Canadian MPs passed a non-binding motion Wednesday calling on special rapporteur David Johnston to step aside from his role investigating allegations of foreign interference in Canadian elections, which Johnston quickly rejected. The vote comes as the latest development in the ongoing furor over whether Canada should launch a public inquiry on the matter of foreign election interference, particularly with respect to China, which Prime Minister Trudeau has controversially refused to do.
Johnston’s tenure as special rapporteur has been marked by accusations that he is unfit for the position due to conflicts of interest—Johnston and Trudeau are self-described friends, and it recently emerged that Johnston’s legal advisor had made donations to the governing Liberal Party. The motion, put forward by NDP member Jenny Kwan, called on the government to “urgently establish a public commission of inquiry” led by “an individual selected with unanimous support from all recognized parties in the House.”
In a statement to the press, Johnston replied: “I deeply respect the right of the House of Commons to express its opinion about my work going forward, but my mandate comes the government. I have a duty to pursue that work until my mandate is completed.”
Trudeau has steadfastly defended Johnston’s role as special rapporteur as well as his decision to not conduct a public inquiry. In response to the vote, Trudeau maintained that “the fact of the matter is David Johnston has served this country in extraordinary capacities for decades,” stating that “it’s understandable that political parties want to make partisan points on this.”
In Johnston’s first report on foreign election interference, he recommended against holding a public inquiry, arguing it would “not serve a useful purpose to enhance trust” as the sensitive intelligence materials needing to be studied could not be made public regardless.
Opposition leaders have repeatedly hammered the Trudeau government for its failure to conduct a public inquiry. Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre dismissed the report as being “rigged from the start,” asserting that “David Johnston, a ski buddy, cottage neighbour and family friend of Justin Trudeau, was given a fake job by the Prime Minister and tasked with sweeping Trudeau’s coverup under the rug.”
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, has taken a more restrained approach to his criticisms, but nevertheless called on Johnston to step down due to the “clear appearance of bias” undermining his position.
As the Liberal Party holds a minority government, they currently rely on the NDP’s support to pass legislation and avoid an election. Singh has, however, resisted calls to rescind that support, stating that “If it’s just about a game to trigger an election, then sure Mr. Poilievre’s approach is tear it all down, have an election.”
“I actually don’t think this is a game. I think this is serious. I want to make sure that there are steps in place, that there are recommendations being followed that actually reinforce our democracy. I want to see people believe in voting, I want to see people confident in voting and I want to restore Canadians’ confidence in that.”