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Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc speaks during a news conference following the resignation of David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2023.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the Liberal government is now open to setting up a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian elections.

Mr. LeBlanc called a news conference Saturday to discuss what the government plans to do in the aftermath of former governor-general David Johnston’s resignation as special rapporteur on Chinese state foreign interference.

“A public inquiry has never been off the table. All options remain on the table,” he told reporters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had accepted the advice of Mr. Johnston who had recommended against a public inquiry, despite three votes by the majority of MPs to call for one.

In the coming days, Mr. LeBlanc said he will hold talks with legal and national security experts and specifically the opposition on whether to continue with the public hearings planned by Mr. Johnston or set up an inquiry headed by a judge with full subpoena powers and the right to cross examination witnesses.

But Mr. LeBlanc said the opposition must take the offer seriously and put forward suggestions on who could lead a public inquiry and the terms of references that include measures to safeguard sensitive national security information.

“We have always said this next process should include a public process but we are now giving the opposition parties something they have asked for that, a chance to have input into the process and not just stand up in Question Period and demand a public inquiry and not offer any constructive suggestions,” he said.

Mr. LeBlanc said he hopes the parties will offer their suggestions on who should lead a public inquiry within the coming days.

He said many eminent Canadians might not want to take on the job given the partisan attacks on Mr. Johnston.

“If we can lower the partisan temperature, have a serious conversation about a serious issue, we are confident we could find the right eminent person to lead this next public phase,” he said.

Mr. LeBlanc said the government has not ruled out naming another special rapporteur to hold hearings over the summer if the opposition parties are unable to come up with acceptable terms of reference and an eminent judge to head an independent inquiry.

“If we can come up with a public process that benefits from the support of opposition parties, it will be easier to have an eminent Canadian come forward and agree to lead that process,” he added.

The Conservatives issued a statement saying the government must commit to an independent inquiry before they agree to talk to the government.

“Liberals must end the cover up and announce a public inquiry now. Only once they finally follow the will of Canadians and Parliament to call an open and independent public inquiry will Conservatives discuss further details,” said Sebastian Skamski, media director to Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

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