David Johnston is out. What is next?

Former Governor General David Johnston released a letter from the ‘Office of the Independent Special Rapporteur’ late Friday, signalling his departure from his short-lived role as Justin Trudeau’s primary investigator of foreign interference.

David Johnston is out. What is next?
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His [Johnston’s] “objective was to build trust in our democratic institutions,” the letter began. Still, due to the “highly partisan atmosphere” plaguing his appointment, his leadership unfortunately had “the opposite effect.”

The resignation is hardly stunning.

The Prime Minister created a new role for a man with deep historical ties and affection for both the Trudeau family and China. Trudeau's inability to recognize the conflict of interest arguably should have been enough to disqualify him from the position from the start.

Johnston's resignation letter acknowledged his rapporteuring had only served to erode public trust in our democratic institutions further  notably, after Johnston repeatedly ignored calls for him to step down and defied a vote by Parliament to remove him. His half-hearted admission doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Johnston recommended in his letter that a new rapporteur continue the work that he and his unknown team members (which we know are in part comprised of Liberal insiders) had already completed while failing to acknowledge that  even with all partisanship claims cast aside  his report contained severe errors and flaws which should render it irredeemable and its conclusions untrustworthy.

Johnston was called to testify at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC), and it didn’t take long for his testimony to fall apart.

Johnston agreed after being pressed that he had not reviewed all the intelligence given to him. The information provided to former Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole by CSIS had not been supplied to Johnston and his team for review, leaving questions about what information was provided, how it was reviewed, and how much of it had been seen.

If this absurd investigation were to be done over from scratch and changed as desired to a public inquiry, the terms of Johnston’s very purposefully limited mandate and the scope of an investigation might expand, or different conclusions may be drawn from the same intelligence review, which would not bode very well for the ruling Liberal Party or the man that currently leads it.

While Johnston did, for all his numerous shortcomings, acknowledge that there were some “irregularities” surrounding a candidate’s nomination in the 2019 election, one has to wonder why the scope of his task was narrowed down to a tunnel-vision view of the last two federal elections only, which took place in 2019 and 2021, respectively.

There are certain indications of irregularities around at least one nomination in the 2015 federal election that have come out recently in the news. That nominee is the man who anointed Johnston as Canada’s Special Independent Rapporteur, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While crafting his report, it appeared that Johnston focused only on media allegations that claimed interference activities in the 2019 and 2021 elections. There was one hot potato dropped about our “Little Potato” (小土豆), which is the Chinese pet name for Justin Trudeau, which Johnston expertly skirted in his report: allegations made in a Globe and Mail story that Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation donor Zhang Bin had received instructions from the People’s Republic of China in 2014 to direct funds towards the foundation to gain favour with the new Liberal leader who was anticipated to win the 2015 election.

While Johnston expertly dissected and dismissed other claims against Liberals in various news stories in what was described by some as “an attack” on media, he dodged the Globe bullet altogether.

Why Johnston did not address the Globe story is not hard to understand.

Investigating the 2015 election that saw Trudeau elected was excluded from his government mandate. Studying it would have opened a whole new can of worms for not only Justin Trudeau but also for Johnston  a former Trudeau Foundation associate himself.

Diving further into the Globe allegations about Zhang Bin  a Communist Party member that met with Alexandre Trudeau and showed up later at pay-to-play fundraisers with Justin  might have gathered further details which would have been more difficult for Johnston to brush off in his lackluster report.

This has not escaped the watchful eyes of at least one astute Conservative MP.

“There were very few if any, criticisms of the current Liberal government in the report. And I found that concerning as well that you’d left out the Trudeau Foundation, given the leaked report from CSIS that $140,000 had been given through various channels from the Communist Party of China to the Trudeau Foundation,” Rachel Dancho commented.

One thing that Johnston’s sudden departure has made clear is this: there should be no more “rapporteuring.”

His report should be discarded as it is based on incomplete evidence.

Instead, it should be replaced with a full public inquiry with the terms and conditions Parliament agreed upon and voted upon.

A public inquiry need not be “public” to be effective; it can be carried out behind closed doors, but it does need to have the ability to exercise the full powers of a public inquiry: to call witnesses and have them testify under oath which can be cross-examined.

The scope of that inquiry should date back until 2013, to the time when Justin Trudeau was elected as leader of the Liberal Party (at the very least) if we hope to finally, as Johnston would say, “shine a light” into the allegations of Chinese interference that have been circulating for close to a decade now and lay them to rest once and for all.

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