Trudeau picks former governor general David Johnston to probe election meddling claims

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tapped former governor general David Johnston to investigate claims that China meddled in Canada’s last two elections.

Trudeau said last week that he would name an “eminent” and independent person as a special rapporteur on election interference. He said the special rapporteur “will have a wide mandate and make expert recommendations on combating interference and strengthening our democracy.”

Johnston was appointed governor general in 2010 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He held that role until 2017.

Johnston is currently the head of the independent Leaders’ Debates Commission an independent body that oversees leaders’ debates during federal election campaigns. He will step down from that role to act as the new rapporteur, according to a news release from the Prime Minister’s Office [PMO].

“David Johnston brings integrity and a wealth of experience and skills, and I am confident that he will conduct an impartial review to ensure all necessary steps are being taken to keep our democracy safe and uphold and strengthen confidence in it,” Trudeau said in a media statement Wednesday.

Opposition pushing for inquiry

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have been pushing for a public inquiry on foreign election interference.

Trudeau said the rapporteur could recommend a formal inquiry and that he would abide by that recommendation.

The PMO statement said that all parties were consulted on Johnston’s appointment, but it doesn’t say to what extent.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, Poilievre cast doubt on the idea that the rapporteur would be independent.

“[Trudeau] could pick someone independent but he won’t,” Poilievre told reporters last week.

Poilievre said his party will continue to push for a public inquiry into recent media reports that claim 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.”

A panel of public servants tasked with monitoring election incidents reported that it did not detect foreign interference that threatened Canada’s ability to hold free and fair elections in either 2019 or 2021. But the panel did say there were attempts to interfere in both campaigns, according to reports highlighting its work.

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