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Trudeau chief of staff stonewalls MP asking about China meddling in Richmond ridings

Katie Telford appeared before the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee on Friday, April 14
Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the April 14 House of Commons procedure and affairs committee

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff refused to answer questions Friday about a leaked report from Canada’s spy agency that said a Chinese diplomat worked to flip Richmond’s two ridings from Conservative to Liberal in 2021. 

Katie Telford appeared before the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee, which is studying foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. 

During the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, Conservative Larry Brock (Brantford-Brant) asked Telford if she believed the report in The Globe and Mail about Beijing’s goal of helping the Liberals secure a minority government. 

“My experience going into both of the last two elections was that our relations with China were at their lowest point, where I was working day and night alongside many, many, many other incredible Canadians to try to bring home the twoMichaels, who it was just amazing to see in Parliament, when President Biden was here,” Telford said. 

Brock mentioned China’s then-Vancouver consul general Tong Xiaoling, who, according to a leaked report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), bragged about her role in defeating Conservative incumbents Kenny Chiu (Steveston-Richmond East) and Alice Wong (Richmond Centre) in favour of Liberal rookies Parm Bains and Wilson Miao.

“You are aware of that, is that inaccurate?” Brock asked.

“I'm aware of the reporting on this matter, and I can't speak to what different countries’ ambassadors and consul generals have said,” Telford replied.

Bardish Chaggar (Waterloo), the Liberal who chairs the committee, intervened twice as Brock and Telford spoke over each other. Chaggar complimented Telford on her short answers before allowing Brock to resume his questions. 

“For clarification, Madam Chair, the question was premised with yes or no, I didn't get a yes or no, and that's why I referred to it as a simple question,” Brock said.

“CSIS reported a month after the ’21 election, it was well-known within the Chinese-Canadian community of British Columbia, that Miss Tong wanted the Liberal Party to win the ’21 election. Is that false?”

Telford replied: “I think, Madam Chair, you'll know my answer on this, which is that I can't speak to specifics.”

Brock tried again. “CSIS reports reveal that Miss Tong and former consul Wang Jin made discreet and subtle efforts to encourage members of Chinese-Canadian organizations to rally votes for the Liberals and defeat Conservatives. Is that false?”

Telford: “Madam Chair, I think what I would just remind the member is something I said in the opening and that's come up throughout this committee actually. Which is that interference in elections has an impact on all political parties.”

Brock pressed further. “In November ’21, CSIS reported that Miss Tong described former MP Kenny Chiu as a vocal distractor when discussing his defeat in the ’21 election. She also was reported to have said that Mr. Chiu's loss proved that their strategy and tactics were good and contributed to achieving their goals. Is that false? Is that inaccurate?”

Telford: “Madam Chair, I'm going to have to give a similar answer. But I would say that it's important to remind people, because of the insinuations I think coming through from the member, that the election has been examined by experts, and they have deemed it as one that was free and fair.”

Telford had previously appeared before House of Commons committees investigating the WE Charity scandal and sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces. Liberal committee members had filibustered in early March in an attempt to save her from questioning by opposition MPs on China’s meddling in elections. 

On March 21, Trudeau pre-empted a House of Commons vote to order Telford’s testimony by announcing she would appear before the committee. 

Trudeau rejected calls for a public inquiry on Chinese government interference and instead appointed former governor general David Johnston on March 15 as a “special rapporteur” on the issue. Johnston is being paid at least $1,400-per-day, according to a cabinet order, until mid-December. His interim recommendations are due by May 23 and a final report at the end of October.