Q&A: Jeromy Farkas and Naheed Nenshi weigh in on allegations of foreign election interference

·5 min read
Liberal MP Han Dong left the party caucus this week following a news report that alleged Dong advised a Chinese diplomat to delay the release of Canadian citizens detained in China.  (Chris Rands/CBC - image credit)
Liberal MP Han Dong left the party caucus this week following a news report that alleged Dong advised a Chinese diplomat to delay the release of Canadian citizens detained in China. (Chris Rands/CBC - image credit)

Questions around foreign election interference continue to swirl on Parliament Hill.

This week, Liberal MP Han Dong left the party caucus following a report from Global News that alleged Dong advised a Chinese diplomat to delay the release of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig who were detained in China.

Dong denies the allegations.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau government continues to resist calls to hold a public inquiry into foreign election interference.

On the Calgary Eyeopener, Jeromy Farkas, a former city councillor, and Naheed Nenshi, Calgary's former mayor, shared their thoughts on the topic with host Loren McGinnis.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity and length. The full audio of the conversation is available in the link below.

LISTEN | Nenshi and Farkas on politics 

What are your thoughts on the allegations against Han Dong? 

Farkas: Given that the allegations haven't been proven, I'm going to sidestep the specifics of that individual MP. But I think it's really important to level set. So, the interference, to the extent it's been alleged, it's very serious, but wasn't at a scale that would have ultimately changed who became prime minister.

It could be a simple narrative that the Chinese Communist Party was trying to interfere to install Justin Trudeau as prime minister — but that's just too simple. The fact here is that, yes, foreign entities — not just China — are alleged to have helped both Liberals and Conservatives. So party policies and leaders can change pretty quickly, and our international adversaries out there, they don't really care about political stripes. That's why they are playing the long game. I think their objective is very clear: It's to encourage corruption, it's to damage democracies, it's to cast doubt on our elections, and otherwise inject as much chaos as they can take advantage of.

Second, I think, is the need for politicians to give the public an honest expectation about what can and cannot be discussed in secret. So, I think a public inquiry is absolutely, 100 per cent, absolutely needed. But there are limitations because there are national security concerns that could, say, endanger the effectiveness, if not the lives, of our intelligence sources, as well as harm our ability to be able to recruit assets down the road. So, I think, the politicians in particular need to be extremely cautious about not tipping our hand to our opponents about all that we know and how we know it.

CBC/The Canadian Press
CBC/The Canadian Press

Third, in terms of the Liberal caucus and the government's handling, the politics of those have been just godawful. The politicians have been feeding into the chaos that our opponents want to see, perhaps chasing short-term gain for themselves and their political parties at the expense of our country and its standing. And the Liberals have made this situation 100-times worse than it needed to be by not bringing in the opposition parties early and immediately. They've painted themselves into a corner with the simplest explanations being that the prime minister either completely disregarded the information provided to him or used it to the Liberal Party's benefit. And, no, I don't think the Liberals should get any credit for being dragged kicking and screaming to a public inquiry. 

Naheed, the Global story alleges Dong thought the release of the Two Michaels would help the Conservatives politically. Does that add up?

Nenshi: First of all, let me just say that I agree with almost every single thing Jeromy said. I think that is exactly the right framing of this. So maybe we can agree, first of all, that foreign interference is bad. It probably had no impact, even on individual races in this particular case. And the Liberals have badly mishandled this, and made the situation much worse.

I would love to see an inquiry into this, but also into other countries. You know, I remember very well, it wasn't very covert, the prime minister of India traveling the country with Stephen Harper just before the 2015 election. Certainly, for friends of mine in the South Asian community, that was purely political campaigning. So, there's a lot of interesting questions to be held here.

The only place where I disagree with Jeromy a little bit is on the absolute need for a public inquiry. I think we've been frothing over a public inquiry, but really this should be a nonpartisan look into foreign interference, because it's a bad thing. And we should try to get rid of it before it actually has any impact.

Jeromy, you think the Liberals have handled this poorly and an inquiry is the way to clarify this. Is that right?

I think it's absolutely required to be able to clear the air. I would disagree with Naheed. I don't necessarily think it should be nonpartisan. I think it should be all-partisan. I think every political party has a stake in this, and I think the only way for the respective conservative and NDP bases to be satisfied would be to get the signoff from their MPs and their leaders. It doesn't necessarily mean all of this information needs to be absolutely public, to tip our hand and strengthen our adversaries. But I think if the prime minister early on had brought in these leaders, held them to the confidentiality and brought them in about the conduct of the election, I think it would have gone a long way to build the support and rapport among these respective political bases.