David Johnston, who served a seven-year stint as Queen Elizabeth’s designated representative to Canada, has been tapped to study classified documents on Chinese interference in Canada following major intelligence leaks to the media.
Johnston said in a statement on Friday that he accepted the job believing it would improve trust in Canada’s democratic institutions and blamed politics for his decision to quit.
« I have concluded that given the highly partisan atmosphere around my appointment and my work, my leadership has had the opposite effect, » Johnston said in a resignation letter addressed to Trudeau, promising to leave before the end of June.
Johnston promised to deliver a « short final report » before the end of his shortened term.
He gave the prime minister advice to anticipate the potential politicization of his successor: « Ideally, you should consult with opposition parties to identify suitable candidates to lead this effort. »
Johnston was named based on decades of service as a law professor and university president. In 2007, he drafted the terms of reference for a public inquiry into a high-profile scandal involving former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. A Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, appointed Johnston governor-general in 2010. He also moderated the debates of two federal leaders. In 2018, Trudeau named him first commissioner of a new debate commission.
Opposition politicians said he was biased due to a friendship with Trudeau and his former affiliation with a charitable foundation that bears the Trudeau family name.
Johnston initially side-stepped, insisting his tenure came from the prime minister. But amid a growing chorus of calls from Parliament, opinion pages in newspapers and a slew of experts to hold a formal public inquiry instead, he finally relented. The House of Commons even voted in favor of a non-binding motion calling for his resignation.
Foreign interference has exploded on the Canadian political scene this year following a series of high-profile leaks from Canada’s top spy agency.
Leaked intelligence said Beijing tried to meddle in Canadian elections and that a diplomat was gathering information about a Canadian lawmaker and his family overseas as part of an influence campaign.
The diplomat in question was expelled in May, following a quick in-kind response from China, adding strain to an already strained relationship.
Johnston’s resignation is a major victory for Trudeau’s rival, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who has repeatedly cast his appointment as special rapporteur as evidence of cronyism, calling the post a « phony job ».