Canadians more likely to support foreign interference inquiry than hearings: Nanos
Canadians are twice as likely to support a formal inquiry into foreign interference, as opposed to public hearings, according to new polling from Nanos Research for CTV News.
Nearly six in 10 Canadians say they prefer the idea of a formal public inquiry headed by a judge with full subpoena powers, according to the survey.
Meanwhile, a quarter of respondents say they would prefer the public hearings option “to shine more light on the problem of foreign interference and the threat it poses.”
Special rapporteur David Johnston has drawn harsh criticism from opposition leaders and MPs over the conclusions of his recently released report, which recommended “a series of public hearings with Canadians,” as opposed to the inquiry many had been calling for.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet have repeatedly defended the former governor general’s decision, while Johnston has said much of the information and documents on which he based his report are classified, so a public inquiry would not be public at all.
However, during his testimony before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Johnston indicated that should there be certain witnesses at his public hearings, for example intelligence officials or members of the public who fear the implications of speaking out, and he’s prepared to hear testimony in-camera.
Johnston himself has also drawn criticism, namely for his personal relationship with the prime minister, and for his previous membership with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which has been at the centre of its own foreign interference allegations.
But the Nanos numbers show more than a third — 38 per cent — of Canadians believe Johnston is “credible” on foreign interference, versus 30 per cent who do not believe he is credible on the issue.
The polling also shows 46 per cent of Canadians believe the prime minister is not credible on the topic, compared to 26 per cent who believe he is. This, while 48 per cent of respondents said Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is not credible, and 26 per cent said he is.
The views are split on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s credibility on foreign interference: 32 per cent of respondents said he is credible, versus 31 per cent who said he is not.
The comparison between the prime minister and the leader of the Official Opposition comes as recent numbers show Poilievre has surpassed Trudeau when it comes to preferred prime minister.
STRONG SUPPORT FOR FOREIGN REGISTRY
According to the polling, there is also “very strong support” — with about nine in 10 respondents showing either “support” or “somewhat support” — for a foreign agent registry, an online searchable database of agents working for foreign governments.
The federal government has recently wrapped up its consultations on the possibility of creating such a registry — similar to those in Australia and the United States — but Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino hasn’t given a timeline on when one could be implemented.
The vast majority of the poll’s respondents, about 86 per cent, also said a criminal charge and jail time is “the most appropriate punishment for those found guilty of foreign interference in Canada.”
Fewer than one in 10 said a fine and a warning would be most appropriate, or were unsure about what the punishment should be.
Most respondents also said foreign interference is a threat to democracy, mirroring results from an earlier poll done by Nanos Research in March.
Concerns around foreign interference began to stack up in February, sparked by reporting from The Globe and Mail and Global News, largely citing unnamed intelligence sources and leaked documents. The controversy has continued to play out on Parliament Hill in the months since.
According to the Nanos survey, nearly six in 10 Canadians say it is either not acceptable or somewhat not acceptable for civil servants to leak sensitive security information about foreign interference to news outlets.
In March, the RCMP said it had launched an investigation into the leaks, specifically into violations of the Security and Information Act which outlines both the expectations around federal government employees’ legal obligations for protecting classified operational information, and the punishment for committing offences such as unauthorized disclosure of such information.
Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land-and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,096 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between May 31st to June 3rd, 2023 as part of an omnibus survey. The margin of error for this survey is ±3.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
This study was commissioned by CTV News and The Globe and Mail and the research was conducted by Nanos Research.
With files from CTVNews.ca Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello