Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his choice of former governor general David Johnston as special election rapporteur Friday, arguing that Conservative attacks on him show the party is more interested in creating chaos than tackling foreign election interference.
“David Johnston has served this country in many, many different ways through a long and unimpeachable career,” Trudeau said in Guelph, Ont. of the man he appointed to investigate reports of foreign election interference.
“When we are looking to someone who will put the country first, and put the interest of Canadians at the core of everything he does, there is no better name than David Johnston.”
Citing classified Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) sources, multiple media reports have alleged that China tried to ensure the Liberals won a minority government in the last general election. Those reports also said Beijing worked to defeat Conservative candidates who were critical of China by interfering in the last two federal elections.
A panel of top civil servants concluded that attempts to interfere with the 2021 federal election did not affect the results. Trudeau has announced multiple investigations into foreign election interference and appointed Johnston as special rapporteur earlier this week.
Among other things, Johnston has been tasked with advising the prime minister on whether to call a public inquiry — something all of the opposition parties have demanded.
Trudeau has said he will abide by Johnston’s recommendations. The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois pushed back against Johnston’s appointment Thursday, arguing that he is too closely linked with the prime minister.
Poilievre taking ‘flamethrower’ to institutions: 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, the prime minister should “promote his own credibility” by choosing someone for the task who is not a personal friend.
“I will accept nothing but a public independent inquiry, which management will have been chosen by the Parliament. Nothing else,” he added.
Trudeau said that while China tried to interfere in Canada’s elections, the evidence indicates that it was unsuccessful.
Poilievre pushes back
Trudeau said Poilievre is “hoping that if he attacks our institutions with a flamethrower, maybe he’s going to be able to win. That sounds like a really great way of ensuring that all Canadians lose.”
The prime minister said the Conservatives under Poilievre are only concerned with turning the election interference issue into a partisan circus.
“We need to stand up for our institutions, we need to reassure Canadians that everything has been done and will be done to make sure that they are focused on serving Canadians, and keeping people safe.
“You don’t do that by ramping up the toxicity and partisanship to the point where it doesn’t matter what the substance is, it just matters what side you’re on.”
Johnston, who enjoyed a long career as a law professor, was appointed governor general in 2010 by former prime minister Stephen Harper and served in the role until 2017. Harper extended his five-year term by two years.
Speaking in Vancouver on Friday Poilievre rejected Trudeau’s criticisms, saying the prime minister was putting “his own partisan interests ahead of our national interests” and repeating his call for a public inquiry.
“It is Justin Trudeau that has put Mr. Johnston in this terrible situation by naming a member of the China-financed Trudeau Foundation to perform this role of looking into Beijing’s interference in our election campaigns,” Poilievre said.
“That was Justin Trudeau’s error in judgment. All of this points to him covering up the truth because he’s afraid that Canadians will find out how he failed to stand up for our interests and instead stood up for his own.”
Johnson is a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, an independent charity. That foundation recently announced it was returning a $200,000 donation it received seven years ago after media reports alleged that the money was donated at the behest of China.