Canada's NDP


May 13th, 2024

Foreign Meddling didn’t Affect Election Outcomes, but did Undermine our Trust

“Our electoral system is robust. Active foreign interference did occur during the last two general federal general elections, but they did not undermine the integrity of our electoral system. Our system remains sound. Voters were able to cast their ballots, their votes were duly registered and counted, and there is nothing to suggest that there was any interference whatsoever in this regard, nor did this foreign interference have any impact on which Party formed the government in the last two most recent elections. Nonetheless, these acts of interference that occurred, some of these acts have been established, while others remain only suspected, are a stain on our electoral process and impacted the process leading up to the actual vote.”

These were the words from Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, the Commissioner responsible for the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions. After a significant amount of speculation surrounding how much of an effect foreign actors such as China, India and Russia have had on our electoral system, it’s somewhat encouraging to hear this statement from Justice Hogue, and the further clarification that foreign actors did not affect the overall Federal electoral result.

However, Justice Hogue advised that foreign interference did have an impact on a small number of electoral riding contests, both at the party nomination level and, in one instance, the potential for Chinese interference campaign may have had a direct impact on one former MPs chance at re-election in the last Federal election.

The first of those contests involve the Liberal nomination race in Don Valley North in 2019. The report states “intelligence reporting, though not firmly substantiated, indicated that Chinese international students would have been bused in to the nomination process in support of (former Liberal and current independent MP) Han Dong.” Mr. Dong denies involvement in this matter, and the report indicates that “this incident makes clear the extent to which nomination contests can be gateways for foreign states who wish to interfere in our democratic process.”

The other substantial piece to the Public Inquiry involves incidents during the 2021 election. The inquiry found that Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu “was the target of false narratives related to his proposal to implement a foreign influence registry.” Chiu would lose his re-election bid. Additionally, NDP MP Jenny Kwan “…has ceased being invited to certain key events organized by Chinese communities’ organizations to which she was invited in the past along with other elected officials. She also observed her constituents being more fearful of voting for her because of concerns about the safety of their families in China.”

While the inquiry makes it clear that foreign agents have not had a significant enough impact to influence the outcomes of the last two Federal elections, it’s clear that more can be done to safeguard our election integrity. The Public Inquiry was actually designed with a second part in mind, where Justice Hogue will bring forward recommendations on how we prevent foreign interference in the future.

The Federal government has already tabled legislation that will actually create a foreign interference registry, an issue that New Democrats have proposed in the past, as well as at least one Conservative candidate noted earlier. Bill C-70 also gives additional powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to disclose sensitive information outside of the government to inform Canadians about potential foreign meddling.

How much the proposals in C-70 will end up mirroring Justice Hogue’s recommendations are obviously yet to be seen, but what is clear is that even the perception of foreign meddling has a chilling effect on Canadian’s perceptions about the fairness of our elections. In fact, I would argue the most important part of the inquiry is a self-imposed question about whether the potential of foreign interference undermines Canadians’ confidence in our electoral system. Justice Hogue’s response:

“Undermining faith in democracy and government is a primary aim of many of the states that engage in foreign interference. They succeeded in part in 2019 and 2021 because some Canadians have now reduced trust in Canada’s democratic process.

This is perhaps the greatest harm Canada has suffered as a result of foreign interference.

The government must re-establish this trust by informing the public of the threat of foreign interference, and by taking real and concrete steps to detect, deter and counter it.”