Uncertainty in Ottawa after David Johnston’s resignation
TORONTO – David Johnston’s resignation pushes Canada’s political class on their heels and disrupts both the government and the opposition. The decision by the former Governor General of Canada to relinquish the post of independent Special Rapporteur in the controversial story of Chinese interference has created a sort of short circuit in Ottawa. The Prime Minister will be forced to indicate the next steps to untangle this complicated mess.
Jumping into the fray, the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, Dominic LeBlanc, on Saturday, indicated that all options are on the table. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has two options. Will he replace Johnston with ’another authoritative and respected personality’ who enjoys the consensus and trust of the opposition parties; or will it be necessary, after the institutional impasse of recent weeks, to listen to the demands of the Conservative Party, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois and establish a real public inquiry into foreign political interference.
Johnston, on this point, had been quite clear: having ascertained that in the last two elections Beijing tried, without quantifiable success, to influence the results of the vote, it was not necessary to activate a public inquiry. Doing so would have compelled the investigation of classified documents, and, publicizing them would endanger national security. According to Johnston, the best tool to deal with this type of situation should be public hearings, carried out by a panel chaired by him.
Johnston’s recommendation did not please the opposition parties. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre accused the former governor-general of simply serving the interests of the Prime Minister, his longtime family friend. In addition, the Tory leader pointed out that Johnston, having made donations to the Trudeau Foundation, was in a position of conflict of interest.
NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, criticizing Johnston’s work, presented a non-binding motion to the House of Commons in which the special rapporteur was asked to step back and resign. This motion had received the majority of votes in the House, but, not being binding, it had no effect on the position of the former Governor General.
Last Friday, Johnston introduced the latest twist. He himself decided to leave the post entrusted to him by the Prime Minister, citing the toxic climate of political partisanship that had been created in Ottawa after the presentation of his report on foreign interference in the Canadian electoral process.
Now Johnston’s resignation could open the door to two possible scenarios. The first is that of a desirable restart of dialogue between the government and the opposition to seek the best solution on how to deal with the delicate issue.
On this, Minister LeBlanc invited the opposition to present a list of names for the possible replacement of Johnston. Then he opened the possibility of creating a public inquiry as requested by the Conservative Party and the NDP.
The second scenario, however, may possibly result in the exacerbation of the tones between the Executive and the Opposition, and the deterioration of relations in the House of Commons, with the government going its own way without the non-partisan consensus that would instead be necessary to shed light on such a delicate and controversial matter.
So far, the political reactions emerging from Johnston’s resignation are not encouraging of positive impressions.
“Trudeau has destroyed the reputation of a former Governor General all to cover up his own refusal to defend Canada from foreign interests and threats”, Poilievre said in a post on Twitter. According to the conservative leader, the blame falls on the Liberals, for putting Johnston in a very uncomfortable position from which the former Governor General had no choice but to resign.
It’s time our political class showed a sign of maturity: put aside individual partisan interests and agree on a shared path to shed light on an issue that can have repercussions in the defense of our democracy. If our leaders don’t understand this, it will be a defeat for everyone.