All parties in the House of Commons agreed to stand for Summer Wednesday, despite no formal announcement of a public inquiry into foreign interference.
Opposition parties had demanded the government declare the inquiry before the end of the spring session, and it was used as a kind of lever to get the House up earlier than the planned summer recess date of June 23.
But that changed on Wednesday evening and the opposition parties all supported a government motion that meant that the House would not meet again until September after Wednesday.
But talks for an investigation continue and a deal could be announced before the end of the week.
Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc is leading talks with the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois on how to move forward with the quagmire of foreign interference that has plagued the government and this parliamentary assembly for months.
Numerous allegations have been made that the Chinese government attempted to influence the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, targeting specific MPs it deemed unfriendly to China’s interests. In May, Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat believed to be behind some of those attacks.
However, the Liberals resisted repeated calls for a public inquiry and instead appointed former Governor-General David Johnston as Special Rapporteur to advise on the issue and decide whether an inquiry was warranted.
His first report on 23 May recommended against an inquiry, which angered the opposition parties, who accused Johnston of being too close to the Liberals. He announced on June 9 that he would step down from his position at the end of June, citing a “very partisan atmosphere” surrounding his work.
A day later, Leblanc began negotiating with the opposition about next steps and a public process over foreign interference, which could include an investigation.
Research negotiations progress
Mark Holland, the Leader of Government House, said on Wednesday that talks are progressing.
“At this point, we can honestly say that these are very constructive and positive talks that I expect to produce results very quickly,” Holland said mid-afternoon.
Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said Wednesday morning that the bloc and Liberals may be just hours away from agreeing on the terms of an inquiry, though he later said it could take several more days. He suggested that the bloc was closer to agreement with the government than the NDP or the Conservatives.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Wednesday he was “not confident in the timing” of an agreement on an investigation, but said he had seen more openness from the government to call one.
“We’re not going to let the pressure go,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “We are hopeful, but cautiously hopeful.”
The biggest stumbling block seemed to lie between the liberals and the conservatives. The first wanted the opposition parties to agree on what they would support in an inquiry to avoid a new situation like the one that arose after Johnston’s appointment.
That included putting forward names of people they would support to lead an investigation.
But Conservative leader Pierre Poilièvre has refused to do so, saying his party would only propose names after the government announced an inquiry.
“We are ready to provide names and mandates as soon as the prime minister announces that a public inquiry will begin,” Poilièvre said in French during question time.
He also said the government has asked for a meeting with all parties on Thursday.
Trudeau said he is pleased opposition parties are willing to work together to find a consensus, but said he is wary given “how opposition parties have behaved” towards Johnston in recent months.
“We want to make sure everyone agrees on the framework, the people who will participate, and we don’t want to fall back on personal attacks, which will undermine Canadians’ confidence in their institutions,” Trudeau said in French.
All parties agree that the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections have not been compromised. But opposition MPs say a public inquiry into foreign meddling attempts is the only way for Canadians to gain confidence in the electoral system.
Three motions calling for an investigation have been passed since March, the most recent being tabled by the NDP on May 31.
It called for an inquiry headed by a commissioner unanimously supported by the House of Commons, which would have the power “to review all aspects of foreign interference by all states, including, but not limited to, the actions of the Chinese, Indian, Iranian and Russian governments.”
According to the NDP motion, that commission would present its report and recommendations before the next federal election.
The Liberals voted against all three motions.