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No intelligence briefing happened on Chinese funding of candidates: Trudeau

News report suggests otherwise
Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hold a press conference following their participation in the Francophonie Summit in Djerba, Tunisia on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday he has never been briefed that any candidates in the 2019 federal election may have been influenced by financing from the Chinese government.

A Global News report earlier this month cited unnamed sources who claimed Trudeau was informed last January that China was trying to interfere in Canadian politics, including by funding at least 11 candidates in the 2019 federal election.

The Liberals have been hammered in the House of Commons by opposition MPs demanding to know who the candidates are and what Canada is doing about the interference.

None of the MPs who responded, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, provided any substantive response beyond insisting Canada’s elections were free and fair. Nor did any of them deny having information about any candidates being funded by China.

But during remarks at the end of the Francophonie summit in Tunisia on Sunday, Trudeau said the government hasn’t identified the candidates publicly because he doesn’t know who they are. He said he only learned of that specific allegation from the media.

“Let me be clear, I do not have any information, nor have I been briefed on any federal candidates receiving any money from China,” Trudeau said.

He later stressed that he gets “briefed up regularly from our intelligence and security officials” and none have ever provided any information to him about candidates receiving money.

On Nov. 14, the Liberals backed a motion brought by the Conservatives at a House of Commons committee to expand an ongoing study of foreign interference to include the news report that Trudeau and other ministers were briefed on Chinese government efforts to “actively influence the 2019 election.”

The motion does not specifically mention funding of candidates, but does reference the news report that did.

The Liberals say they supported the motion because the story raised questions that officials should answer at the committee. The motion calls for the government to provide “all relevant” briefing notes and other documents related to the issue within the next two weeks.

“I have asked the officials to examine these media reports and give all possible answers, everything they can, to the parliamentary committee, that’s looking into this,” Trudeau said Sunday.

Trudeau was speaking at the end of a 10-day overseas trip that included four international summits and attempts by Canada to expand its influence and economic ties in Asia despite a frosty relationship with China.

The chill on Canada-China ties was apparent over the trip, particularly at the G20 summit in Bali where Trudeau said he did speak to President Xi Jinping on the sidelines about “interference with our citizens.”

Xi upbraided Trudeau in front of Canadian media, accusing him of improperly leaking details of that conversation to the press. It is not unusual for the Trudeau government to provide reporters with basic details on the topics discussed between the prime minister and other foreign leaders, but Xi took issue with it.

Trudeau told Xi that people believe in openness and transparency in Canada.

Trudeau would not confirm to media whether he specifically discussed election interference with Xi, saying only he raised interference in general.

On Nov. 16 in Bali, he also said a special commission was struck before the 2019 election to watch for and analyze any possible interference.

“Both for the 2019 and 2021 elections, those experts were confident that the elections in Canada unfolded in the right way and that Canadians can be reassured of that,” he said. “Their reports are clear. So Canadians can and must be reassured that yes, foreign interference is an issue in a lot of different ways, as we’ve seen all around the world, but the integrity of Canada’s elections have not been compromised.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2022.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press