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Matt Gurney: Well, so much for accepting reality
What the Liberals announced last week sounded good. But they're still pulling the same stunts.
By: Matt Gurney
Alright, alright, alright. I take it back. The Liberals have not accepted reality.
This reversal of mine only needed about 10 days. Last Monday, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a series of steps to get on top of the China electoral interference file, I wrote here at The Line that they were finally realizing they couldn’t just bob and weave their way out of this. After weeks of ineffectual flailing, I thought (and dared say) last week, the Liberals had seemed to recognize that they had to grow up. With the announcement of a special rapporteur, as well as reviews by the National Security Intelligence Review Agency and NSICOP, the parliamentary committee that reviews classified national security matters, it looked like we were about to start getting a real response. Weeks too late, but better late than never, right?
Note I said a real response. Not necessarily the best response. And certainly not necessarily a sufficient response. But a response. A real one. That’s why I dared say something even mildly complimentary about the government. Ten days ago, it really did look like they were starting to get real.
And then everything else happened.
It’s great that we finally have our special rapporteur. Former governor-general David Johnston has been selected. He’s already being accused of having overly close links to Justin Trudeau. The prime minister once described him as a family friend and Johnston spent some time in a role at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. It’s a bit awkward, granted. But a man who was good enough to serve Stephen Harper as his chosen governor general ought to be good enough for Conservatives.
(Man, that’s gonna prove wildly naïve of me, isn’t it?)
Anyway, so we’ve got our rapporteur. Fun! What we’ve also had over the last 10 days, though, is some mighty embarrassing theatrics by the Liberals. We’ve tried to keep you up-to-date on them in our dispatches over the last few weeks, but if you’ve missed those, Liberal members of the PROC committee have taken to reading newspaper articles into the record as part of a sustained multi-day filibuster to block opposition efforts to get the prime minister‘s chief of staff, Katie Telford, to testify. The Liberals even skipped a meeting entirely, grinding business to a halt for lack of quorum. The prime minister has kept up his evasive manoeuvres in the House, refusing to answer direct questions. Reporters are having no better luck than members of the opposition.
So basically, more of exactly what the prime minister and his party had been doing in the weeks before last Monday’s announcement briefly appeared to herald a new phase of, as noted last week, reality acceptance.
We can give the PM some marks for tactical cleverness. The announcement last Monday seemed sincere enough that it really was plausible his government was bowing to reality. Everything the prime minister and his party have done since, though, has revealed that last Monday’s announcement was purely for the show. Tactical theatrics.
There’s nothing new about this government promising more than it'll deliver. To be honest, that’s an alarming percentage of their entire MO. But it was rare to see them be quite this shameless. To have the prime minister announce a series of special measures followed by Liberal committee members missing an important meeting literally within the same 24-hour period is next-level bonkers.
That’s simply become less and less credible as time has gone on. What we have here is an absurd situation where the Liberals, as the governing party, are doing two things at once: promising a credible and transparent review of a problem while simultaneously attempting any conceivable stunt to sabotage opposition efforts to learn more about that same problem. Like, sorry guys, but your willingness to do the latter necessarily raise questions about the former. You can’t tell us about all the important things you’re going to do while doing silly things. It necessarily blows up any confidence we could have in any of the proposals you’ve made. This is “half-pregnant” territory here: the Liberals take the matter of Chinese electoral interference seriously, or they don’t. It’s a binary choice.
And they’ve clearly made it. They don’t.
Meanwhile, the fundamental issue here hasn't changed, either for the Liberals or for the country. Chinese electoral interference remains a national security issue that a grownup country would find a way to give appropriate attention — all the way seriously, not the semi-serious "We'll do some good things but also do bad things" approach the Liberals are offering us. And for the Liberals, this remains what it was before: a political threat to them. As noted in my column last week, their only real hope is that the news stories stop breaking. That hasn't happened, and probably won’t.
So what the hell are they doing here? This government’s response leaves them massively exposed. That’s a hell of a risk. What are they afraid of? What’s the strategy? There's still whispers that the government will prorogue Parliament as soon as the budget is in place and President Biden's upcoming two-day visit has concluded. Is that all they’re doing? Playing for time?
None of this is reassuring. We have a real problem — a problem for us as a country, and a problem that lands disproportionately on vulnerable diaspora communities here. New Canadians, and their descendants, are the primary victims of foreign interference. They are the targets of pressure and threats. They're watching all of this: the promises, the 10-day delay before naming a special rapporteur, the Liberal accusations of racism, the filibustering and the skipped meetings. Imagine how that must feel for them. And then imagine what any foreign power, friend or foe, is thinking as they watch our PM pledge a response while his party skips meetings.
So I repeat: what the hell are we doing here? And what is it going to take to make it stop, if anything? Pregnant, or not. Grown up, or not. It’s time for a choice. Can we please, just this once, make a good one?
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