An inquiry of ministry by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner has forced the feds to reveal that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handpicked “special rapporteur” and former governor general David Johnston had $5 million in expenses allotted to assist him in his role investigating Chinese election interference via sole-sourced contracts that went to Liberal insiders.
Johnston dismissed the need for a public inquiry into foreign interference, citing the cost of the process.
The order paper requested funding and contract details to be disclosed on Navigator, a public relations firm and crisis think-tank hired by Johnston to assist with his closed-door investigations.
The firm was hired to provide “communications and advice support.” As reported by the Globe and Mail, those ties were subsequently cut by Johnston after revelations that the firm may have been representing now-independent (former Liberal) MP Han Dong.
Dong was accused of being a willing participant in foreign interference and was a subject under investigation by Johnston, calling into question the firm’s impartiality.
The inquiry further detailed that $5 million was set aside for Johnston for use on support systems required to fulfill his mandate. Navigator received the sole-sourced contract, which was subbed out from the legal firm retained to assist Johnston in his examination of confidential intelligence documents, Torys LLP.
Details show that the contract's total value reached $4,496,887.50 over a six-month period. It also shows that “expenses are not anticipated to reach the full value of the contract, in light of the Independent Special Rapporteur finalizing his work earlier than expected.”
In June, Johnston resigned in disgrace after being dogged by conflict of interest accusations, with the House of Commons passing a motion requesting he step back from the position.
Concerns about Liberal links to Torys LLP were raised by the ethics-monitoring organization Democracy Watch after it was determined that the lead Torys LLP litigator hired by Johnston, who was responsible for “obtaining, reviewing and analyzing” documents pertinent to his report on foreign interference, was Sheila Block — a longtime Liberal donor.
Donor records revealed that Block had donated $7,593.38 to the Liberals over the years, with the most recent donation in 2022. Democracy Watch had previously filed a complaint with the federal ethics commissioner over Johnston’s unusual appointment, citing violations of the Conflict of Interest Act.
In addition to Johnston’s longstanding relationships with high-ranking Liberals, including Justin Trudeau, his past ties to China brought his objectivity to study the issue of foreign interference into disrepute.
The former governor general made numerous trips to China, where three of his children were educated, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Nanjing University in 2012 for his work establishing Confucius Institutes in Canada. The institutes were later identified as national security risks, and many of the establishments have since been barred from operating.
Johnston once claimed in Nanjing that it was his “home away from home.”
The investigation was further derailed after committee testimony undermined Johnston's initial report, which showed that he had received a curated supply of incomplete documents and intelligence briefings to make his final determinations on the scope of foreign interference.
His findings directly conflicted with testimony made by former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.
When pressed under questioning, Johnston claimed in the same committee that the full public inquiry demanded by opposition parties and the public alike would be too lengthy and “expensive” to pursue, in his opinion, and would not result in “providing a light.”
A new public inquiry headed by a judge agreed to by all federal party leaders commenced proceedings on September 18. The initial report is expected to be delivered in early 2024.