Former governor general David Johnston says he will have a hand in determining his own mandate as special rapporteur on foreign interference in recent federal elections.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped the former governor general and legal scholar on Wednesday to probe allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, which were reported by Global News and the Globe and Mail.
In a statement to The Canadian Press, Johnston described attempts to undermine the country’s democracy as “serious matters” and said he was “privileged” to have accepted the appointment.
“I will work with officials to finalize the mandate, which will be made public promptly, to look into foreign interference in the last two federal general elections, and make appropriate recommendations on how to further protect our democracy and uphold Canadians’ confidence in it,” he said.
Federal opposition parties are divided over Johnston’s appointment.
The Conservatives have said he is too close to Trudeau and the Bloc Quebecois alleged he has been “chummy” with China.
While the NDP has voiced support for Johnston’s appointment, it has joined the Tories and Bloc in continuing to call for a public inquiry into the allegations of foreign meddling.
On Friday, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of launching “horrific, partisan attacks” on Johnston, and sidestepped questions about his own relationship with Johnston.
He instead defended the former governor general, who was appointed to that role on the recommendation of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, as a Canadian of the highest integrity.
“David Johnston has served this country in many, many different ways through a long and unimpeachable career,” Trudeau said.
If the Liberals had been hoping the appointment would put a lid on the partisan fighting that has surrounded the allegations, that hasn’t been the case.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has criticized Trudeau for appointing someone he once described as a “family friend,” while noting the former viceregal is also a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
The foundation, which supports mentorship programs for aspiring scholars and leaders, has figured prominently in the Tories’ allegations about links between Trudeau and China.
Trudeau did not specifically address his personal relationship with Johnston or the rapporteur’s role on the foundation bearing his father’s name when asked by reporters.
The prime minister accused the Conservatives of being more concerned with scoring political points than defending Canada’s democracy.
“There is no better name than David Johnston, which makes it so astonishing, but also so clarifying, to see the Conservative party simply not interested in actually getting answers,” Trudeau said.
“They are engaging in horrific partisan attacks against a man of extraordinary integrity.”