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Tory attacks on David Johnston are ‘unseemly’: Minister

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the Tories’ personal attacks on former Governor General David Johnston – who is due to reveal on Tuesday whether he believes a public inquiry into foreign interference is necessary – are “unseemly “.

LeBlanc, who is also the minister responsible for overseeing democratic institutions, told CTV Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview that aired Sunday that Johnston is a “seasoned statesman in the public affairs, public service and the law”, and that Canadians should judge him. for his report, rather than being “unduly agitated by the negativity of (Conservative Leader Pierre) Poilievre”.

Johnston was appointed special rapporteur in March amid growing concerns about foreign interference in Canada, particularly regarding the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

When he was selected, opposition MPs were quick to question the decision. In particular, Johnston has come under fire for his close relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his involvement with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which has also been at the center of foreign interference allegations in recent months.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has repeatedly questioned Johnston’s neutrality, while also criticizing the role of the special rapporteur.

“He’s Justin Trudeau’s ski buddy, cabin neighbor, family friend and member of the Trudeau Foundation, which received $140,000 from Beijing,” Poilievre told reporters Thursday. “He has a bogus job and he’s unable to do it in an unbiased way.”

LeBlanc said the focus should be on Johnston’s work and the recommendations he’s about to make.

“I think the way the Tories attacked Mr Johnston personally was unseemly,” he said. “He is someone who has never played a partisan role.”

But when pressed on the prospect of tapping Johnston for the role of special rapporteur, and while LeBlanc understands that the choice could harm Canadians’ confidence in Johnston’s reports and recommendations, LeBlanc said that he “hopes not”.

“It’s convenient for Mr. Poilievre to destroy institutions, to damage reputations. He does it regularly. He may be responsible for it,” LeBlanc said. “We believe the vast majority of Canadians understand Mr. Johnston’s integrity, his service to the country.

“We uphold Mr. Johnston’s record of non-partisan service to Canada in leadership positions, including Governor General, as appointed by Mr. Poilievre’s former boss, Stephen Harper,” he said. he also stated. “And Canadians will judge Mr. Johnston by the report he released on Tuesday.

Since Johnston was tasked with judging whether a public inquiry into foreign interference is necessary, concern around the issue has grown.

Earlier this month, a Chinese diplomat was expelled from Canada for allegedly trying to threaten Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family in 2021. Chong and Trudeau said they first learned of the threats from the media, when they were reported by the Globe and Mail. .

“Obviously we said it was unacceptable that the minister responsible at the time and the prime minister were not made aware,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a flaw in the flow of information within the government. We’ve fixed that.

The Canadian Press reported this week that Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has issued a formal directive to Canada’s spy agency to disclose any foreign threats against parliamentarians and their families to the targeted MP and the government.

LeBlanc would not say how many Chinese diplomats may have been involved in similar plots, or who are under investigation for attempted interference, but said “the government is aware of the magnitude of these activities and appropriate measures both to protect democratic institutions and the electoral system are in place.

“I’m very confident that all the gaps that existed a year or two ago have been fully closed, and the situation is exactly where it needs to be,” he also said.

Johnston is due to make his recommendation on a public inquiry this week, but his work will continue through October, with the aim of assessing the extent and impact of foreign interference in Canada’s elections and examining the response. government to foreign interference, among other objectives. provided for in its terms of reference.

LeBlanc said while he doesn’t know what Johnston will recommend, the government is “committed to following (his) advice.”

With files from CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha

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