2021 Conservative campaign director says inquiry isn’t the best way to probe election meddling

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The Conservative national campaign director for the 2021 federal election says a national inquiry is not the right way to get answers on foreign election interference.

Fred Delorey, who ran the Conservatives’ 2021 campaign, told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics that an inquiry into alleged foreign election meddling would be “very challenging.”

“A public inquiry would be great political theatre. It would be a lot of fun, it would be great television,” Delorey told host David Cochrane. “But I don’t know what we’d actually get [in terms of outcomes].”

WATCH | Inquiry would be ‘very challenging’: former Conservative campaign manager

Public inquiry into foreign interference would be ‘very challenging’: former Conservative campaign manager

Fred DeLorey, who served as 2021 Conservative national campaign manager, says while a public inquiry into alleged foreign interference would be “great political theatre,” he thinks the Parliamentary committee with top secret clearance may be a better tool to investigate.

Opposition parties have been calling on the governing Liberals to order an inquiry in light of recent media reports detailing allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. So far, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted those calls.

MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee passed a non-binding motion on Thursday calling for an inquiry. The committee’s Liberal MPs voted against the motion.

But Delorey said foreign interference needs to be investigated before the next election and an inquiry wouldn’t produce answers in a timely manner.

“My big concern is not just what happened in 2021 or 2019 or before that. What’s going to happen in the next election?” Delorey said.

When asked on Thursday, Conservative MP Michael Cooper didn’t directly address Delorey’s comments and maintained that the government should call an inquiry.

“We support an inquiry,” Cooper said. “[Conservative Leader] Pierre Polievre was very clear about his support for a public inquiry.”

Delorey suggested the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a special committee that includes both MPs and senators with top security clearance, would be the best venue for an investigation. He called on Trudeau to refer the matter to NSICOP.

“The prime minister needs to show leadership … we have to do something on this,” he said.

Delorey also raised concerns about what he described as a lack of communication with election oversight bodies during the 2021 campaign.

“Throughout the campaign, and after, it was really a one-way street. We weren’t getting much — or anything — from them in terms of what they were seeing, but we were providing them with ample evidence that we saw,” he said. “The feeling that we got was that they were shrugging their shoulders.”

WATCH | Former Conservative MP on reports Beijing targeted his re-election campaign

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu on reports Beijing targeted his 2021 re-election campaign

“It’s not about Kenny Chiu running or not. The critical thing today is whether we take this foreign interference and dangerous actions by foreign actors seriously.” Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu says it’s time for the government to send a message to the regimes in Beijing, Tehran and Moscow that Canada will safeguard its democracy and diaspora communities from foreign manipulations.

Delorey pointed to anti-Conservative messages distributed during the last campaign on WeChat, a Chinese social media app, as possible evidence of foreign meddling. Tara Denham, a member of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force (SITE) — a body set up to monitor elections interference — told committee MPs on Wednesday that the team was aware of that activity.

But Jody Thomas, a public servant who acts as national security adviser to the prime minister, disputed the claim that officials weren’t communicating with the Conservative campaign. She told committee MPs there is “very thorough documentation” of the response given to party representatives.

Jody Thomas, national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister, waits to appear as a witness at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) regarding foreign election interference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 1, 2023.

Jody Thomas, national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister, waits to appear as a witness at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) regarding foreign election interference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Still, Delorey said he feels there are gaps in the current system that need to be addressed.

Earlier this week, a report from a panel of top civil servants concluded that foreign attempts to interfere with the 2021 federal election did not affect the results. But the report also said the government should consider lowering the threshold for the public to be notified of attempted interference.

Delorey agreed that the overall outcome wasn’t affected by foreign interference but still argued more needs to be done.

“We need to give teeth to the enforcement agencies so they can communicate together, work together, and make sure this does not happen,” he said.

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