Foreign Interference Undermining Canadian Elections

Written by Jasper Danielson – Edited by Natalie Cowan

Democracy is one of the most fundamental underpinnings of Canadian society. Not only does it ensure that our political system is accountable to all Canadian residents, but it also represents a much larger theme of equality in general. Consequently, the integrity of the Canadian democratic system — and everything that it symbolizes — is critical to uphold. It is with this in mind that recent debate regarding past elections becomes particularly relevant.

A report released by The Globe and Mail in early February asserts that China had utilized complex tampering strategies with the intention of interfering in Canada’s 2021 federal elections. These allegations are backed by classified Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) documents which have not yet been made publicly available. Within these documents, however, it is suggested that China sought to promote the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, while at the same time limiting their victory to a minority government. In this way, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would be able to accomplish two goals. The first, and most important: defeat the Conservative politicians, who are considered to be relatively more unfriendly to China. The second goal would be to create conflict within Parliament, which might bottleneck the process of policy implementation that might otherwise be straightforward under a majority government. 

The appeal of this second goal was made clear by a consular official at an unnamed Chinese diplomatic mission, who asserted that Beijing “likes it when the parties in Parliament are fighting with each other, whereas if there is a majority, the party in power can easily implement policies that do not favour the PRC.” The CSIS documents further explain that China pushed disinformation campaigns to strengthen opposition against the Conservative party and support the Liberal party, instructed Chinese diplomats to maintain that the Conservative party was too critical of China, and made several undeclared donations to Chinese-favoured political campaigns, among other tactics.

Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative party, has been pushing heavily for answers about the alleged interference. At the start of March, Poilievre pressed Trudeau about reports that he had been warned about Chinese interference within the Canadian elections and illegal political donations originating from the PRC Consulate in Toronto. Trudeau dismissed the assertion, claiming that they have no such information. Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP, has also been critical of Trudeau, claiming that Trudeau’s answers have been lacking. Although Trudeau, in response, has announced multiple investigations into past elections, and that a special rapporteur will be appointed to “make expert recommendations on combating interference and strengthening our democracy,” this has done little to appease suspicions. Leaders of both the conservative and NDP parties have been adamant about launching an open inquiry into the subject, and will accept nothing less.

Although many claims have affirmed that no election outcomes have been compromised, the presence of foreign interference in Canadian elections is concerning nonetheless.


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