ANALYSIS: How a looming vote on Katie Telford may test the Liberal-NDP deal

Pierre Poilievre‘s Conservatives will force a House of Commons vote next week that could test the strength of the deal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to support the Liberal minority government on matters of confidence.

The Conservatives will use what is known in parliamentary circles as an ‘opposition day’ to debate and vote on a motion that would call the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, to testify at a House of Commons committee on the issue of foreign election interference.

The debate is likely to happen on Monday with a vote on Tuesday.

All three opposition parties believe Telford has important information about when the prime minister was briefed on alleged election interference in the 2019 and 2021 general elections. Both Global News and the Globe and Mail have reported on those allegations, citing unnamed national security sources.

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Those sources say the Communist government in China actively sought to influence or interfere in the elections.

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There is no evidence, however, that the outcome of either the 2019 or 2021 election was changed by any alleged election interference or that any outcome should be considered illegitimate.

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Nonetheless, the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP have all called for an independent public inquiry to assess the allegations.

The prime minister has, so far, not agreed to convene any inquiry but this week Trudeau named former governor general David Johnston as his special rapporteur to, among other things, advise him as to whether a public inquiry should be held.

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In the meantime, two different House of Commons committees — the House procedure and affairs committee (PROC) and the access to information, ethics, and privacy committee (ETHI) — are both in the midst of their own inquiries into the issue of election interference.

Motions have been put forward at both committees calling for Telford to testify.

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At PROC, Liberal MPs are nearing 24 hours of filibusters to prevent a vote calling on Telford to testify. As they do in the House of Commons, the Liberals have a minority of votes on Commons committees.

Conservatives believe Liberals will try similar stalling tactics at ETHI when it is time to vote on Telford’s testimony.

But a party’s opposition day motion in the House of Commons cannot be avoided.

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The Conservatives believe the BQ and NDP will support their opposition day motion and, if those other parties do indeed support the Conservative motion, Trudeau will be forced to either obey the wishes of the House and allow Telford to testify or ignore the vote. Ignoring the express wishes of a House of Commons vote could bring on additional political peril for the minority government, including the possibility that contempt proceedings against the government could be initiated.

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But Trudeau could designate the vote on the Conservative opposition day motion a matter of confidence.

That would put the spotlight on the strength of the NDP-Liberal deal in which the NDP promised to vote with the government on any confidence matter through to June 2025 so long as the Liberals uphold their end of the deal, most of which involves meeting NDP demands on providing universal dental care, universal pharmacare, improved housing and other issues.

The supply-and-confidence agreement, as it is called, says nothing about inquiries into foreign election interference.

If Trudeau designates the Telford motion as a confidence matter, it would heighten the stakes for the NDP who would have to decide whether to side with the government and defeat the motion calling Telford to testify, or risk toppling the government.

By parliamentary tradition, a government that loses a confidence vote in the House would be expected to seek a general election.

David Akin is the chief political correspondent for Global News.

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