Barry W. Bussey
When the Globe and Mail told the nation that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) expressed concerns to the government about Chinese interference in our elections the Prime Minister’s immediate concern was not the interference but the fact that the CSIS memo was leaked.
“Let me also be very clear to a really important point that I think some folks are choosing to overlook in a free democracy,” Prime Minister Trudeau said. “It is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run. That’s a really important principle.”
So, CSIS does security and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) does politics. Sound familiar? It was the same line of argument made over whether the government could invoke the Emergencies Act. That Act needed to be “modernized” so that the government could deal with the political realities of public disorder and not rely on the CSIS national security threat. Unfortunately, Justice Rouleau agreed.
What about now – should we agree that when it comes to election interference by a foreign power that the government does “politics” and “security officials” do security? The implication appears to be that politics trump security.
What does it matter that a foreign country interferes with our elections? It matters a lot.
Freedom of Speech Matters.
We know that any politician “bought” by a special interest is compromised. If a special interest group, corporation, or a foreign government provides financial and electoral support for his or her election, the politician is going to be in a difficult spot when political interests are at odds with his electoral benefactor. Remember it is not only money, but stories are circulating that voters were bussed in to vote for the favoured politician.
The compromised politician cannot be said to be free to participate in the parliamentary process. Our system of government demands free and open legislative debate. It is why there is immunity from being sued for what is said on the floors of the House of Commons and the Senate. Everyone must be free to speak and debate to arrive at a reasonable conclusion on the topic of the day.
A politician relying on foreign help cannot express a different opinion than his benefactor or else he loses the monetary and other assistance to garner the votes for re-election. Free speech, an original freedom, is thus compromised.
Usurping Representative Democracy Matters.
A foreign influencer usurps the rightful place of the Canadian voter. A politician beholden to the foreign power for electoral favours of money and voters is not only personally compromised but has betrayed the most fundamental requirement of our legislative system – representation. A member of parliament does not represent his own interest, the interest of his benefactors but the people of his or her riding.
The loyalties of an elected representative are to be with the people of his or her electoral constituency. It is to the people that the representative is ultimately answerable at each election. His or her loyalty cannot be to a foreign power. Otherwise, the people are defrauded and taken advantage of. It is an ultimate betrayal of trust.
Betrayal of Our Country Matters.
Foreign powers could care less about our country’s identity and philosophical ideals. Instead, such foreign powers seek to impose their own ideological positioning on the unsuspecting country whose internal political machinery has been commandeered for that foreign power’s purposes. It is an act of subterfuge for malicious purposes leading to cultural colonization and degradation of identity.
Practical Consequences Matter.
The benefits to the foreign intervener are innumerable but they have devastating consequences for the unsuspecting host country. Bilateral treaties, trade agreements, confiscation or unauthorized transfer of intellectual property will lead to a damaged economy with jobs being shipped offshore, and loss of the ability for a nation to steer its own ship.
A free and democratic country is to be neither bought nor sold. Its politicians must be loyal for it to succeed. No amount of foreign money, directly or indirectly, meant to influence a politician against his or her own country can ever be tolerated. Any interference to this most basic democratic principle demands nothing less than full transparency to ensure that when our representatives make decisions it is for the best interests of our own country.
A foreign country has its own interests, not ours, at the top of its list. Politicians who dare put a foreign country’s interests above their own nation’s are engaged in an absolute betrayal of the people’s trust that put them into office. We have every right to be concerned, indeed, even angry.
What Are We to Do?
First, recognize the danger of this kind of interference in our politics. Canada is not a frequent target for foreign intervention. Of course, we have had many foreign spies throughout our history, but interference in our political regime has not been as frequent. Consider the Fenian Raids in the early part of our country’s founding to understand that foreign influence can have devastating results. It is worth our while to relearn that bit of history when a secret society of Irish patriots tried to take Canada by force. Hundreds of men were engaged in bloody battles. Thomas D’Arcy McGee, an MP and Father of Confederation, was shot and killed in Ottawa during the uprising.
Second, while we are still free, we must speak. Our country deserves nothing less. We cannot tolerate any such behaviour. Betrayal is betrayal. And if any representatives have been guilty of aiding and abetting a foreign power to the detriment of our own democratic system, there need to be severe legal, and perhaps criminal, consequences, just as there would be for you or for me.
Third, we must get to the bottom of the controversy, and it must be disclosed to everyone. No prime minister or government cabinet can keep this material secret. We have an absolute right to know to what extent our electoral integrity is compromised and who is implicated. We need to know what the government knew, when they knew it and what was done about it.
Transparency must be better than what happened during the host of other scandals this government has been embroiled in such as the SNC-Lavalin scandal or invocation of the Emergencies Act. There is to be no claim of cabinet confidence when our national sovereignty is at stake.
No government worth its salt can do anything but take this matter seriously and appoint an open, impartial and full public inquiry. This is the minimum our country, and its citizens, must demand.