Former PM Harper takes jab at Liberals over foreign interference

·3 min read
Former prime minister Stephen Harper delivers the keynote address at the Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference on Wednesday, in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Former prime minister Stephen Harper delivers the keynote address at the Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference on Wednesday, in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Former prime minister Stephen Harper used a keynote speech at a conservative conference in Ottawa on Wednesday evening to take a jab at the Liberal government over its handling of alleged foreign interference.

Harper was one of the final speakers at Wednesday's Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference, formerly known as the Manning Networking Conference. The conference is running until Friday.

The former prime minister was touting his reforms to political donation rules — specifically when the Conservatives lowered the individual donor limit and axed a $2 per vote government subsidy.

"[We made] parties dependent on a marketplace of small contributions rather than on a combination of big donors and government subsidies," he said, before poking fun at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government.

"That system, by the way, doesn't include support from foreign governments."

The Liberals have been dogged by questions about foreign interference following a slew of recent media reports. According to Global News, the Privy Council Office prepared a report for the Trudeau government warning that Chinese officials in Toronto had disbursed money to a "covert network tasked to interfere in Canada's 2019 election."

Global reported similar allegations back in November — that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) briefed Trudeau in January 2022 on Chinese efforts to interfere in that election. The interference reportedly included the Chinese government sending money to at least 11 candidates.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning later joined Harper on stage for a one-on-one conversation. The two discussed the anniversary of the Reform Party breakthrough in the 1993 federal election that sent more than 50 of the party's candidates to Ottawa.

But they also leaned into a discussion about the future of the Conservative Party, particularly with an eye on the next election.

Harper used the topic to then take a swipe at the NDP, calling it a "branch plant of the Liberal party" — referencing the confidence-and-supply agreement reached between NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Trudeau.

In that deal, the NDP promised to support the governing Liberals until 2025 in exchange for progress on shared priorities — including a dental-care program for middle- and low-income Canadians.

But Harper seemed unimpressed with what the NDP got in exchange.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

"Only Jagmeet Singh could walk into a room with Trudeau and come out with a deal where he gets nothing," he said. "I just wish I had an opposition leader like that."

The Canada Strong and Free Network was founded in 2005 as the Manning Centre for Building Democracy. The organization hosts regular events, including an annual networking conference, to share ideas about advancing the conservative movement in Canada.

A number of Conservative parliamentarians, including Leader Pierre Poilievre, are expected to take the stage later this week.

Harper had some advice for the man holding his former job.

Poilievre has made a number of policy announcements since being elected leader. Most recently he called for the development of national standards for doctors and nurses and said he would sue pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis if elected prime minister.

But making such announcements ahead of an election campaign may not be the way to go, Harper said.

While the former prime minister did say the Conservatives should work on their platform and broadly outline the direction they would take the country, he said the party's main job now is to hold the government accountable.

"What I say to conservative opposition leaders is your job today… it's not to talk about how you would run the country. It's to hold the government accountable," he said.

"The time to tell people about your alternatives in detail is in an election campaign."