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Call public inquiry first, then Tories will suggest who can lead it: Poilievre

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should make the first move and call a public inquiry before the Conservatives suggest people who could lead it, Pierre Poilievre says.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should make the first move and call a public inquiry before the Conservatives suggest people who could lead it, Pierre Poilievre says. 

The Conservative leader penned a letter to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc to, as Poilievre put it, "repeat my demands" after a phone call last week.

"As discussed," Poilievre wrote in the letter, "the prime minister must first agree to call an independent and public inquiry."

LeBlanc has been tasked with helping to devise a plan for what the next steps of the process to probe allegations of foreign meddling should look like. 

That follows the high-profile and sudden departure of David Johnston, whom Trudeau had tasked with the job. The former governor general announced earlier this month he was resigning after finding the position untenable because of a highly partisan environment around the issue.

LeBlanc has said since that the government wants to hear from opposition leaders about what a public inquiry could look like, including who could lead such an endeavour and what its terms of reference might be. 

The Bloc Québécois recently submitted a list of names of who it could support doing the job, including retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who recently investigated the Canadian Armed Forces' handling of sexual assault allegations. 

But Poilievre is taking a different approach. 

He said in his letter that the Conservatives are indeed willing to bring ideas forward — but only once Trudeau commits to triggering a public inquiry. 

"Once the prime minister does this, we will provide you with a shortlist of names to lead the inquiry and work with all opposition parties to ensure they are acceptable across all party lines," Poilievre wrote. 

He added: "We will also submit a proposed mandate and terms of reference within 48 hours of the prime minister confirming there will be an independent and public inquiry."

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, whose portfolio includes responding to foreign interference, told reporters that LeBlanc has had constructive conversations with opposition leaders and said the government's focus is "is to come up with a consensus."

LeBlanc previously told reporters he hoped to be able to announce what the next stage of the pubic process would look like before MPs break for summer.

In a report released last month, Johnston recommended against the government calling an inquiry, saying it would not be possible to share national security secrets publicly. 

He instead planned to hold a series of public hearing over the summer to hear from diaspora community leaders as well as government officials on the issue.  

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that while he had not met with LeBlanc, the New Democrats' House leader had spoken with him and expressed that a public inquiry is needed.

"They're showing some openness to it," Singh told reporters Tuesday. "We want them to commit to it."

Singh said he wants the Liberal government to be clear on its position. 

"Is this just an exercise to buy time by saying, 'Oh, we're open to it, we want to hear feedback,' and they were hoping to use the excuse that maybe the opposition parties weren't in agreement?" he posited.

"We don't want this to be just a (public relations) exercise. We actually want a public inquiry."

Singh also expressed such sentiments in a letter to LeBlanc last week.

All parties agree that the 2019 and 2021 federal election results were not compromised, but opposition MPs say a public inquiry on foreign meddling attempts is the only way for Canadians to feel confident in the electoral system.

Former governor general David Johnston had been named special rapporteur to probe foreign interference in Canada's democratic affairs, but he resigned earlier this month, citing a highly politicized atmosphere.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2023. 

— With files from Mickey Djuric, Mia Rabson and David Fraser.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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