A former Liberal MP says former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff stopped him from calling witnesses and submitting evidence in a parliamentary hearing last year that would have pointed to Chinese influence on Canadian politicians.
Former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj says that during the height of last year’s media storm surrounding comments on foreign influence made by Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), he had spent two weeks preparing questions to pose to Fadden at a special Public Safety and National Security hearing on July 5, 2010.
In a recent interview at his family-owned business, Future Bakery in Toronto, Wrzesnewskyj told The Epoch Times that his questions would have put the spotlight on Chinese efforts to influence Canadian politicians.
He had compiled a list of people who would testify before the committee, along with evidence—including a sworn affidavit from a former Chinese consular official in Australia—that substantiated Fadden’s claims that some mayors and provincial ministers may be under Chinese influence.
He had also prepared a motion calling on the special committee to direct its questioning toward issues of foreign influence.
But just before the hearing was to begin, a senior official from the Liberal leader’s office ordered his submissions quashed and handed him a list of party-approved questions Wrzesnewskyj described as “politicial pablum” focusing on ethnic issues instead of national security.
“It was an official from his office that shut it down,” Wrzesnewskyj said. “It’s almost like a chess game. I thought I had it figured out how to bring critically important documentation to the public through the processes of parliamentary committee.”
If he’d been able to ask his questions, Wrzesnewskyj was confident the committee process would have provided a venue to air critical security issues. He said China’s growing investments in Canada and known espionage activities made it important to take a detailed look at the issue.
Wrzesnewskyj had reason to be optimistic. He’d blown the RCMP pension scandal wide open in early 2007 through the Public Accounts Committee. At the time, fellow MPs had warned him it could cost him his career, but that manoeuvre brought police corruption under glaring public scrutiny and sparked a process of RCMP renewal that still continues.
He’d hoped for a similar outcome from the public safety committee that time around as well.
Foreign Influence Issue Unaddressed
A month earlier, Fadden had told CBC that some Canadian mayors and provincial ministers looked to be under the influence, perhaps unknowingly, of a foreign regime. China was the most aggressive in recruiting political prospects, he said.
While some welcomed the remarks as long overdue and the government stood behind its director, the actual issue of foreign influence wasn’t being addressed. Opposition MPs were framing Fadden’s warning as a slur against ethnic politicians and ethnic communities while the government said little.
— Former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj
“It fits a pattern, when you read the reports from British intelligence and U.S. Intelligence, it fits a pattern. The Chinese don’t necessarily immediately go for the big guys.”
Wrzesnewskyj was hoping to steer the committee towards looking into foreign influence of Canadian officials, and said he was devastated when that plan was dashed.
“I thought we had pretty solid documentation and I had commitments from people who were willing to make their allegations in a parliamentary committee.”
Wrzesnewskyj was certain that if he could just get in a few questions, the issue would be studied.
“Once heading down that path, with the media present, it would be virtually impossible to put the lid back on.”
“It was clear that this was of national interest.”
Wrzesnewskyj told the Epoch Times he’s working to gather grassroots support for a leadership bid in 2013 on a platform to oust the backroom “elites” that he says have come to control the Liberal Party.
He said he would restore Liberal ideals that underpinned the party’s past success.
Reached by e-mail, Ignatieff declined to comment on whether he stopped one of his MPs from raising the issue of foreign influence.
“I can’t comment on unsourced rumours about what I instructed my MPs at the time. My public position about CSIS director Richard Fadden’s public comments is a matter of record, and that is all I would say,” he wrote.
He did not respond to a follow-up email detailing that this information was provided by Wrzesnewskyj.
For Wrzesnewskyj, it was an opportunity missed to finally get the government to take a close look at foreign influence.
“Unfortunately, I got out-rooked. It was like a little procedural game, and so shame on me in that case because I wasn’t able to deliver. I was awfully close, awfully close. It was incredibly frustrating.”
After Fadden’s opening remarks, in which he outlined why he made his warning and that he regretted saying more than he should have, Wrzesnewskyj promptly left the room before questioning began.
Wrzesnewskyj noted that Ignatieff himself was not in Ottawa that day, but in China.
Indeed, on the same day, on the other side of the world, Ignatieff joked with students at Beijing’s Tsinghua University that Chinese leader Hu Jintao probably could have helped him win the next election.
“I’m sure he would have given me very good advice,” Ignatieff said.