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Poilievre, Blanchet decry Trudeau’s pick of Johnston as rapporteur

The two major opposition parties have been quick to question Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s selection of former Governor General David Johnston as the new special rapporteur tasked with a comprehensive assessment of foreign interference and the integrity of Canada’s democracy.

Naming someone who was above reproach was a priority for everyone before the Prime Minister made his choice; the decision, according to his office, was made after consultation with opposition parties.

“Canadians need to trust our electoral system and our democracy. As an independent special rapporteur, David Johnston brings integrity and a wealth of experience and skills, and I am confident that he will conduct an impartial review to ensure that all necessary steps are taken. are being undertaken to keep our democracy safe and to maintain and strengthen trust in it,” the Prime Minister said in a press release on Wednesday.

However, less than 24 hours after Trudeau announced that Canada’s current federal leadership debates commissioner would be changing jobs, Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois politicians are raising concerns about Johnston’s impartiality. New Democrats and some other prominent voices have since come out to say whether they credit Johnston with getting the job done.

Critics point to several specific points in Johnston’s resume and the comments he has made during his time in public life. The federal Liberals rushed to his defense, accusing the Conservatives of… as one Liberal MP put it — walking on “someone’s stardom” just to “get an ounce of political gain out of it.”

Tapping an independent reporter to take a comprehensive look at the problem was one of Trudeau’s commitments earlier this month. as part of a package of events. The prime minister announced the role and asked two national security agencies to investigate in an effort to allay concerns about reports of concrete attempts by Beijing to alter the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Their latest denial of interfering with the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa on Twitter Thursday that China has “never interfered in the internal affairs of other countries”.

Among the disputed points of the opposition.

  • Johnston is a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, an independent charity that recently announced that returning the 200,000 USD received because of a reported connection with Beijing seven years ago. Although the foundation is named after his father, the prime minister has not been associated with it since becoming Liberal leader.
  • Then Governor General Johnston visited China in 2013, following a number of trips to the People’s Republic during his academic activities. At the time, Conservative cabinet ministers also traveled to China to talk about boosting Chinese investment in Canada. Then Johnston defended in 2017 during which he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, the same day Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo died in Chinese custody. Johnston said he touched on China’s human rights situation during the meeting.
  • That his relationship with the Trudeau family has been described as a long-standing close friendship.

“Justin Trudeau has named a ‘family friend’, an old neighbor from the cottage and a member of the Beijing-funded Trudeau Foundation, as an ‘independent’ reporter on Beijing’s meddling. statement. “Trudeau should end his cover-up. Call for a public inquiry. Now.”

Sharing this message on social media, Polievre asked his followers to sign a Conservative Party petition that collects signatories’ data.

In a markedly different approach from the current Conservative leader, 2021 Conservative National Campaign Director Fred Delory said Johnston is “probably the most experienced Canadian doing this.”

In an interview with CTV News, Delory said Johnston has come under attack in the past for being too close to conservatives, repeatedly calling whoever is chosen for these high-profile roles would be at the center of an organized “political campaign.” their opponents. This is what he thinks the Official Opposition is doing now.

Governor General David Johnston smiles as he speaks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Here are some of the points on his resume that Trudeau pointed to in justifying why he chose Johnston:

  • Johnston was appointed by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a special adviser handling the terms of reference for the 2007 public inquiry into the Airbus affair, otherwise known. like the Mulroney-Schreiber case. At the time, Harper said he was confident Johnston would “execute his duties with diligence and rigor” and provide “independent advice” to the federal government going forward.
  • That Harper then appointed Johnston as governor-general in 2010, and after extending his tenure until 2017, thanked him for himself “Outstanding and dedicated public service representing the head of our state.”
  • That, as debate commissioner Johnston had undertaken trying to depoliticize Organization of official discussions during the 2019 and 2021 pre-election campaign. Making key decisions about who will be able to participate and negotiating the terms of the debates, Trudeau said Johnston is “actively contributing to our democracy.”

“This is a great Canadian who is incredibly accomplished. Again, my former boss, Prime Minister Harper, appointed him Governor General … And then appointed him again in the 2015 election, so obviously some Conservatives believe in Mr. Johnston,” Delory. said later in an interview with CTV News Channel’s Power Play.

In an interview with CTV News, former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Reith said she has a lot of respect for the former governor-general, but his story gives conservatives ammunition.

Reith asked if Trudeau expected the Official Opposition to “take the bait.”

Although CTV News political commentator Scott Reid said what is happening is “partisan politics at its full and ugly.”

“They’re just trying to put their thumb on the scale. If he calls for a public inquiry, if Johnston recommends a public inquiry, they will say they pressured him. If he can’t, they will say. “Look, we’ve been telling you over and over that he can’t be trusted,” said Reid, who was communications director for former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.

Although his mandate has yet to be finalized, Johnston is beginning to examine foreign interference in the last two federal general elections, with the goal of making expert recommendations on how to further protect our democracy and maintain Canadians’ trust in it, including recommending: that a public inquiry be made.

“The Government of Canada will comply with and implement his public recommendations, which may include a formal investigation, judicial review or another independent review process,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement announcing Johnston’s appointment on Wednesday.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said on Thursday that while he does not want to judge Johnston and has nothing against him personally, Trudeau has not been advised to name someone, to reassure Canadians that concerns about foreign interference will be cleared up. -an eye assessment that could be seen as conflicting in any way.

“I met him a few times, he seemed quite a gentleman. However, if you want to make the population feel secure about the choice you make, you should choose someone who is not particularly a family friend. Blanche said. “I will accept nothing but an independent public inquiry.”

Asked by reporters during media availability what he thought of Johnston’s appointment, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he trusted him to do the job Trudeau gave him, but still thought Johnston should have a public inquiry.

“Mr. Johnston is a man of strong reputation, of integrity, and he is independent and non-partisan,” Singh said, warning others that they have allowed partisanship to cloud conversations about the integrity of Canada’s electoral processes.

“I want to make sure that his mandate includes all the information that is relevant to assessing what the prime minister knew, when the prime minister knew that information and what he did about it. And that includes really important recommendations about what we need to do to protect our democracy,” Singh said.

Although DeLaurie insists that he believes the inquiry will be much more than political theater and “a colossal waste of time” if Johnston sees the investigation as the best way to address current gaps in the law and bring all parties together. necessary changes to go through together, then it will make sense.

While some critics of Trudeau’s approach have expressed concern that the Liberal minority could fall prey to Canadians’ responses, the federal government has indicated it wants to see Johnston on the job quickly. It remains to be seen what schedule Johnston will work on.

“I think the mandate should be as broad as possible and the terms should be as narrow and short as possible,” Ann McGrath, national director of the federal New Democrats, said on CTV News Channel’s Power Play.

“I hate to get in the way of Mr. Johnson’s work by saying, ‘You have to do this in X days.’ I think that could be a problem. At the same time, he’s incredibly experienced at this, so if anyone’s going to do it quickly, it’s got to be him,” DeLaurie said.

Margaret McCuague-Johnston, a Canada-China expert and senior research fellow at the University of Ottawa, said the former governor-general is well-suited to take on the task given his passion and service to this country.

“Then imagine his deep concern about our electoral system being subverted by autocracy. He will ensure that steps are taken to rectify this.” he tweeted.

In a statement to CTV News on Thursday evening, Johnston said: “I am privileged to accept the appointment as an independent special rapporteur to help protect the integrity of Canada’s democracy.

“I will work with officials to finalize the mandate, which will be released soon, examine foreign interference in the last two federal general elections and make appropriate recommendations on how to further protect our democracy and maintain Canadians’ trust in it. “

With files from CTV News’ Ian Wood and Annie Bergeron-Oliver

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