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It seems Justin Trudeau staggered over a very low bar by appointing an election-meddling rapporteur who is not an overt Liberal partisan. But at the risk of seeming persnickety, David Johnson does still have to figure out whether the Chinese Communists made a determined effort to subvert our democracy and, if so, whether senior members of the Executive Branch including the Prime Minister knew about it.

Not choosing a minion to do an obvious whitewash does not rise to the level of statesmanship. It barely qualifies as competent PR. But Trudeau chose a former senior aide to a Liberal PM, John Turner, to inquire into the invocation of the Emergency Act, and got back a report that essentially said people experience situations differently and the Prime Minister can do what he likes. And Trudeau got away with it so he was probably tempted.

As for David Johnson, there are reasons to approve of his appointment including a long and distinguished career in the Canadian public sector. But there are also reasons to worry, including that he’s an old family friend of… the Trudeaus. And a booster of the now-infamous WE charity that was very chummy with… the Trudeaus. And Commissioner of the Federal Leaders’ Debates Commission, which lost two lawsuits over excluding journalists from right-wing outlets, and to whose advisory board Johnson appointed… Craig Kielburger. Oh, and Johnson is a “member” of… the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation who helps choose its board of directors.

As the last in particular illustrates, a long distinguished career in the Canadian public sector is potentially a very worrying quality here given how permeated the Canadian Establishment is with ideological and even venal sympathy for the CCP, as Terry Glavin in particular has tirelessly exposed. Plus, the National Post’s Chris Selley rightly warned, “What Johnston is best at is not rocking boats.” Which is a great way to have a long and distinguished career in the Canadian public sector but a terrible way to get to the bottom of, say, a huge scandal in the Canadian public sector.

It’s also a potential issue that Johnson’s about to turn 82 and may not have the requisite stamina for what, we are meant to believe, will be a rigorous and wide-ranging look at the health of our electoral system. Which brings me to a much bigger worry, about the mandate not the man.

I’m all for a vigorous old age and a vigorous inquiry. But we need focus here. Which seems to be exactly what Trudeau is determined to avoid, blathering that “Mr. Johnston will have a wide mandate to look into foreign interference in the last two general elections and make expert recommendations on how to further protect our democracy”.

Never mind the “further protect,” the PM’s usual slippery use of “continue” or some equivalent from the thesaurus of political obscurantism when discussing some obviously important duty he’s flippantly neglecting. It’s the “wide mandate” that deserves narrow scrutiny.

The issue here isn’t the overall integrity of our electoral system, important as it is. It’s the very specific allegation that one enemy regime has working to undermine it in very specific ways, that by now include naming names, that the PMO was informed of it and that they ignored the warning and lied about it. It’s that allegation Johnson needs to investigate. Or someone, because he’s not an investigator, he’s a rapporteur, a title the National Post’s “Posted” skewered by renamed themselves “reporteurs” and “editeurs”.

As a commentateur I need to stress that Trudeau obviously hopes to rag the puck so long that the clock expires. “We will ask the independent special rapporteur as one of the first tasks of their mandate to provide the government with a recommendation as to what the appropriate next steps should be, whether it be an inquiry, an investigation or a judicial review,” he said.

So it’s an inquiry into an inquiry about whether to hold an inquiry. As if it were not actually obvious that the appropriate next step is an “inquiry”, an “investigation” and a “judicial review”, whatever distinction Trudeau thinks exists between them or hopes will confuse us.

Even when the mandate is not deliberately obscure, such inquiries have a way of losing their way. Remember the hapless Starr investigation into Whitewater, at the end of which nobody knew what had happened or even what had been alleged even though he nailed Clinton for perjury. Can Johnson push onward through the fog and get to the heart of the matter? Namely were Trudeau or his close aides given credible evidence that the CCP, through the United Front Work Department or some other tentacle, meddled in the 2019, 2021 or both Canadian federal elections? And if so what did they do about it?

During the U.S. Senate hearings into Watergate, it was a Republican senator who, putting country ahead of party, asked the lethal question “What did the President know and when did he know it?” And here, all filibustering aside, it’s “what did the Prime Minister know” or, if his aides had a sinister policy of deliberately not telling him things to preserve “plausible deniability”, then “what did Katie Telford know” and “why are Trudeau’s lackeys so determined not to let anyone find out?”

If we find that our electoral system is riddled with vulnerabilities exploited by a wide range of bad actors for all sorts of motives, obviously we need a wide-ranging investigation of how the situation arose, why it wasn’t detected sooner, what misdeeds were carried out and how to fix it. And it’s unclear who could conduct such an investigation if all the people charged with preventing it were obviously unfit for purpose. But if it turns out they did notice, and warned the Prime Minister, the cabinet or the PMO, who in turn sat on the information out of incompetence, disloyalty or malevolent partisanship, we need to know about it, punish the guilty, then devise mechanisms to ensure that next time the warnings cannot be hidden from law enforcement, elected officials and of course citizens.

So here’s what Johnson should do, and can do, to dispel all doubts about his appointment. Instead of dragging and spreading it out, issue an immediate public statement reading, in full, “We need an investigation by a commission with full power to subpoena and indict into (i) whether the Chinese Communist Party tried to interfere in the last two federal elections, and if so (ii) how and with what success, and (iii) whether senior public servants or Executive Branch officials were informed of the attempt, and if they were, (iv) what they did with that information and why.”

There. Had I been chosen as “rapporteur” despite my lack of cozy Establishment ties, I’d already have done my job. If Johnson does not do so because of his, and instead languidly recommends an inquiry so broad it lets Trudeau off the hook before there even is one, shame on us if we let him. And on Parliament, which can cut through all the evasions even if Liberal MPs have sold their souls for a mess of partisanship, provided the NDP is not contemptuous of democracy and honour.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.