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Red Deer MPs push for public inquiry into foreign interference

‘It feeds the narrative that the Liberal government is covering something up’
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Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen and Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins spoke before a crowd of about 30 people at Breakfast with the MPs, hosted by Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce on May 25. (Photo by Susan Zielinski/Black Press)

Red Deer MPs say security and intelligence information could be protected if a full public inquiry was held on foreign interference despite the decision made this week by the special rapporteur appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

That was largely the message from both Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins, after speaking at Breakfast with the MPs, hosted by the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce, at River Bend Golf and Recreation Area clubhouse on May 25.

Earlier this week, special rapporteur David Johnston said that a public inquiry could not be held due to the sensitivity of the intelligence, and formal subpoena powers are not required for him to hold his own hearings with diaspora communities, academics and political stakeholders.

The former governor general was asked in March to lead an investigation into the extent and impact of foreign interference in Canada, amid allegations that China meddled in the last two federal elections.

Calkins said the judge leading the inquiry could have access to sensitive information without making it public.

“This is a serious enough issue that it requires that fulsome approach. We’ve done it in the past. There’s no reason we can’t do it this time,” Calkins said.

“It feeds the narrative that the Liberal government is covering something up. It’s not helpful to our institutions here in Canada, so let’s get to the bottom of it.”

He said there are still too many questions and trust needs to be re-established.

Calkins is a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs whose mandate includes elections, and he was going to attend an emergency meeting of the committee virtually to discuss whether to accept the results of Johnston’s first report.

The report found serious shortcomings in how intelligence from security agencies was communicated to government, but didn’t identify any instances where the prime minister negligently failed to act on intelligence, advice or recommendations.

Johnston’s work is expected to continue through the end of October, when he is due to present a final report to the government.

Dreeshen said there can be many different types of foreign interference and Canadians should know what’s going on. A public inquiry will provide transparency and openness.

“It’s in the best interests of the country because it’s not just China doing this. There are other countries that wish to have influence as well. Why should they? Why shouldn’t we feel that our elections are going to be fair?” Dreeshen asked.

— with files from The Canadian Press