Opposition leaders question ties between PM and special rapporteur, repeat calls for public inquiry
Two opposition leaders in the House of Commons are dismissing the newly named special rapporteur on foreign election interference as a "family friend" of the prime minister and are continuing to press the government to call a public inquiry.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named former governor general David Johnston as the special rapporteur on foreign election interference during the last two federal elections.
A government media release said Johnston is tasked with looking at the evidence and making "recommendations on protecting and enhancing Canadians' faith in our democracy."
Those recommendations could include a public inquiry. The Liberal government has said it would abide by that recommendation if Johnston makes it.
But the Conservative and Bloc Québécois leaders made it known Thursday they think Johnston is too closely linked with Trudeau.
"Trudeau has named a family friend, old neighbour from the cottage and member of the Beijing-funded Trudeau Foundation, to be the independent rapporteur on Beijing's interference," Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said in a media statement.
"Get real. Trudeau must end his cover up. Call a public inquiry."
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa Wednesday, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said that while he has "nothing against" Johnston personally, the prime minister "should pick someone who is not notably and admittedly a friend of the family."
"I will accept nothing but a public independent inquiry, which management will have been chosen by the Parliament. Nothing else," he added.
Recent media reports have claimed that China took steps to ensure a minority Liberal government was returned in 2021 and that certain Conservative candidates were defeated.
Other reporting alleged intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China's campaign of interference included funding a "clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election."
After 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 be returning $200,000, which it received over seven years ago, due to possible ties to Beijing.
In a press conference Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he believes Johnston is a "non-partisan" person of "integrity" and that he trusts him to do the work.
He maintained, however, that Johnston's mandate as special rapporteur should include answering "the fundamental questions that Canadians have."
"What did the prime minister know, when did he know about it and what did he do about it, when it comes to foreign interference?" he said.
Singh said again that he believes the government should launch a public and independent inquiry into election interference.
In an interview with CBC News on Thursday morning, Lori Turnbull, director 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 come up.
"When you look at the press release from the government, they take a lot of effort to say this man was appointed by the Harper government to be governor general, to work on the Oliphant Commission, so in no way is he some sort of Liberal hack," she said.
"If there is a unicorn in the world who would have absolutely no criticism against them, I guess that person was not 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.