Trudeau has 'inspired a lot of suspicion' about election results, Poilievre says

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference in New Westminster, B.C., on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference in New Westminster, B.C., on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Tuesday the Liberal government's inaction on alleged election meddling by China has some Canadian voters wondering whether recent election results can be trusted.

Speaking to reporters after a drug-related announcement in B.C., Poilievre said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has "inspired a lot of suspicion" because of his refusal to answer detailed questions about China's role in the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns.

Poilievre said Chinese interference was known at the highest levels of government but was "kept hidden" until "courageous whistleblowers" leaked national security intelligence to the press.

Now, Poilievre said, Trudeau has refused to call a public inquiry into the matter, which has made matters worse.

"What does Justin Trudeau have to hide?" Poilievre said. "If we want to restore faith in our democracy, we have to answer these questions and bring in transparency."

WATCH: 'Trudeau inspired a lot of suspicion' by not answering questions on Beijing interference: Poilievre: 

While Trudeau and his cabinet have so far avoided calling a public inquiry, the prime minister said Tuesday his government will soon name a "special rapporteur" who will decide whether a commission of inquiry is necessary to get to the bottom of Beijing's alleged malfeasance.

The government's choice for the rapporteur post will be announced in the "coming days" or this week, Trudeau said.

In meantime, Trudeau has asked the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a panel of MPs and senators who have top security clearance, to review what's known about Chinese interference.

The Commons committee on procedure and House affairs is also studying the matter — including claims that China co-opted some candidates and staff and illegally funnelled money into local campaigns to prop up pro-China MPs.

"We are — and have been for a long time — extremely concerned about China's actions towards our businesses, towards our researchers, towards communities here in Canada, and also politics," Trudeau said.

WATCH: 'This is a serious issue': Reporters press Trudeau on attempted election interference:

Trudeau said that a panel of senior public servants monitored the last two campaigns using data compiled by Canada's national security agencies. He said they concluded that while there was meddling, the interference did not meaningfully affect the outcome of the vote.

"This is a serious issue we have always taken seriously, and therefore we're making sure Canadians will continue to have confidence," he said.

But a Leger poll of some 1,544 Canadians released Tuesday suggests a sizeable minority of Canadians don't have all that much confidence in the electoral system.

About 29 per cent of all survey respondents said Canada's voting system is not safe.

That percentage is sharply higher among Conservative voters.

Leger found nearly half — 48 per cent — of Conservative voters polled said Canada's electoral system is not totally secure. Just seven per cent of Liberal voters polled by the Quebec-based firm said the same thing.

A majority of those Canadians polled by Leger had heard of recent media reports about election interference.

Of those respondents, 49 per cent agreed that the alleged meddling was "somewhat limited and does not really affect the overall results of the election."

Another 33 per cent said the alleged interference "greatly compromises the legitimacy of the results of the election." About 18 per cent were unsure.

WATCH | Many Canadian worried about electoral system, poll shows: 

Trudeau has defended his government's handling of election interference. It created the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol (CEIPP) panel after the 2015 election — an independent group of bureaucrats who monitor incidents that threaten an election's integrity — and assembled the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force to monitor threats.

Canada learned of Chinese meddling through the work of these panels, Trudeau said Tuesday.

But as Trudeau himself has said in the past, the government hasn't always listened to recommendations on foreign election interference from NSICOP, the intelligence watchdog.

"We have to do a better job on following up on those recommendations. I fully accept that," Trudeau told a press conference earlier this month.

The government has also ignored legislation to implement a foreign registry — a bill former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu has said made him the target of Chinese interference in the 2021 vote.

Anti-Chiu posts flooded Chinese-language social media during the last campaign. Some of those messages accused Chiu of wanting to "suppress" the Chinese-Canadian community by backing the bill.

After Chiu's loss to a Liberal, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos picked up the baton by introducing S-237, a bill that would establish a foreign influence registry in Canada. Such a system would compel agents working on behalf of a foreign government to either register their interactions with public officials in Canada or face criminal penalties.

"We have fallen way behind in charging people who are attempting to circumvent our democracy and our democratic institutions, and it's high time that the Trudeau government does something about it," Housakos told CBC News.

The government has launched consultations on the merits of a registry.