The House of Representatives votes for David Johnston to leave a special position, while Trudeau dismisses criticism

OTTAWA — The House of Commons has voted to ask David Johnston to resign as leader of an investigation into allegations of foreign interference.

OTTAWA — The House of Commons has voted to ask David Johnston to resign as leader of an investigation into allegations of foreign interference.

The motion put forward by the NDP passed 174 to 150 on Wednesday, with the support of the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois, while the Liberals opposed it.

He called on Johnston, who was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March to investigate allegations that China tried to meddle in the past two federal elections, to “step back from his role.”

He called on the government instead to launch a public inquiry into the issue of foreign interference, which the former governor-general recommended against in his initial report last week.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau said he maintained confidence in Johnston, despite the stance of opposition MPs.

Opposition parties initially denounced his appointment because of Johnston’s family connections to the Prime Minister’s family and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Trudeau dismissed those concerns, telling reporters he sees the issue as political parties wanting to score “partisan points.”

“The fact is that David Johnston has served this country in extraordinary capacities for decades,” Trudeau said Wednesday on his way to a meeting with his Liberal caucus.

“He’s taken this incredibly seriously.”

Government House leader Mark Holland has said he has been trying to negotiate with opposition parties to find additional avenues to address concerns about foreign interference that go beyond what has already been offered.

Holland has repeatedly said that the hyperpolitical rhetoric around public discussions has backfired, but he did not elaborate on what else the government is offering.

Johnston said in his report that due to the sensitive nature of the national security and intelligence he studied, there would be no way to publicly release the information Canadians seek. He said that would defeat the purpose of a public inquiry.

He said what he plans to do instead is hold a series of public hearings to further investigate the issue.

Those hearings would focus on hearing from former and current government officials, as well as members of diaspora communities affected by attempted foreign interference.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has tried to walk a fine line in promoting the motion. He has been saying that while he has no qualms with Johnston, he understands that others do and that creates an appearance of bias that taints his work.

The motion was introduced by NDP Jenny Kwan. She recently told reporters that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service informed her that she has been a target of China since before the 2019 federal vote, due to her advocacy of human rights in China.

Trudeau has dismissed allegations that Johnston is in a conflict of interest as politically motivated attacks without any basis in fact.

Speaking to reporters last week, Johnston also defended his work, saying this was the first time his impartiality had been called into question, calling it “troubling”.

He has said his “friendship” with the prime minister traces its roots only to the five or so times their families went skiing together decades ago.

Trudeau was also a student at McGill University at the time Johnston was serving as Principal and Vice Chancellor.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 31, 2023.

Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press