The Weekly Writ for Mar. 8
China's interference; a PEI election; and lots of poll numbers.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a series of measures his government is taking to look into the issue of foreign interference in our elections. These measures include investigations by two national intelligence review bodies who can inspect classified information, as well as the appointment of a ‘special rapporteur’ (fancy!) who will take a broader look and suggest a path forward — which could include a public inquiry.
There’s a version of events that would explain the government’s reticence to go even this far up to now. That version is what we’ve been told both by the Liberals and non-partisan civil servants over the last few weeks: that foreign interference is happening, that it did not meet the bar for public disclosure during past campaigns and that it did not jeopardize the integrity of our federal elections. While reporting in the Globe and Mail and by Global News might seem salacious, that incomplete information was already taken into account when officials, looking at a broader set of datapoints, decided that our elections were not impacted by these attempts by the Chinese government to interfere in our democratic process.
In that reading of events, what we’ve seen over the last few weeks has been a hysteric overreaction to unreliable raw intelligence reports. Rather than letting our imaginations run wild, we should trust that those tasked with handling this have got it under control.
But another reading of events says that these leaks were motivated by a well-founded concern that our security and intelligence organizations do not have this under control, and that the Liberals have cynically turned a blind eye to this issue because it is to their partisan electoral advantage.
Neither of those versions of events is implausible or unreasonable, and the truth might very well lie somewhere in between. That we don’t know which version is closer to the truth is what is becoming a serious problem.
I’ve already written before about the likelihood that the Chinese government successfully interfered with and influenced the last election — it’s a stretch to believe China could’ve swung the results in anything beyond a handful of ridings. And even that seems hard to believe. Would the Chinese government or its proxies really be able to swing a few thousand votes because of some social media posts, when political parties struggle do that with fully-funded and well-staffed local campaigns?
But we have to recognize that regardless of what really happened in the 2019 and 2021 elections and regardless of which version of events I described above is most accurate, something needs to be done to reassure Canadians.
Last week, the Angus Reid Institute published some worrying findings showing that 53% of Canadians believe that the allegations of Chinese election interference pose “a serious threat to Canadian democracy” — including a majority of Conservative and Bloc voters and a plurality of Liberal and NDP voters.
More worryingly, 23% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the 2021 election was “stolen”, echoing the toxic strain of thought that has poisoned U.S. politics. Worse, a plurality of Conservatives and nearly one-third of Bloc voters thought the election was “stolen”, despite there being no evidence of such a sweeping claim.
Since that ARI poll, we’ve seen more troubling numbers from Nanos Research, which found that 71% of Canadians think China’s attempts at foreign interference pose a “major threat”, while just 18% feel Canada is doing a good or very good job at protecting the country from foreign interference in our elections. There’s a serious imbalance between Canadians’ worries about the integrity of our elections and Canadians’ faith that our institutions can maintain that integrity.
Research Co., meanwhile, finds that 58% of Canadians think foreign governments have definitely or probably “successfully influenced” our federal elections. And that’s not even a partisan issue, as Liberal voters are nearly as likely to think that as Conservatives.
So, the cat is out of the bag. Vague assurances from government officials that all is in hand, no matter how non-partisan or respected they might be, won’t do the trick.
I worry, though, that the processes the government have put into place, as well as the kind of public inquiry demanded by the opposition, will do little to mollify Canadians’ fears. The Rouleau Inquiry into the Emergencies Act is a good case in point — were any minds really changed after it was all over? And among those Canadians who today believe the Chinese bought the results of the last federal election, the outcome of any investigation or inquiry that disproves that theory will only be further proof of the cover-up.
I’m not optimistic that this will end well. But, we certainly have to try — so here’s hoping against hope that everyone involved, both on the government and opposition benches, will put politics aside and do what’s best to uphold our democracy.
Alright, let’s get to what is a jam-packed instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News from PEI, where an election worth watching has been called. Some of the rules for the Ontario Liberal leadership have also been set.
Polls from Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Alberta, plus some federal numbers, too.
The Trudeau Liberals would be re-elected if the election were held today, as would a number of incumbent governments across the country.
A PEI anomaly in this week’s riding profile.
Old-timey Quebec nationalism in the #EveryElectionProject.
Marking a milestone and a bizarre outcome that worked out real well for Doug Ford.
Let’s get to it.