David Johnston – tasked in March by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with investigating allegations that China tried to interfere in the past two federal elections – says he has decided to step down from his post.
In a letter of resignation to Trudeau, Johnston said his role has become too muddled in the political controversy to continue.
“When I took on the role of independent Special Rapporteur on foreign interference, my goal was to help build trust in our democratic institutions,” the former governor-general wrote.
“I have concluded that given the highly partisan atmosphere surrounding my appointment and work, my leadership has had the opposite effect.”
A government source said Johnston made his own decision to step down and was not asked to step down by the Prime Minister’s office.
Since his appointment, Johnston has been accused of being unfit for the job because of his personal connections to Trudeau.
The leaders of the Conservative and Bloc Québécois parties have both said that Trudeau and Johnston are self-professed friends and that their longstanding ties are too close for Johnston to judge the prime minister’s actions.
Johnston has said that although he was friends with Pierre Trudeau and skied with the Trudeau family when Justin Trudeau and his brothers were children, he has not had any meetings, dinners or personal contact with Trudeau in the past 40 years.
LOOK | Johnston says he has no regrets taking the role
That did not stop opposition parties from questioning Johnston’s investigation into foreign interference. Even the NDP — which currently has an offer-and-trust deal with the governing Liberals — tabled a motion in the House calling for Johnston to resign over an “appearance of bias”. The motion passed with support from the Conservatives and the bloc.
At the time, Johnston said he intended to stay on until his term of office was complete.
In his first report released last month, Johnston recommended no public inquiry into foreign interference – despite opposition parties and diaspora groups requesting it.
Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc took aim at the Conservatives after Johnston’s announcement.
“The Conservative Party’s partisan attacks against the former governor-general were baseless and unacceptable. Democracy requires us to rise above partisan considerations,” he said in a statement.
But Conservative leader Pierre Poilièvre blamed the Liberals for putting Johnston in a difficult position and reiterated his demand for a public inquiry.
“(Trudeau) destroyed the reputation of a former governor general to cover up his own refusal to defend Canada from foreign interests and threats,” he said in a tweet.
Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett told CBC that Trudeau “set Johnston on the wrong foot” by not calling a public inquiry from the start.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted that Johnston had “done the right thing” and again called on the government to launch a public inquiry.
LOOK | NDP House Leader reacts to Johnston’s resignation
In a separate statement, Singh said he respected Johnston but had “fallen victim to the Liberal government’s clumsy handling of foreign interference”.
“When we tabled our motion calling on the Special Rapporteur to resign, we said the appearance of bias was too great to proceed. I have always thought Mr Johnston is an honorable man and today’s decision shows that,” said Singh.
Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole took a similar tone, tweeting that Johnston is an “exceptional Canadian” and that his service to Canada was “extraordinary.”
“It is so disappointing that the Prime Minister used his great reputation as a political shield,” O’Toole said.
LOOK | Bloc Québécois MP says Johnston ‘did the right thing’
Bloc Québécois ethics critic René Villemure told Breaking: Network’s Power & Politics that resignation was “the only option” for Johnston. He also said his party still hopes the government will launch a public inquiry.
“I think it’s time we move on, do something right and educate the public about the risks and what’s at stake,” he told presenter David Cochrane.
Prior to his resignation, questions were also raised about the individuals Johnston worked with during his investigation.
On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail reported that Sheila Block, a lawyer Johnston hired to help him with his work, has donated to the Liberal Party in the past.
Read Johnston’s letter of resignation:
Johnston also told the Proceedings and House Affairs Committee on Tuesday that he received unpaid informal advice from Don Guy, former chief of staff to former Liberal Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, and Brian Topp, chief of staff to Rachel Notley when she became the NDP prime minister. used to be. from Alberta.
CBC also reported last week that Johnston hired communications crisis firm Navigator at the start of his tenure, and taxpayers footed the bill.
Johnston cut ties with the company after it was revealed that Navigator had also worked with Independent MP Han Dong, who was the subject of the former governor-general’s initial investigation and report.
LOOK | Former Conservative national campaign manager on Johnston’s resignation
In his letter of resignation, Johnston stressed that he does not think a public inquiry would be a “useful way” to address foreign interference, as much of the intelligence related to the matter is classified. But he called on Trudeau to appoint a new draftsman.
“Ideally, you will consult with opposition parties to find suitable candidates to lead this effort,” he wrote.
Johnston was scheduled to begin public hearings next month. In his letter he calls on them to continue under new leadership.
The letter states that he will resign at the latest by the end of June after delivering a short final report.
LeBlanc’s statement said he would consult experts and opposition parties about a replacement for Johnston.