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Canada needs to learn a lesson from MI5 on foreign interference, says Chong

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Canada can learn from the British intelligence agency MI5 about how to handle intimidation campaigns against citizens and politicians, said a Canadian MP who has endured such a campaign against himself and his family.

Conservative MP Michael Chong explained that MI5 has direct communications with the Speaker of the House of Commons who can inform MPs about potential threats from foreign actors. 

“I think these things clearly should have been put in place a while ago in Canada,” said Chong.

The MI5 protocols have been used to alert all British MPs when Russian and Chinese plots to interfere in British politics were discovered, he said.  

Chong appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on Tuesday to discuss an intimidation campaign mounted by the Chinese government against him and his family.

Chong blamed the government, and particularly Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for failing to inform him about the campaign, which he found out about through media reports.

“I think it’s clear that the prime minister failed to architect the machinery of government in a way that would ensure that information flowed to MPs and to the House of Commons,” said Chong. 

Committee members heard that, while Chong had met with Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2021 regarding targeted foreign interference, he says he was only informed of the intimidation campaign against his family two years later, even though CSIS had been aware of it since July of 2021.

Chong said that he, along with his family in Hong Kong, was subjected to multiple threats during the intimidation campaign but did not lay out the specific details of the threats. 

On May 2, the Globe and Mail reported Trudeau had organized a meeting where CSIS head David Vigneault told Chong that he and his family were targeted by Chinese government officials in 2021. The intimidation efforts followed Chong’s sponsorship of a parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s actions towards the Uighur minority in western China as a genocide. 

Chong said the leaks on foreign interference, which have been largely reported in the Globe and Mail, reflected poorly on the federal government. 

“These releases are injurious to national security and diminish the confidence Five Eyes allies have in the security of Canada’s intelligence,” said Chong. “These releases would not be happening in a system that is functioning properly, and that is the responsibility of the head of government who alone is responsible for the machinery of government.”

Chong said that if government agencies like CSIS already know there are interference and intimidation campaigns taking place, leaks to the media should not be how Canadians learn about them.

In the May 2 meeting, Vigneault also revealed to Chong that a Chinese diplomat in Toronto named Zhao Wei was involved in the intimidation campaign. Zhao was expelled on May 8 by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. 

China reacted by expelling a Canadian diplomat from the consulate in Shanghai and warned of further retaliation if Canada took further action. A motion to have the parliamentary committee examine whether Chong’s parliamentary privilege was violated passed unanimously in the House of Commons. 

Additionally, the motion called for the expulsion of other diplomats involved in foreign interference, a public inquiry into foreign interference, and the creation of a foreign agents registry. Besides Chong, many other Chinese Canadians have spoken out about being targeted for publicly criticizing the Chinese government and its policies. 

“It is important to note that my case is but only one of many Canadians who have been threatened on Canadian soil by authoritarian governments and who have suffered in silence,” said Chong. “It is my hope that real change will result from what has happened, change that will strengthen our national security and intelligence to better protect all Canadians and Canadian institutions.” 

Canada’s relations with China have been deteriorating since 2018 when Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was detained in Vancouver and the Chinese government arrested two Canadians on spying charges. A Nanos Research poll released last week found 3 out of 4 surveyed Canadians held negative views about China. 

Economics and social justice books vie for $60k public policy prize

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As Canadians continue to watch prices rise at the checkout, even as inflation shows some early signs of cooling, it’s fitting that a former Bank of Canada governor is on the shortlist of authors for the Donner Book Prize for public policy writing.

And in a surefire sign of the times, with his book on the coming “age of uncertainty” in the economy, Stephen Poloz is the second former Bank governor in two years to make the Donner shortlist. Last year, Mark Carney made the shortlist for his book on value and values.

The prize will be announced on May 18 in Toronto and the winner will receive a $60,000 grand prize.

Poloz likely tops the list in terms of name recognition, but the other four nominees can make the case that their books are just as relevant right now.

The other nominees are Joseph Heath, for his book on tackling tough societal problems; John Lorinc, for his book on smart cities; Ryan Manucha, for his book on interprovincial trade; and Kent Roach, for his book on the state of policing in Canada. Last year’s winner was Dan Breznitz, for Innovation in Real Places, which argued that Canada needs innovation-based growth that doesn’t just rely on the high-tech industry.

Poloz argues in his book that Canadian policymakers shouldn’t let ideas that have been conventionally described as a “political impossibility” be suppressed from the political discourse, citing the reform of Canada’s system of supply management for dairy products as an example.

“This political impossibility arises essentially because those who perceive that they would lose as a result of the change have their voices magnified by news media and social media and create serious political fallout for the government,” writes Poloz, in The Next Age of Uncertainty: How the World Can Adapt to a Riskier Future.

In a recent interview on the Hub Dialogues podcast, Heath said that an idealized view of justice can sometimes clash with public policy, a key concept in his book Cooperation & Social Justice.

“People are motivated by moral commitments, but they’re also motivated by their self-interest in a really complex way that’s actually really hard to understand and to model. It means that we can’t just prescribe moral solutions to social problems and expect everyone to fall in line,” said Heath.

Lorinc made a similar point in a discussion on Hub Dialogues, arguing that our utopian idea of what “smart cities” can do actually gets in the way of real progress.

One of the things I wanted to do with the book was really explain what we’re talking about when we’re talking about smart city technology,” said Lorinc.

“In a lot of cases, these are very specific applications. They don’t have anything to do with personal data. They’re about traffic light control and that kind of thing,” said Lorinc.

A recurring theme in the books is that Canadians would benefit from getting more involved in public policy and our democratic institutions in general. In his book on policing, Roach makes the case that Canadians might have to get more involved in local policing if we want to have effective oversight.

“Perhaps the time has come to follow the recent English practice of having local voters elect police and crime commissioners who can devote all of their energies to such matters,” writes Roach.

“Committees of local council may also be in a better position than police boards to make decisions about how the police should work with other public agencies responsible for health, family services, hous­ing, and education,” the book reads.

And although interprovincial trade has been an ongoing issue in Canada since Confederation, Manucha argued in his book that we could be at a favourable moment to look into reforms and freer trade among the provinces.

“If we look into the history of Canada, this is an opportunity for us. Where you see global isolationism in ascendancy, the U.S. is pulling back, to think about our domestic markets as an avenue for untapped growth that we have complete control over, where we’re not subject to the whims of a foreign power,” said Manucha, during a discussion on Hub Dialogues.

“And we all march behind the same flag in the Olympics and fight with the same uniform in times of war. Maybe there’s something to be said about what our citizenship should mean about unlocking that source of growth,” said Manucha.

The shortlisted books were published in 2022 and the winner receives a $60,000 prize, while the other nominees each receive $7,500.

The Donner Canadian Foundation was established in 1950 by businessman and philanthropist William H. Donner, as means of “encouraging private initiative, independence, and individual responsibility” in Canada, contributing more than $150 million to more than 2,500 projects across the country.