Interferences, Poilievre will not meet Johnston: “His work is fake”

TORONTO – Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is refusing to meet with the government’s special rapporteur on foreign interference in Canada, David Johnston, because his is a “fake job” entrusted to someone who is not impartial. The leaders of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois have already met with the special rapporteur called to determine whether or not the federal government should launch a public inquiry into the interference: only Poilievre, therefore, has refused the meeting. 

In conversation with CBC, a Poilievre spokesman said Johnston’s team had only been offered a 48-hour “window” to meet, which was not on the Conservative leader’s schedule, but in a statement released hours later, the director of media relations Sebastian Skamski stated that Poilievre’s refusal to meet was not due to scheduling. “Mr Johnston is a ski buddy, neighbor and family friend of the Prime Minister” Skamski said, also describing the role of special rapporteur as “a fake job”. And then he cited Johnston’s previous role with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation as another cause for concern. The Foundation accepted a $140,000 donation that has become the subject of controversy in recent months after the Globe and Mail reported it was directed by Beijing in an attempt to influence Justin Trudeau (the money was later returned in mid-April). So, according to Skamski, Johnston should “immediately turn this work over to someone impartial to hold a full and independent public inquiry”.

The Prime Minister dismissed criticism of Johnston as “horrible partisan attacks against a man of extraordinary integrity”. And Trudeau himself has repeatedly stated that he has not been involved with the Foundation named after his father for years and that he was unaware of the donation. Despite Poilievre’s refusal to meet, his office has shown some cooperation with the special rapporteur, Skamski said, acceding to an e-mail request for information about any past experience with potential foreign interference. These experiences are limited, given that Poilievre was the leader of the opposition for only a few months and has not yet led the party in a general election, the spokesman said.

CBC has tried to contact Johnston for comment but the Privy Council Office, which deals with Johnston’s media inquiries, said given “the independence and ongoing nature of his work” it would be inappropriate to discuss the details of his meetings.

Both NDP and Bloc leaders, we said, met with Johnston. “It was a productive meeting, we stressed the need for a public inquiry” said Anne McGrath, national director of the NDP, citing Canadians’ anxieties over the issue of foreign interference. She met with Johnston on May 1 along with party leader Jagmeet Singh and Vancouver-East Congresswoman Jenny Kwan, who previously had a video call with CSIS to discuss potential Chinese lobbying against her.

The Bloc Québécois, with its leader Yves-François Blanchet and René Villemure, met with the special rapporteur a week ago. “I told him we wanted nothing less than an independent inquiry and that this should happen as fast as possible” Blanchet said.

Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May said her party was “not consulted” by Johnston’s office.

Johnston is set to call a public inquiry into foreign election interference by next Tuesday, along with other recommendations. The government has said it will abide by all its decisions.