Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government needs “full buy-in” by opposition parties before it takes any further steps on foreign interference, including on how it would proceed and who will oversee the process.
In his comments on Wednesday, Trudeau criticized the opposition for their conduct during former governor-general David Johnston’s brief term as special rapporteur.
“Opposition parties played terrible partisan and toxic games with the process that was independent and serious in its approach,” Trudeau said. “We do not want to see someone of the integrity of David Johnston in the future — people we might choose to do this work — attacked by the same partisan toxicity we unfortunately saw on display over the past months.”
Johnston filed his final — and confidential — report on foreign interference to Trudeau on Monday, ending his term in the role, following criticism by the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois that resulted in him resigning earlier this month.
He had said the atmosphere around his work had become too partisan amid heated questions over his past role with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and family ties to Trudeau in the form of nearby vacation homes in Quebec.
The former Conservative-appointed governor-general was named to the role in March, as the government faced mounting pressure to take action after multiple media reports, citing unnamed national security sources, that accused China of meddling in the last two federal elections.
A report in February 2023 concluded there were attempts to interfere in Canada’s 2021 election, but nothing that actually threatened the ability to have fair elections.
Opposition party leaders have stated they do not question the election results in 2021 or 2019, but want a public inquiry to ensure attempts at foreign interference are being handled appropriately.
Johnston was tasked with determining by May if that was the best option — a decision that he concluded would not be useful since the matter involved classified information.
Days after Johnston’s report was made public, in which he planned to hold public hearings to educate Canadians about how foreign interference happens and how to manage it, a majority of MPs passed a non-binding motion by the NDP calling on the special rapporteur to step down due to perceived bias. He released a statement shortly after saying he would continue his work.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre repeatedly accused Johnston of being too close to Trudeau to fulfill his role, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had said the “appearance of bias” undermined Johnston’s work and that he should step down.
Trudeau stressed Wednesday that it was important for Canadians to have confidence in the “mechanisms” and institutions used to combat foreign interference.
No decision on the latest opposition demands for a public inquiry has yet been made.
Negotiations were ongoing as recently as June 22, with NDP House leader Peter Julian telling The Canadian Press he was confident “we will get there.”
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet previously said he felt an agreement could be a few days away, and government House leader Mark Holland said one week ago that things could be decided “very soon.”
But Poilievre insisted he would not provide input on a possible commissioner or terms of reference until the government commits to an inquiry. The Liberals, however, have stressed no inquiry would be held without consensus about the details.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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