an inquiry mid-winter as the reports on the Beijing regime’s interference were piling up.

Public Safety Minister Dominic Leblanc announced Justice Hogue’s nomination earlier on Sept. 7, saying she will begin her work on Sept. 18. Parties had been negotiating the terms of the inquiry over the summer and had set parameters for choosing the commissioner.

Bloc Québécois House Leader Alain Therrien told reporters on Sept. 7 that those parameters included being fully bilingual, not having donated to a political party, and having no ties to the Trudeau Foundation.

The impartiality of former special rapporteur on foreign interference David Johnston, who stepped down in June, was questioned by opposition parties due to his ties to the Trudeau family and his involvement with the Trudeau Foundation.

Mr. Therrien said the upcoming launch of an inquiry, with terms established through a collaborative process free of partisanship, is “good news for democracy.”

“Justice Hogue, a very, very good choice, a competent woman with a stellar reputation … she has all our confidence,” said the Bloc MP, adding his party is very happy that she’s a Quebecer.

Mr. Therrien would not say how many potential candidates previously turned down the role, as was previously reported in media from anonymous sources, but he said “a few of them.”

In a press conference on Sept. 7, NDP House Leader Peter Julian called the inquiry announcement a “very good day for Canadians.”

Like the Tories, the NDP took credit for the launch of an inquiry. Mr. Julian noted his party’s motion that passed with the support of other opposition parties last spring asking for Mr. Johnston to step down. Mr. Johnson initially rejected the call but resigned a few days after, while the Liberals subsequently became more open to holding an inquiry.

Justice Hogue was given a short deadline by the parties to produce an interim report on a wide-ranging topic. She will have to file before March 2024, and the inquiry’s scope covers interference by China, Russia, other state actors, and non-state actors. Her final report is due by December 2024.

Mr. Leblanc says the government wants a report out quickly to reassure Canadians about the health of the country’s democracy.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, speaking alongside Mr. Julian, told reporters his party “really wanted aggressive timelines.”

“The whole goal of this public inquiry is to have clear recommendations made by the justice and then we implement those to give Canadians confidence,” he said.

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