Slimy assault on David Johnston’s reputation is unforgivable

Canadians expect sensationalist politics from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, but hold higher expectations for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his party.

by Michael Harris

HALIFAX—The ghastly shitshow currently dominating Canada’s national politics is a multi-level disgrace. 

The slimy assault on the reputation and character of David
Johnston is unforgivable. If he had recommended a public inquiry into China’s alleged interference in Canadian elections, the same people who are slagging him would be carrying him around on their shoulders.

Make no mistake about it. Johnston’s only sin is that he didn’t give them what they wanted: a political club to bludgeon the government.

Unlike his puerile detractors, Johnston had reasons for making the call that he did. And under the right conditions—conditions befitting a national security inquiry—he was  willing to share them with all party leaders who wanted to be informed.

But the swift-boaters in opposition, led by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, prefer not to see the top-secret documents, complete with an annex. They prefer innuendo to information. They prefer not knowing what John-
ston has come to know. They prefer instead to lead an opposition witch-hunt to remove the former governor general from his job as special rapporteur, burning his reputation to the ground in the process. And, of course, that is part of the wider game: scandal-mongering Prime Minister Justin Trudeau out of office.

The CPC under Pierre Poilievre is merely a branch plant of MAGA Republicans practising the same smash-mouth politics.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s prominent involvement in this partisan abuse of power is another matter. He knows that Johnston is a government appointment. The opposition has no authority to demand his resignation. That’s why the NDP motion was non-binding. Nor does the opposition have any rational right to bloviate about their lack of trust in Johnston without taking the trouble to find out why he recommended against calling a public inquiry in the first place.

Canadians have come to expect National Inquirer-style politics from Poilievre. His irksome innuendo about why Trudeau left a teaching job mid-semester tells you all you need to know about this Trump wannabe. Most of his caucus gave him a standing ovation. No surprise there.

But more is expected of Singh and the NDP. And frankly, the position Singh has staked out doesn’t make sense.

Singh hasn’t ruled out accepting the security clearance that would allow him to view the top-secret documents that formed the basis of Johnston’s report. But he wants assurances that he can talk about it without running afoul of the Official Secrets Act. He also wants more of his members to receive intelligence briefings.

Yet without knowing what is in those documents, his party brought in a motion expressing no confidence in Johnston and inviting him to quit. Thankfully—and correctly Johnston shoved back at the bullies and stayed put.

If Singh really thinks that the fix is in—that Johnston is Trudeau’s toady, put there to do his bidding, and that only a public inquiry can get to the bottom of China’s attempted interference in Canadian elections— he should stop playing games and get down to brass tacks.

He needs to start by getting that security clearance and
reading the documents so that he knows what he’s talking about. Forget about the Official Secrets Act. If what the NDP leader finds out confirms his view that a public inquiry is needed, he needs to suck it up and tell Canadians that.

And right after that, he needs to abandon his deal with the Liberals to keep this minority government in power until 2025. Never mind about what happens to him personally. Surely the leader of the NDP doesn’t have less public-spirited courage than the intelligence source who leaked this murky story to the press.

Singh’s assertion that he won’t trigger an election until confi-
dence is restored in Canada’s electoral process is absurd. For
one thing, it is more likely than not that a full-fledged public
inquiry would not complete its work before the next election. How could such a process “restore” anything if Canadians voted before they could read an inquiry’s findings?

More to the point, who says that Canadians have lost faith in the integrity of the country’s electoral system? As hard as
Poilievre, Singh, and others have tried to create mistrust, there is zero evidence that system is broken. All there is so far is an intelligence leak that has yet to be tested, and innuendo from the likes of former prime minister Stephen Harper, who recently told the right-wing Fraser Institute: “I suspect it’s far worse than we think.”

Given the amount of propaganda that has been rolled out by the opposition and their media echo chambers, it would pay to remember a little history here.

This is not the first time that CSIS has warned the federal government about China’s alleged interference in Canadian
elections. Back in 2010, then CSIS director Richard Fadden
gave a speech at a Royal Canadian Military Institute event to
a collection of police officers, intelligence experts, and military officials.

A few months after that speech, the CBC reported what Fadden said. He alleged that there was foreign interference in Canadian politics. He said that several municipal politicians in British Columbia, and at least two cabinet ministers in other provinces, were under the influence of the Chinese government.

By 2010, the government of Stephen Harper had the CSIS report in which those allegations were made. So what happened?

The House Public Safety and National Security Committee
demanded clarifications from Fadden. When Fadden was asked if he should apologize to the Chinese-Canadian community for his remarks, he said no. “I think the foreign power is the problem.”

The committee recommended that Fadden resign, and that Harper issue a public apology for his CSIS director’s allegations. Instead, the Harper government entered into mammoth economic deals with China, despite Fadden’s allegations, which he never took back.

Nine per cent of Syncrude
was sold to Sinopec, the giant
Chinese petroleum and chemical

Then-industry minister Tony Clement applauded the $4.6-billion deal as he toured the new Bethune Museum in Gravenhurst, Ont., riding in a rickshaw with the Chinese national anthem blaring from speakers.

Then came the $15.1-billion Nexen deal, which saw the Canadian energy company pass into the hands of the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company.

The Harper government even provided the Chinese with a custom-made law to protect their investments in Canada. The Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement allowed Chinese companies to seek redress if any law passed by any level of government in Canada threatened their profits. Any court action would be held in secret.

What Harper and his acolyte Poilievre didn’t do was clamour for a public inquiry into alleged Chinese interference in Canadian politics.

I suppose Poilievre has evolved since the days of rickshaw rides and high-rolling. You decide into what.


(Michael Harris is an award-winning author and journalist, you can read more of his article through his website.)

The article was first published by The Hill Times.

The cover photo by Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS


Voices & Bridges publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive discussion and debate on important issues. Views represented in the articles are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the V&B.