We’ll give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this much: Of all the family friends who are governing members of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation that he could have named as his special rapporteur, David Johnston is by far the best qualified.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said Mr. Johnston, a former governor-general, will be his handpicked point person in an ad hoc probe into foreign election interference.
The rapporteur position is Mr. Trudeau’s response to the growing clamour for a full public inquiry after reporting from The Globe and Mail and Global News laid bare meddling by China in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
When Mr. Trudeau announced the creation of a special rapporteur on March 6, he hit on a critical point: that “all Canadians regardless of who they voted for or didn’t vote for” should be able to find reassurance in the process, and that the “level of partisan disagreements” was making it difficult for any party, his included, to provide such reassurances.
The Prime Minister was correct. All Canadians are owed reassurance that our electoral system has been reinforced against Beijing’s meddling. And partisan considerations have indeed obstructed efforts to get to the bottom of what happened in the past two elections, and what Ottawa did about it.
There’s no better example of mindless partisanship than the smug stonewalling of the Liberal MPs on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, now entering a third week of filibustering on a straightforward motion for testimony from Liberal chief of staff Katie Telford.
Mr. Trudeau’s naming of Mr. Johnston is in line with those tactics. If the Prime Minister had been sincere in his worries about reassuring all Canadians, he would have taken a much different approach and acceded to the demands of opposition leaders that a special rapporteur be jointly agreed upon.
Cross-partisan support would have guaranteed that a special rapporteur’s findings would be taken seriously by Canadians of good will. It may have been difficult to come up with a mutually acceptable name but, according to Mr. Trudeau, there were many possible eminent candidates. Finding one, perhaps by looking beyond the two dozen or so members of the Trudeau foundation, should not have been impossible.
Instead, we have the unilateral appointment of Mr. Johnston, a clear indication that Mr. Trudeau still does not seem to grasp that Beijing’s meddling has corroded confidence in the inviolability of our electoral system.
Mr. Johnston is not the right person to restore that confidence. His personal connections to Mr. Trudeau should disqualify him. This is not to question his accomplishments, or his integrity. As governor-general, he served this country with dignity, a capstone to his career in public service.
The Liberals have pointed to his time as governor-general as proof of his fitness for the role of special rapporteur, particularly since he was appointed by a Conservative, former prime minister Stephen Harper.
But the opposite is true. By thrusting a former governor-general into the middle of a partisan fray, the Liberals risk introducing a political taint to the vice-regal office. Already, the leaders of both the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois say they oppose Mr. Johnston’s appointment, a clear indication of the danger to which Mr. Trudeau has exposed him.
Governors-general should not be used for politics, either during or after their terms. The office’s independence must be safeguarded.
Then there is the clear and present danger to our institutions. Canadians need to have full confidence that our elections are not being influenced by foreign powers. They also deserve full disclosure from the Liberals.
Rather than do that, the Liberals are bending every effort to keep the issue out of the public eye, clearly preferring the resulting political damage to the perils of an open, independent inquiry.
It’s telling that Mr. Trudeau announced his action plan on foreign interference two weeks ago, more than 17 months after the 2021 election and only after The Globe brought the depth of Beijing’s meddling into public view.
The Prime Minister still refuses to implement a public inquiry. He refuses to allow the parliamentary committee investigating the matter to go about its business. And he continues to refuse to answer the three questions that Canadians deserve answers to: What did he know about Beijing’s meddling? When did he know it? And what did he do about it?