OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is committed to keeping David Johnston in place as Canada's special rapporteur on foreign interference, despite a majority of MPs voting in favour of his stepping down from the gig.
Trudeau said in Toronto Friday that he looks forward to public hearings the governor general is expected to hold "across the country" over the coming months before he releases a final report by the end of October.
"He is taking very seriously this question, and he is digging into the facts," Trudeau said.
The House of Commons passed an NDP motion earlier this week, with the support of Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs, that urged Johnston to step aside and asked the government to call a public inquiry.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said in Winnipeg today that Johnston has to go but wouldn't name a potential replacement.
"All the parties in the House of Commons should come together and agree on someone who is not partisan, not connected to any party leader and who has a track record of objectivity, preferably as a judge," he said.
Poilievre has criticized the special rapporteur role as a "fake job" and questioned Johnston's ability to objectively scrutinize the Liberal government's handling of alleged foreign meddling because of his ties to the Trudeau family.
Poilievre is refusing to review a classified portion of Johnston's initial report into foreign interference, saying it would silence him from criticizing the federal government on the subject.
Johnston has defended his integrity and downplayed his connections to the prime minister, saying this week he intends to stay on in his role.
"When I accepted the mandate to act as independent special rapporteur, I did so with full knowledge of the fact that the work ahead would be neither straightforward nor uncontroversial," Johnston said in a statement earlier this week.
"I deeply respect the right of the House of Commons to express its opinion about my work going forward, but my mandate comes the government. I have a duty to pursue that work until my mandate is completed."
Trudeau accused Poilievre and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet of letting political arguments and political attacks get in the way of facts.
"They have refused to get security briefings on the actual facts surrounding the intelligence and the question of foreign interference, because they want to continue to smear a man of unimpeachable integrity and deep commitment and service to Canada," Trudeau said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.
David Fraser, The Canadian Press