Johnston was already set to testify at committee before opposition demanded he appear
David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, is pictured on the screens of translators as he presents his first report in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa
Canada’s foreign interference watchdog David Johnston was already scheduled to testify before opposition MPs demanded his appearance in a letter this week, a parliamentary committee chair said Thursday.
Liberal MP Bardish Chagger said at a hearing the House of Commons procedure committee invited Johnston to appear two months ago, and he is already scheduled to appear in less than two weeks.
Opposition members of the committee wrote a letter this week demanding Johnston’s testimony after his first report on alleged foreign meddling was published Tuesday.
The Conservative, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs said they want the former governor general to explain why he decided against recommending a public inquiry on foreign meddling.
Liberal MPs accused Conservatives of being irresponsible by implying that there was any reluctance on Johnston’s part to talk to the committee.
“There is no lengths the opposition will not go to tarnish an individual’s reputation … who, to me, does not deserve it in any way,” said Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull.
“They don’t like the conclusions in the report, so they’re trying to create the misconception that he’s not forthcoming or willing to come to our committee, which is the opposite of the truth.”
Conservatives have also raised concerns that Johnston is too close to the Liberals, saying the prime minister has previously described him as a “family friend” and he became a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau foundation after stepping down as governor general. Johnston has pushed back against the conflict-of-interest allegations.
Chagger said Johnston has agreed to testify for two hours on June 6, including about the contents of his report.
NDP MP Rachel Blaney told the committee that she’s not content with Johnston’s report, as her party continues to push for a public inquiry.
“For me, the focus has always been how serious this is and how important it is for Canadians to trust their institutions,” Blaney said.
“It’s disappointing that we’re here, and really outlines the reality that Canadians need to see a process that is transparent, clear and they can have trust in. This process is not feeling (like) that.”
Johnston said that a formal public inquiry would not work to investigate issues of alleged foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections because much of the classified information he has reviewed would need to remain secret.
He said in his report that making that information public would run the risk of breaching the trust of Canada’s security allies and endangering intelligence sources.
Opposition parties have continued calling for a public inquiry in the wake of that report, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is abiding by Johnston’s recommendation not to hold one.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2023.
David Johnston plans to keep role, as House of Commons votes for him to step aside
After members of Parliament voted in favour of his ouster Wednesday, David Johnston said his mandate to probe allegations of foreign interference comes from the government — not from the House of Commons.
The former governor general released a statement following the vote on a motion brought forward by the NDP, which the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois supported while the Liberals stood opposed. It passed 174 to 150.
It called on Johnston — tasked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau back in March with looking into allegations that China tried to meddle in the past two federal elections — to “step aside from his role.”
It asked the government to instead launch a public inquiry into the issue of foreign interference. Johnston, the former governor general, recommended against such an inquiry in his initial report last week.
“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 his statement.
“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.”
Earlier in the day, Trudeau said he maintained confidence in Johnston, despite the stance of opposition MPs.
Opposition parties initially decried his appointment because of Johnston’s family connections to the prime minister’s family and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
Trudeau brushed off those concerns, telling reporters that he views the matter as political parties wanting to score “partisan points.”
“The fact of the matter is David Johnston has served this country in extraordinary capacities for decades,” Trudeau said Wednesday on his way into 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 the hyper-political rhetoric around the discussions in public has been counterproductive, but he would not elaborate on what else the government is offering.
Johnston said in his report that due to the sensitive nature of national security and the intelligence he studied, there would be no way to divulge the information Canadians are seeking publicly. 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 probe the issue.
Those hearings would focus on hearing from officials of both past and present governments, as well as members of diaspora communities affected by foreign interference attempts.
“Foreign governments are undoubtedly attempting to influence candidates and voters in Canada, and I have identified serious shortcomings in the way intelligence is communicated and processed from security agencies through to government,” Johnston said in his statement Wednesday
“As I have indicated, there is much work yet to be done and a further public process is required to identify specific reforms that are necessary to preserve the integrity of our democratic institutions.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had attempted to walk a fine line in promoting his party’s motion. He has said that while he has no qualms with Johnston, he understands that others do and that creates an appearance of bias that taints his work.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has been egging Singh on to trigger an election over the issue.
The NDP signed on to a confidence-and-supply deal with the Liberals, in which it agreed to support the minority government in key parliamentary votes in exchange for movement on shared priorities, such as dental care.
Singh has said he will not kibosh that deal over the issue, arguing that it wouldn’t make sense to set the wheels in motion for an election when Canadians have concerns about alleged foreign interference in the last two federal contests.
The motion was brought forward by NDP Jenny Kwan. She recently told reporters that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service informed her she has been a target of China since before the 2019 federal vote, because of her advocacy around human rights in China.
Trudeau has dismissed allegations of 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 has been the first time his impartiality has been questioned, which he finds “troubling.”
He has said his “friendship” with the prime minister is rooted only in the five or so times their families went skiing together decades ago.
Trudeau was also a student at McGill University at the time when Johnston was serving as principal and vice-chancellor.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
German inflation slows to 6.1% in May, though food prices are still surging
A hydrogen train passes a field with poppy flowers in the Taunus region near Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
BERLIN (AP) — German inflation eased to 6.1% in May following several months of declines, even as Europe’s biggest economy registered another painful increase in food prices of nearly 15%.
Preliminary figures show that the annual inflation rate was lower than the 7.2% registered in April, the Federal Statistical Office said Wednesday. In February, it stood at 8.7%.
Increases in energy prices, which drove inflation immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, were much lower in May at 2.6% — in part because of the sharp rises a year earlier and government efforts to offset their impact.
Those measures include the introduction of a ticket that allows people to use local and regional public transport across Germany for 49 euros ($52.50) per month. That ticket has been available since May 1, and about 10 million people have bought it so far, according to the VDV group, an association of transport companies.
Food prices now are driving inflation, although the annual increase in food costs was down to 14.9% in May from 22.3% in March.
On Tuesday, the statistics office said real wages in Germany were 2.3% lower in the first quarter than a year earlier, despite a 5.6% increase in nominal wages.
Last week, official data showed the German economy shrank in the first three months of this year, marking the second quarter of contraction that is one definition of recession.
Gross domestic product declined by 0.3% in the January-March period compared with the previous quarter. That follows a drop of 0.5% in the last quarter of 2022.
Germany is one of the 20 countries that uses the euro currency, and inflation figures for that wider eurozone will be reported Thursday. The rate inched up to 7% in April.
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