When in a hole, stop digging.
That’s advice my former boss Jean Chretien used to give us. In life, as in politics, it’s good advice.
The denizens of Parliament Hill — which is essentially 22 square acres surrounded by reality — often forget that. They often forget, or don’t care, that what seems smart or strategic to them looks completely insane to Joe and Jane Frontporch.
The Meech Lake Accord. Hotel rooms costing $6,000 a night. Eighteen dollar orange juice. And on and on: These are just a few of the things that elicit disinterested shrugs by folks in Ottawa. And which cause everyday Canadians to reach for their pitchforks and torches and, sometimes, a sturdy tree branch.
The latest example: The Liberal Party of Trudeau — because, rest assured, it is no longer the Liberal Party of Pearson, Chretien, Turner or Martin — has been in a deep, deep hole over the burgeoning China election interference scandal. Their collective response?
They kept digging.
Here’s what is known: China criminally interfered in our elections in 2019 and 2021. Documents authored by intelligence agencies have made clear that the interference included payoffs, manipulation and disinformation.
Ominously, there has been a suggestion that Justin Trudeau and his office knew all about the interference, and did nothing. Most seriously, the implication has been that the China-friendly Liberal prime minister and his senior staff covered it all up.
The opposition parties, and those of us in the media, have accordingly wanted answers to one key question: What did the prime minister and his chief of staff know, and when did they know it?
Oh, and this question too: What did they do about it, if anything?
Those are not unreasonable questions. But what the Tru regime has been doing in the past few weeks has been unreasonable in the extreme.
Stonewalling, fibbing, prevaricating. Delaying and denying information. And, until this week, doing all that they could to prevent Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief of staff, from being called before committee to answer a few predictable questions.
Full disclosure: I knew Telford in her previous life, when she was simply a lobbyist. She worked at a Toronto lobby firm, and she was decidedly not the boss.
If she did anything of significance in her political life span, it was one thing: Glomming onto Justin Trudeau’s cape, and riding a 2015 wave with him into the Office of the Prime Minister.
This writer has known practically every prime ministerial chief of staff over the past generation. Of all of them, Telford is the least noteworthy. If she ever devised some brilliant innovation or some important policy, nobody knows what it is.
However, as the most senior aide to a prime minister, she would have been briefed on national intelligence matters. Which is why the Opposition want to question her. That is obvious.
What is less obvious — what is completely and totally inexplicable — is why the Liberals are turned into a Nixonian stonewalling operation to prevent Telford’s testimony. That makes no sense. Why?
One, their filibustering and fibbing had precisely the opposite effect: By looking so terrified about Telford testifying, they dramatically increased opposition efforts to get Telford to testify. Their stupidity invited the very thing they wanted to avoid.
Two, they had nothing to worry about. Because the Chinese election interference story entirely concerns national security, Telford could not meaningfully answer questions — even if she wanted to. She just needed to say that she was not permitted, by law, to discuss national security matters, and she would be right to say so.
Three, the PMO-led machinations did nothing to prevent their biggest problem: Namely, leaks by anonymous CSIS agents who are alarmed by the Chinese threat to our democratic institutions. As the Liberal efforts to prevent Telford’s testimony grew, so did the leaks.
And the leaks haven’t stopped: Wednesday saw the stunning Global News revelation about former Liberal MP Han Dong — that he allegedly pushed the Chinese regime to hold onto the two Michaels, to help out the Liberals. CSIS, it seems, has now assigned itself the role of the Official Opposition. (Perhaps because they feel the Tories aren’t doing the job.)
So, after spilling pints of political capital all over Parliament Hill, the Trudeau regime finally had to do what everyone knew they were always going to do. Namely, let Katie Telford testify.
And so she will. And she will not be able to say anything meaningful. And the Liberals will have lost oodles of credibility for no reason at all.
In Ottawa, sometimes they are not being strategic. Sometimes they are just being stupid.
This was. So: When in a hole, boys and girls, stop digging.
— Warren Kinsella was Jean Chretien’s Special Assistant and ran his successful War Rooms