The weak point of our democracy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to testify this Wednesday before the Commission on Foreign Interference in the Democratic Process, chaired by Judge Marie-Josée Hogue. A commission that he will have done everything to avoid.

Which is a little surprising since he had known since at least 2023 that there had been foreign interference in the Canadian elections, we learned at the Hogue commission.

This indifference is partly explained by the evidence heard by the Commission in recent days: if there was interference during the last elections, it was mainly by China and against candidates from the Conservative Party of Canada.

We must be careful, because at this point, not all the evidence has been filed and very few witnesses have been heard. But what is already on the table is troubling.

Thus, we learned that during the 2019 and 2021 electoral campaigns, China intervened to defeat candidates it considered to be hostile to its interests and helped at least one liberal candidate.

We’re talking about disinformation campaigns about the Conservative leader in the last election, Erin O’Toole, and Conservative candidates like Michael Chong, who was a minister and candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017.

In addition, MP Han Dong – now an independent, but then a Liberal candidate – had received the support of Chinese students in Canada who came to vote in large numbers at his investiture meeting at the instigation of the Chinese consulate in Toronto, according to what was submitted to the Hogue commission.

We will notice one thing: foreign interference passes through what is the weak point of our democratic institutions: the local authorities of political parties, at the level of the constituency and the nominations of candidates.

Foreign interference does not happen at all like in spy novels: we are not looking for the ambitious young politician to make him a mole who will be able to influence decisions later.

What some are clearly trying to do is get one or more MPs who can attempt to influence their caucus colleagues and, potentially, the government.

It’s all the easier since political parties tend, in the name of openness, to remove requirements, particularly for investiture assemblies.

To the point where, in the Liberal Party of Canada, those who want to vote are no longer asked to hold a party membership card, but simply to be a “registered Liberal”, which is open free to all those who have more aged 14 and say they “support the objectives of the Liberal Party”.

At the nomination meetings, we do not even check whether the “registered Liberals” are Canadian citizens or even permanent residents.

It’s not very surprising that countries wanting to influence our policies have used this open door to interfere in Canadian affairs.

This practice of using “instant members” has even been used for a long time in Canada. We will remember that Brian Mulroney’s organization, during his second Conservative leadership campaign in 1983, had party cards signed and homeless people from the Old Brewery Mission vote, an anecdote which is now part of the Canadian political folklore.

The practice is still widespread. A political party may think that it is democratizing itself by electing its leader by universal suffrage of members alone, but this also implies that the debate will no longer focus so much on the ideas of the candidates, but will become a real competition for the sale of membership cards.

This is why the potential candidacy of Denis Coderre, for example, so disturbs the leaders of the Liberal Party of Quebec. In his long career, Mr. Coderre was first and foremost a political organizer. And if the Liberal leadership race were to turn into a “membership card selling contest,” he would be completely in his element.

Our political parties have often been criticized for concentrating powers within a political commission or a general management which decides on the main directions, leaving very little room for activists and party members, of whom we no longer ask. than making donations and participating in a few rare events where we talk much more about organization than politics.

But if our political parties are nothing more than empty shells open to all, can we really be surprised that countries that are not our allies take advantage of the weak point in our democracy and decide to use it against our interests? ?

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