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Johnston to release decision on need for public inquiry into foreign interference

OTTAWA — The man charged with recommending how best to deal with foreign interference in Canada’s federal elections will finally say whether he believes a public inquiry is necessary. 

Former governor general David Johnston, the special rapporteur appointed in March by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will issue an interim report Monday on what he considers the best way forward. 

Parliament Hill has been seized for months with whether Johnston will advise a public inquiry into whether the governing Liberals did enough to confront claims that China meddled in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

But his mandate allows for broader recommendations as well — and Johnston will announce his preferred courses of action during a long-awaited news conference  at noon ET. 

In addition to the inquiry question, Trudeau also tasked Johnston with recommending any other mechanisms or processes needed to “reinforce Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of our democratic institutions.”

His mandate also called for an assessment of the “extent and impact” of foreign interference in Canadian elections and to “determine what the government did to defend Canada against electoral interference.”

Johnston, named governor general in 2010 by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, is working with other national security agencies to identify ways they can better work together to combat foreign interference.

Opposition Conservatives are clammouring for an inquiry. Leader Pierre Poilievre refused to meet with Johnston, describing the role of special rapporteur as a “fake job.” 

Poilievre is deeply skeptical of Johnston, a former member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which is under scrutiny for accepting a donation reportedly linked to the Chinese government. 

The Conservative leader last week described him as “Justin Trudeau’s ski buddy, his cottage neighbour, his family friend and a member of the Trudeau Foundation, which got $140,000 from Beijing.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh describes Johnston as “non-partisan” and “trustworthy,” but nonetheless wants to see a public inquiry. 

The Liberals have been weathering a political storm for months over whether they took the allegations of interference seriously enough. 

An inquiry, while giving the government the chance to defend its actions, would also give the controversy more political oxygen — and it would be the second such investigation into the Liberal government in as many years. 

It would come on the heels of last year’s Public Order Emergency Commission into the federal government’s response to the 2022 “Freedom Convoy” blockades in downtown Ottawa and at the Canada-U.S. border.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2023.

David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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