Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says he chose not to meet with former governor general David Johnston, who is investigating allegations of China’s meddling in Canada’s elections and other matters.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Johnston as a special rapporteur to look into possible gaps in the federal government’s response to foreign interference — and recommend whether a public inquiry is needed.
Poilievre argues Johnston is unable to do that work independently because he used to be a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which is under scrutiny for accepting a donation reportedly linked to the Chinese government.
Poilievre told reporters Thursday that he sent a letter to Johnston asking him how he can investigate the organization independently, but did not receive a response.
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“He is Justin Trudeau’s ski buddy, his cottage neighbor, his family friend and a member of the Trudeau Foundation, which got $140,000 from Beijing,” Poilievre said.
“He has a fake job and he’s unable to do it impartially. He needs to simply hand it over and allow an independent public inquiry into Beijing’s interference.”
Poilievre’s comments made reference to past remarks made by Johnston and Trudeau.
Johnston, who was appointed governor general by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, told CTV in 2016 that his family’s friendship with the Trudeaus went back decades and they used to ski together.
He also said his wife had also become good friends with the Trudeau family when they all lived on the grounds of Rideau Hall.
In 2017, when Johnston’s term ended, Trudeau called him a “family friend” during a speech in Parliament.
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Poilievre said Canada needs to move on from the “special rapporteur distraction” and get on with a public inquiry to investigate allegations of Chinese foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did meet with Johnston, alongside Vancouver-area MP Jenny Kwan, who had not yet been advised that she was a potential target of foreign interference.
“We asked Jenny to attend as she has been very active hearing from the Chinese community about their concerns regarding foreign interference,” the NDP said in a statement.
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“Much of the discussion on the issue publicly has focused on politicians and we wanted to ensure that the impact on everyday people was considered.”
The party said it initiated the meeting request, and Singh used the opportunity to ask that Johnston recommend a public inquiry.
Johnston, author of “Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country,” has served on the boards of more than a dozen public companies, and was named a member of the Trudeau Foundation in 2018.
His mandate in the special rapporteur role includes looking at what Trudeau, his staff and his cabinet ministers knew about attempted interference by bad actors, and what they did about it. The government says he has access to classified documents to support that investigation.
He is expected to issue recommendations on whether or not a public inquiry is necessary by next week, but he has until the end of October to complete his review.
© 2023 The Canadian Press