Opposition leaders question links between prime minister and special rapporteur and call again for a public inquiry
Two opposition leaders in the House of Commons dismiss the newly appointed special rapporteur on foreign election interference as a “family friend” of the prime minister and continue to urge the government to launch a public inquiry.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed former governor-general David Johnston as special rapporteur on foreign election interference during the last two federal elections.
A government media release said Johnston was tasked with reviewing the evidence and making “recommendations to protect and enhance Canadians’ confidence in our democracy.”
These recommendations could include a public inquiry. The Liberal government has stated that if Johnston makes it, it would comply with this recommendation.
But Conservative and Bloc Québécois leaders announced Thursday that they believe Johnston is too closely linked to Trudeau.
“Trudeau has appointed a family friend, an old cottage neighbor and member of the Beijing-funded Trudeau Foundation as the independent rapporteur on Beijing’s meddling,” Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said in a media statement.
“Be honest. Trudeau needs to end his cover-up. Call a public inquiry.”
Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois, told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday that while he had “nothing against” Johnston personally, the prime minister should “choose someone who is not necessarily and admittedly a family friend.”
“I will accept nothing but a public independent inquiry into which leadership was chosen by Parliament. Nothing else,” he added.
Recent media reports have claimed that China has taken steps to ensure a minority liberal government returns in 2021 and that certain conservative candidates have been defeated.
Other reporting suspected intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China’s meddling campaign involved funding a “clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election.”
Following Johnston’s appointment, a number of opposition members noted his affiliation with the Trudeau Foundation, which lists the Special Rapporteur as a member. The foundation recently announced it would return $200,000 it received over seven years ago over possible ties to Beijing.
In a news conference on Thursday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said he believed Johnston was an “impartial” person of “integrity” and that he trusted him to do the job.
However, he maintained that Johnston’s mandate as special rapporteur should include answering “the fundamental questions Canadians have”.
“What did the prime minister know, when did he know and what did he do about it when it comes to foreign interference?” he said.
Singh reiterated that he believed the government should launch a public and independent investigation into election interference.
In an interview with CBC News on Thursday morning, Lori Turnbull, principal of the School of Public Administration and associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University, said Johnston’s association with the Trudeau Foundation was bound to emerge.
“If you look at the government press release, they go to great lengths to say that this man was appointed governor-general by the Harper administration to work on the Oliphant Commission, so he is in no way a liberal hack of any kind “, she said.
“If there’s a unicorn in the world that would have absolutely no criticism of him, then that person probably wasn’t interested.”
The prime minister’s office says in the press release that all parties were consulted on Johnston’s appointment, although it did not say to what extent.