As Russia’s cyber meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election fuelled concerns North of 49 about similar foreign interference in Canada’s federal vote, it appears the biggest transgressors interfered very publicly, and with nothing in law to prevent them.
In addition to Swedish child environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s whistle-stop tour of climate change doom-and-gloom, including Montreal and Edmonton–the latter just days before our election–former U.S. President Barack Obama and his former ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman also Tweeted ringing endorsements of incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The [elections] commissioner was already interpreting [the current law] as if someone in another country expressed an opinion then that was just an expression of an opinion, and that was allowed,” said Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher, adding that new legislation did not address remedies or preventative measures for such activities.
“Bill C-76 [an Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act] didn’t really touch at all on the foreign interference. It had no effect on that–now if somebody actually came up and campaigned for somebody, that that was not allowed.”
Following Obama’s endorsement, Conservative Senator Denise Batters Tweeted that repealing section 331 of the former act, opened the door for such activity.
Critics like Conacher also decry third party spending limits that Bill C-76 increased by 250 percent to more than $500,000.
But apart from some punditry questioning the timing of Thunberg’s visit–on September 27 in Quebec and October 17 in Edmonton, well within the writ period in an election where climate change “action” was prominent, mainstream media treated the child as a rock star.
And the only media outlet to confront Thunberg and her handlers about their meddling was Rebel News – media persona non-grata that had to sue in federal court to obtain accreditation for the official debates – whose reporter Keane Bexte asked the questions, albeit distastefully, for which many Canadians wanted answers.
“If a party brought her in, or a third party – if she didn’t pay her own way – those expenses should be counted as part of their expenses overall, because it’s an election event,” said Conacher.
While Bexte’s questioning revealed little about who was backstopping Thunberg’s Canadian tour, Conacher said it would be entirely unwieldy to prevent such future activity during a federal election.
“You’d have to cancel every single event where a foreigner is speaking during the election time, if you were going to do that. And again, she was just making statements; she didn’t say vote for anybody in particular or vote against anybody.”
She did, however, say Trudeau hadn’t done enough in his first four years.
With respect to Obama’s Twitter endorsement on Oct. 16, there is the relationship between NGO Canada2020, its founder and Chairman Thomas Pitfield’s longtime friendship with Trudeau and the NGO’s sponsorship of a speech the former U.S. president made in Ottawa on May 31, 2019.
While Pitfield did not respond to The Post Millennial’s inquiry about how much Canada2020 paid for Obama to appear before more than 11,000 people at the Canadian Tire Centre where the Ottawa Senators play, the U.S. president’s speaking fees have previously been reported to be as high as $400,000.
Conservative ethics critic Peter Kent, who won re-election in his Thornhill, Ontario riding, is reticent to call Obama’s nod to Trudeau a quid-pro-quo arrangement based on the PM’s connections with Canada2020. But he did say the “relationship [between Trudeau’s Liberals and Canada2020] we make regular reference to in Commons’ debate.”
“I would suggest that the endorsement by the former president is inappropriate, but I wouldn’t go beyond that,” said Kent. “The connection [between Canada2020 and Trudeau] is obviously there and I think folks can judge it for what it might appear to be.”
Trudeau’s and the Liberal Party’s relationship with Canada2020 was big news as far back as November 2016, after multiple media outlets published a Canadian Press story about “cash-for-access” events held stateside, and the party’s rental of Canada2020 office digs for its 2015 campaign that saw Trudeau elected to a majority government.
(The Liberals also sent an incumbent MP to Manhattan during the 2019 election to drum up donations from Canadian expats at a private fundraiser.)
Maclean’s even ran a feature article in October of 2017 entitled “Inside the ‘progressive’ think tank that really runs Canada”, yet, following Obama’s endorsement there was zero reportage linking the U.S. president’s Canada2020 payday with his 11th-hour political support to Trudeau.
The Liberal Party also used footage from Canada2020 “breakfast series” events, such as the one featuring then-cabinet minister Ralph Goodale – who lost his Saskatchewan seat in the October 21st vote – as online campaign advertisements.
Eight days before Trudeau said he would reveal his minority government cabinet, Obama is scheduled to return to Canada; this time in Newfoundland for a November 12 speaking event in its capital, sponsored by St. John’s Board of Trade.