Bloc Quebecois Leader Says Ottawa's Refusal to Hold Public Inquiry Could 'Destroy Democracy'

Bloc Quebecois Leader Says Ottawa's Refusal to Hold Public Inquiry Could 'Destroy Democracy'
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on Aug. 12, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Matthew Horwood

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says the Liberal government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into foreign election interference will "destroy democracy."

"Canada is dragging Quebec into a crisis that is going to destroy democracy by covering [foreign interference] in secrecy," he said in the House of Commons during question period on May 31.

"How can [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] explain to Quebecers and Canada that he is going to disdain the vote of an elected majority in this House? Everyone is an elected official of Parliament just as he is."

Blanchet's comments came prior to MPs voting on a motion calling for the special rapporteur on foreign interference, David Johnston, to immediately step down. The Bloc, Conservatives, and New Democrats all voted in favour of the non-binding motion, which also calls for the Liberal government to “urgently establish a public commission of inquiry.” The motion passed 174 to 150.
In his May 23 report, Johnston recommended against a public inquiry into Chinese interference allegations due to the confidential nature of intelligence information that would need to be presented. Opposition parties have repeatedly criticized the choice to have Johnston be the special rapporteur, given his previous role at the Trudeau Foundation and close relationship with the Trudeau family.

"We know so much about the reasons for which we should be asking for a real public inquiry, not for this 'buddy buddy act' with his friend. When will this prime minister put an end to this these policies that are harmful for Quebec and very, very, helpful to China?" Blanchet asked.

Trudeau responded by criticizing Blanchet for refusing to accept a briefing on foreign election interference by Canada's security agencies. Blanchet has called the briefing on confidential information that informed Johnston's findings a "dumb trap," as he would be restricted from informing Canadians about what he learned.

"He has turned down the opportunity to hear the facts about the real issues here," Trudeau said of Blanchet. "Instead, he prefers to engage in this kind of partisan mudslinging and he likes to keep picking fights with us, whereas all Canadians— including Quebecers—deserve to have the representatives take the matter of foreign interference seriously."

1995 Quebec Referendum

During question period, Blanchet also brought up the Quebec legislature's unanimous adoption of a motion calling on the province's chief electoral officer to release all documents related to an investigation into illegal spending ahead of the 1995 Quebec referendum.
While the referendum failed, with the "No" side winning 50.58 percent of the vote, questions remained over the legitimacy of the results. Parti Quebecois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon told the legislature that the federal government flew people into the province to vote in favour of Quebec remaining in Canada, while a 2006 investigation by retired judge Bernard Grenier concluded that two federalist organizations funded by Ottawa failed to report more than $500,000 in spending.

Blanchet linked Ottawa's "secrecy" around the 1995 referendum to its refusal to call for a public inquiry into Chinese interference in Canada's federal elections.

"This prime minister is either weak or useful to a foreign power. Who is this prime minister working for—his country or the financial interests of the friends of the liberal regime?" he asked.

Trudeau accused the Bloc Quebecois of "trying to go back to old arguments," and accused the party of not caring about foreign interference and instead wanting to use the issue to "pick a fight" with Ottawa.

"We, on the other hand, take these issues seriously. We will continue to work with all of the necessary seriousness on these issues that are important to Canadians," Trudeau said.