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Foreign interference cost CCP seats in 2021, says O’Toole

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press Erin O'Toole estimates that the alleged interference would have caused the Conservatives to lose up to eight or nine seats in 2021.

Laura Osman – The Canadian Press and Dylan Robertson – The Canadian Press in Ottawa

2:54 p.m.

  • Canada

Former Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole was surprised on 2021 federal election night when the vote count was well below what his party had projected in a number of ridings .

Mr. O'Toole testifies Wednesday at hearings of the commission of inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in Canada's last two elections.

He says party officials have raised concerns about possible interference in nine constituencies and his team has forwarded these concerns to the Working Group on Security and Intelligence Threats to the Elections.

The former Conservative leader says that when the results began to be known on election night, the turnout rate in these ridings was lower than expected, which made him suspect that tactics of “vote suppression” were in play.

Declassified intelligence report presented to inquiry highlights concerns that Mr O'Toole and the Conservative Party were targets of Chinese interference to promote false online stories about the party's stance on Beijing.

The Conservatives say security officials failed to inform the party of their concerns and that Mr. O'Toole was only informed last spring that he was the target of attempted interference.

Mr. O'Toole estimates that the alleged interference would have caused the Conservatives to lose as many as eight or nine seats and that Canadians must be able to exercise their right to vote without hindrance.

He admitted before the commission on Wednesday that these seats would not have won him the elections, but he believes they might have allowed him to remain party leader.

The government's special rapporteur, David Johnston, found little evidence of a link between the alleged attempts at interference and the outcome of the federal election.

Asked about this on Wednesday in Toronto, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed that “independent experts and senior officials have conclusively concluded that the 2019 election and the 2021 election were not affected by foreign interference.” .

“I understand that for Mr. O'Toole, he would like to look at reasons other than his own performance that led to their failure in the election,” he said.

Other MPs say they are victims

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu is expected to testify before the committee on Wednesday afternoon, followed by NDP MP Jenny Kwan and Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong. All three believe China targeted them for their human rights advocacy.

Ottawa expelled a Chinese diplomat last May when the Canadian spy service alleged that Zhao Wei was involved in a plot to intimidate Conservative MP Chong's relatives in Hong Kong.

NDP MP Kwan says the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told her China targeted her during the 2019 election, in a way she couldn't disclose, in retaliation to his advocacy for human rights in Hong Kong and for the defense of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China.

As for former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, he alleges that Chinese authorities worked against him in the 2021 federal election after he proposed the creation of a register of foreign agents.

Special Rapporteur David Johnston said it was clear that Mr. Chiu had angered Chinese diplomats and that there had been misinformation online about such a register during the election, but added that he did not was not clear that Beijing was behind these publications.

China strongly denies all allegations that it interferes in Canadian democracy.

The work of the commission of inquiry, chaired by Judge Marie-Josée Hogue, of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, aims to identify possible foreign interference from China, India, of Russia or other countries in the last two federal general elections.

The Hogue commission is expected to hear testimony from around forty people, including members of cultural communities, representatives of political parties and federal election officials.

Prime Minister Trudeau, ministers and various senior government officials are also expected to testify at the public hearings, which are scheduled to conclude on April 10. A first report on the commission's findings is expected on May 3.

The Hogue Commission investigation will then move toward broader policy issues, examining the government's ability to detect, deter, and counter foreign interference. A final report is expected by the end of the year.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116