Capital Dispatch: Why won't feds name accused MPs?

Here's what you need to know about the top political stories of the week.
June 7, 2024
Capital Dispatch

House heats up after 'wittingly assisting foreign state actors' bombshell report drops

The foreign interference file was back on the front burner in the House of Commons this week after a barnburner of a report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) raised new allegations implicating unnamed current and former MPs in aiding China and India.

The fury over the facts in the carbon tax debate continued, with accusations of a cover-up swirling. 

And, how the raising of the Pride flag on Parliament Hill and one of his MPs' comments about same-sex marriage prompted Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to come out with a statement vowing to not touch longstanding legal protections. 

The week that was

Without question the biggest story in Ottawa this week was the newly-made-public and highly-redacted NSICOP report. 

To back up a bit in terms of  how this piece of work came to be… back when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first tried to triage the emerging reports of 2019 and 2021 election interference, he tasked that top-secret committee of MPs and Senators as well as the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) to dig into the issue and report back to him. 

NSIRA's work was made public last week, and now we've got the NSICOP version which dropped some bombs not seen before in other reviews. 

Specifically, the sections that have seized attention are those flagging that soon after being elected, some MPs began "wittingly assisting" foreign state actors, accepting benefits from other countries "knowingly or through willful blindness," and responding to direction from foreign officials to "improperly influence" parliamentary affairs to the advantage of a foreign state, with China and India named the top perpetrators. 

"We found foreign interference at every order of government, in every political party, in the public sector, the media, the NGO sector, the private sector," said NSICOP chair Liberal MP David McGuinty, who later in the week said his hands were tied when it came to naming names, directing inquiring reporters to the RCMP. 

In its statement, the federal police force offered no further clarity, stating in-part: "The RCMP can confirm there are investigations into a broad range of foreign interference in Canada, including matters which intersect with democratic institutions. The RCMP will not provide comment whether there is an active criminal investigation into any parliamentarian."

The Conservatives and New Democrats called for the government to name the MPs and Senators who essentially have been accused of acting in traitorous ways, with Conservative MP Michael Chong vowing to name those in his party should they be made aware and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh seeking a classified briefing to learn more. But on Thursday, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc drew a line in the sand.  

"It's important for Canadians to understand that these names are contained in intelligence reports. In some cases, it's uncorroborated, or unverified intelligence information… The idea that there's a perfect list of names that is entirely reliable that should be released to the public is simply irresponsible," he told a committee. 

So, with no one naming names, and the work of the foreign interference inquiry chugging along in the background until the fall, we'll see where things go from here. 

And, amid renewed scrutiny over the cost of Canada's consumer carbon tax – following a miscalculation by Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Yves Giroux – Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland chalked it up to an "honest mistake," but was mum when challenged on whether the government is trying to muzzle the PBO by refusing to publish its own analysis. 

Freeland's comments were in response to a question about testimony Giroux gave before the House of Commons Finance Committee on Monday, during which he said both he and his staff have seen separate economic analysis done by the government on the impact of the consumer carbon tax, but they've "been told explicitly not to disclose it and reference it." 

This generated considerable chatter in question period, with the Conservatives calling the Liberals' refusal to release their own cost analysis a "carbon tax cover up." The Official Opposition then called for the Liberals to release what they called a "secret report" suggesting it would prove carbon pricing is harming Canadians... except the government said there is no such report. 

Lastly, the pharmacare legislation did pass the House early this week. It's now before the Senate for a second round of scrutiny, that some interest groups hope is more comprehensive than the short study the bill received in the Commons.

Not to be missed

Bank of Canada cuts key rate

The Bank of Canada cut its overnight rate by 25 basis points on Wednesday, a move not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. The move puts the policy rate at 4.75 per cent, down from the 5 per cent it has been sitting at since July of last year. The central bank now sees enough evidence that underlying inflation is easing at a sustainable level. The Canadian central bank is the first of its peers to cut rates, with Macklem signalling further rate cuts to come, while quipping he'd like to savour this current moment, years-in-the-waiting, for now. Relatedly, if you missed it earlier this week, check out CTV News' special report on mortgages.  

AG reports scrutinize contracting, cybersecurity 

On Tuesday, Canada's auditor general released a trio of performance reports. One seems to have prompted the folding of a contentious sustainable development fund. Another blasted federal departments and agencies for disregarding their own procurement policies and failing to manage risks relating to contracts awarded to McKinsey & Company. The third flagged that with Canadians reporting millions in financial losses due to cybercrime, the government "does not have" the capacity or tools to fight cybercrime effectively, citing a series of alarming examples where agencies fell short. 

Chief justice implores politicians to read rulings 

And, Canada's Chief Justice had a tough message for federal and provincial governments today in his annual news conference this week. Justice Richard Wagner implored elected representatives to read judgments in full before commenting, expressing concern about court decisions being weaponized for political ends. During the year-end availability, Wagner also spoke about the use of the notwithstanding clause, and how the ongoing judicial vacancies are impacting Canadians' timely access to justice. 

Quote of the week

"In 2016, when I was the first prime minister to walk in Pride parades across the country... everyone was filled with the question of 'is even relevant anymore? Do we even need to be marching in Pride parades anymore because we've made so much progress? We're there, aren't we?' And my answer at that time was we've made tremendous progress. There's always still more to do… As I get out across the country this summer, nobody is going to ask me that question, whether it's still relevant to be marching in Pride parades. Whether it's still important to be standing up as allies, whether it's still meaningful that Pride is yes, a wonderful celebration but also a protest. Unfortunately, it is." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the annual Pride flag raising on Parliament Hill. 

His remarks came amid scrutiny over comments a Conservative MPs made about opposing same-sex marriage, which Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre –who did not attend the event – was quick to distance himself from. 

Curious why this was my pick?

Head over to CTV News' YouTube channel for the new Capital Dispatch video edition, where I provide more context and insight behind the quotes I highlight, and more. New episode are posted on Friday afternoons when Parliament is sitting. 

The week ahead

We're now down to the last two scheduled sitting weeks before MPs leave the Hill for the summer. 

That means the time has come for a check-in on the legislative roster to see where the priority bills the government is trying to see pass or meaningfully progress before a more than two-month House holiday, stand. 

Bill C-69, the Budget Implementation Act: At House committee, Senate pre-studying.
Bill C-64, the Pharmacare Act: Passed the House, at second reading in the Senate. 
Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act: Yet to come up for debate at second reading. 
Bill C-70, the Countering Foreign Interference Act: At House committee, Senate pre-studying. 
Bill C-61, the First Nations Clean Water Act: At House committee. 
Bill C-49, the "Atlantic Accord" legislation: Passed the House, at second reading in Senate. 
Bill C-59, the Fall Economic Statement Implementation Act: Passed the House, Senate studying.

It's also worth keeping in mind that while MPs are set to adjourn on June 21, or earlier, the Senate is scheduled to stick around into the week following, in-part to try to play clean-up with the bills that land before them at the last minute. 

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