Justin Trudeau has let Beijing deep into Canadian politics

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau

As hard as it is to conceive of him as such, as the longest-serving head of government in the G7 Justin Trudeau is now one of the world’s elder statesmen. He has achieved this exalted status despite innumerable scandals rocking his government, on issues ranging from corruption to “blackface” to bullying to sexual misconduct, many of which would have felled a lesser politician.

But his lucky streak may finally be ending. For the past month, Ottawa has been riveted by a series of explosive allegations about Chinese interference in Canadian politics, from illegal campaign donations to disinformation campaigns, allegations leaked to the media by members of Canada’s usually docile intelligence service reportedly angry with the government ignoring their reports.

Since then, the allegations have expanded to include accusations of improper relationships between Liberal politicians and the Chinese government. Only last week, Han Dong, a Liberal MP, resigned his party’s whip to sit as an independent to contest allegations that he advised a Chinese diplomat to delay the release of the “Two Michaels”, the Canadians arrested by China in retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou of Huawei, for political reasons. Mr Dong denies the allegations, and has stated that he is planning to "begin legal action to its fullest extent" against their publisher.

But what is most damaging for Mr Trudeau and his Liberal government is not so much the acts of foreign interference themselves, bad enough though they are, as the accusation that he wilfully turned a blind eye to what was happening. And little wonder: a Chinese consul was allegedly caught on tape as saying that “The Liberal Party of Canada is becoming the only party that the PRC can support”, as opposed to the opposition Conservatives, who have taken a much more hawkish line on China.

Mr Trudeau’s reaction so far has been to refuse to hold an inquiry into Chinese interference and to accuse his opponents of trying to discredit Canada’s democracy, not to mention anti-Chinese racism. Liberal MPs have filibustered parliamentary committees to stop further investigation and in an attempt to prevent Katie Telford, Mr Trudeau’s powerful chief of staff, from being summoned to testify to Parliament about what her boss knew about the allegations of Chinese interference, and when.

His appointment of David Johnston, a well-respected former governor general, as “special rapporteur” on foreign interference in Canada did little to calm the waters. A card-carrying member of Canada’s cosy establishment, Mr Johnston is a family friend of the Trudeaus, not to mention a former neighbour and a member of the Trudeau Foundation.

Mr Trudeau’s public praise of China’s “basic dictatorship” and his familial antecedents aside (his prime ministerial father was an early Western enthusiast for Mao’s China), his government’s record on China since he became prime minister does not inspire confidence.

He had to fire John McCallum, his own appointee as ambassador to China and former Cabinet colleague, after the latter publicly contradicted his own government’s position and sided with China on the Meng extradition case.

But now, there are signs that all of this is too much, even for Mr Trudeau’s allies. Last Thursday, the House of Commons passed a motion calling for a full public inquiry into Chinese political interference in Canada, with every party except the Liberals voting in favour.

Though the motion is not binding, what is notable is that the New Democratic Party, who are in a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals, voted for it, enabling it to pass. The NDP has said it will not bring down the government over this issue; but the Liberals may well think that a snap election is their only way out of the mess of their own making.

Few seriously think that Mr Trudeau is a Chinese agent, an accusation in the more feverish corners of the Internet. But the best that can be said of his conduct over China is that he has been one of the West’s useful idiots.