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Former Conservative leader alleges Chinese interference may have played a part in his ouster | CBC News

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole believes foreign interference may have led to his removal as party leader, according to documents tabled before the foreign interference inquiry.

In a document containing notes from an interview between O’Toole and lawyers acting for the Foreign Interference Commission earlier this year, O’Toole is quoted as saying he was suspicious about the motives of the person behind the petition that called for a leadership review following the 2021 election.

“Mr. O’Toole also believes foreign interference played a role in his ouster as party leader,” says the document. “In the immediate aftermath of the election loss, a petition and public relations campaign against Mr. O’Toole was initiated within 48 hours by a high-profile CPC party member who had served on the national council of the party.”

That Conservative Party member was Bert Chen, who was suspended from the party’s national council after launching the petition to recall O’Toole as leader.

“A trusted source in a diaspora group and a journalist have advised Mr. O’Toole in confidence that this specific party member had unusual ties to the [People’s Republic of China] government. Mr. O’Toole has no information to corroborate these claims, but he trusts the sources,” the document says.

“This information was brought to his attention after he had already lost the party leadership.”

O’Toole’s Conservative Party lost the 2021 election, winning 119 of 338 seats, despite winning the popular vote. 

Chen’s petition did not lead to O’Toole stepping down as party leader. He was forced to leave the job in February 2022 following an internal caucus revolt.

Chen denies ties to Chinese government

In an email sent to CBC News, Chen said he launched the petition to elect a new Conservative leader “on the basis that Mr. O’Toole was not fit to lead our country or our party.”

“As a Canadian born in Taiwan whose family fought in the Chinese Civil War against the Chinese Communist Party, I can unreservedly assure all Canadians that I have no ties to the PRC regime,” he said.

“My motivation for the petition to recall Mr. O’Toole’s leadership was due to his flip-flop from his leadership campaign promise to never institute a carbon tax. The fact that he does not mention this is a testimony to the credibility of him and his sources.”

A man in a black suit jacket stares straight at the camera.
In a newly released document, former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole accuses Conservative Party member Bert Chen of having “unusual ties to the PRC government.” Chen denies the allegation, saying he was born in Taiwan and his family fought in the Chinese Civil War against the Chinese Communist Party. (CBC)

Conservative Party spokesperson Sarah Fischer called O’Toole’s reported allegations “ridiculous.”

“It was the Conservative Party of Canada caucus that voted to remove the then-leader, not a National Council member,” she said in an email to CBC News. 

In O’Toole’s testimony before the inquiry on Wednesday, he said Chinese foreign interference may have led to the defeat of up to nine CPC candidates — a claim he has made in the past.

He said his party was a victim of misinformation claims on the social media platform WeChat, used by many Chinese-Canadians.

O’Toole said he believed his party was targeted by the Chinese government in part because of its push to probe Chinese interference in Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, in addition to a private members bill supporting a foreign agent registry.

He also said he does not believe Chinese meddling changed the actual outcome of the election.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed claims of foreign interference affecting riding results.

“I can understand where someone who lost an election is trying to look for reasons other than themselves for why they lost the election,” he said speaking in Toronto.

“The reality is, we put in place a panel formed by top independent public servants, a task force staffed by security officials throughout our intelligence and security services to ensure the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 elections. And the conclusion of all those mechanisms is unequivocally that the election’s integrity held.”

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