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Of all the things we need right now, a demonstration of just how far our federal politics have fallen isn’t near the top of the list. But that’s exactly what the appointment of former governor general David Johnston as the Trudeau government’s “special rapporteur” on foreign interference in our elections gives us. And the reading, from what I can see, might just be a record low.

Johnston’s resume is impressively long and nobody of any substance would doubt his ability to do the job he’s been given. This is, after all, the same person who Stephen Harper once said embodied “the best of Canada.” As the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson wrote more recently, “I cannot think of anyone whose judgment I would trust more.”

But those sorts of sober-minded assessments seem to have little place in our political discourse today. Instead, the focus is on Johnston’s long-standing personal familiarity with the prime minister and affiliation with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. That can’t come as a surprise to the prime minister, who must have known that conspiracy-minded conservatives would rather talk about Johnston’s connections than his competence. As such, it makes the appointment look an awful lot like a deliberate trap.

Why would he do that? Because by keeping the official Opposition focused on the issue of Chinese interference in elections, which could very easily boomerang back on them, the appointment would draw fire away from more politically salient issues like the cost of living. And by baiting Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) Leader Pierre Poilievre to attack someone like Johnston — who, remember, was appointed governor general by none other than Stephen Harper — the Liberals can continue to build their case that Poilievre isn’t temperamentally suited to the job he so desperately wants.

Poilievre and his closest proxies, none of whom seem particularly interested in looking before they leap, practically jumped into this trap. “Justin Trudeau has named a family friend, old neighbour from the cottage, and member of the Beijing-funded Trudeau foundation to be the ‘independent’ rapporteur on Beijing's interference,” Poilievre tweeted on Thursday. “Get real.”

Former CPC leader Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, took the attack on the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation even deeper into crazytown. “Trudeau names another Trudeau foundation insider to tell us we don’t need an inquiry into Beijing’s interference,” he tweeted. “The foundation is a partisan group of elite insiders that got $200k from Beijing. No one associated with it can be trusted on this issue.”

As Ottawa historian Mark Bourrie pointed out, the foundation’s work is a lot less sinister than Scheer would like to pretend. “The foundation is administered by the Université de Montreal and gives scholarships to top-ranked students. Rhodes Scholars don't get diamonds.” But these sorts of nuances are lost in a conversation where guilt by association meets the burden of proof for too many partisans.

And while most critics of the appointment at least made some effort to acknowledge Johnston’s bipartisan track record, Postmedia pundit Terry Glavin wasn’t having any of that. “Johnston’s job is to run interference for Justin Trudeau in this scandal,” he wrote. “That’s all there is to it. Johnston is beholden to Trudeau, Trudeau is beholden to Johnston, and they are both deeply compromised by their relationships with Beijing’s emissaries and bagmen in Canada, and by their associations with the Montreal-centred corporate China lobby.”

After a lifetime spent serving the public in one form or another and upholding the values that most Canadians hold dear, Johnston deserves better than to be turned into a partisan football. The Conservatives who are busy kicking him around right now might want to reflect a bit on that.

Former governor general David Johnston has been asked to get to the bottom of China's interference in our elections. But the calculus behind his involvement, and the reaction to it, says more about our politics than we might want to hear. @maxfawcett

But Trudeau is far from blameless here. By choosing to use Johnston as political bait, he effectively put the former governor general’s hard-earned credibility at risk. And by drawing even more attention to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation (and the money it accepted and subsequently returned from a Chinese billionaire), he risks permanently politicizing its work and undermining its reputation.

In other words, it looks like we have a government that may have used a crucial fact-finding exercise to lay a trap for their opponents and an official Opposition that blundered right into it. Yes, it would have been nice if some mutually acceptable person could have been found to decide whether or not a public inquiry is required. But given the sorry state of our politics right now, that person might as well be a unicorn.

Once we’re done getting to the bottom of China’s interference in our democracy, we might want to ask some questions about the damage we’re doing to it ourselves.

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I am curious as to whom *would* have been a good choice for the appointment. It seems to me that nothing short of Rupert Murdoch or one of the Koch brothers (both of whom are foreigners responsible for far more election influence) would have been an acceptable pick for the CPC. I would have appreciated some suggestions of what PM Trudeau could have done in picking someone to head up this committee. As the article correctly states, the state of Federal politics has descended to new lows. Trudeau was left with options to solve a problem, all of which would have sucked. It seems to me, he picked the one that sucked the least.

Exactly....and please, spare us a public enquiry, particularly if it turns out that a good deal of the evidence is classified. I can't even contemplate the unbearable news feeds if that turns out to be the case. Two monts of being told we can't be told1!! Ugh!

Another excellent piece by Max Fawcett......I've been wondering lately if the entire Chinese interference flap might be an exercise in diversion. By all means, let's get to the bottom of it....but accusations that Canadian politicians are in cahoots with Chinese political interference is paranoid none sense.....and bad mouthing esteemed Canadians who've done nothing but serve our country is beyond disgusting.

Let's try and remember we live in a global economy....let's imagine peaceful relationships with other countries and give that old 20th C. love of conspiracy spy games a pass. We can work together to make our elections, and our fellow citizens of Chinese origin save from foreign temptations....while working with all countries to advance education, green technologies and medical science.

Inventing enemies under every rock to advance your own political fortunes should be unthinkable, given all the very real problems we have to solve.........as a planet.

"After a lifetime spent serving the public in one form or another and upholding the values that most Canadians hold dear, Johnston deserves better than to be turned into a partisan football."

Johnson is nothing but a political bagman. Bob Ray would have been a similar choice. But he doesn't have the cachet of the Harper choice for Governor General who would have saved Harpers's neck. So Max is right, the populist Poilievre is stupid enough to go after this conservative darling.

The fact that Johnson was "upholding the values that most Canadians hold dear" when he let Mulrooney escape the $300 K bribery charges in the Airbus scandal should not mean that bribery is a Canadian value we hold dear, but apparently being a bagman is!!!

Rather than confront the rising tide of sinophobia as a leader should, Justin's bagman will try to smooth things over and completely exonerate anything the government has done, just as Johnson did for Mulrooney.

What's the connection between Johnston, Mulroney and a wad of cash (us it still?) allegedly from Schreiber?

This smacks of a bully (CPC) punching the Libs because they actually said no then proclaiming "look at what you made me do". Pundits are hilariously tripping over themselves to declare Johnston unassailable but then attempt to declare that statement as questionable. Max should have laid blame for CPC behaviour where it belongs, at their feet.

Mr Johnston is a willing participant, you make it sound like he's being abused.

I so wish CNO would allow people to edit their comments. Maybe (though not guaranteed) we could have been spared:
- "whom would have been"
- "none sense"
- "Bob Ray"
- Mulrooney" (twice)

A "recommend" or "like" button also would be nice.

...and a missed opening quotation mark.

I share your despair Max. This is how our institutions are undermined, in real time, by unscrupulous conservatives out to win power, period, no matter what. Their ignorant disregard for said institutions (and democracy as well in fact) is rivalled only by their obsessively vicious hatred of Trudeau and all the "woke" progressives that he represents. The statistical fact that they are ACTUALLY the majority here in Canada is one of the big blind spots these psychos have, a stubborn refusal to entertain that it isn't THEM. Hell hath no fury like such men scorned. And the fact that the times we're living in are also forcing them to at least pay lip service to pretending that they give a fig about society and/or people rather than just pure power doesn't help. Conservatives' true colours are revealed by how utterly graceless they are EVEN in victory. I think they're a bunch of sociopaths.
And Max, what IS Trudeau supposed to do when faced with people like this who malign him and jeer at him relentlessly across the aisle? It's unprecedented. As Mary says, casually insisting he's "in cahoots" with the Chinese is absurd but entirely in keeping with the ongoing demonizing social media narrative, so even as he tries to defend the integrity of what Liberals have put in place as protections, under the circumstances where all the parties agree, I'd hope Johnston rushes to the public inquiry recommendation.
Also worth recalling that conservatives don't grasp "diplomacy" as a concept, preferring to take their ball and go home, shutting down the embassy, and hypocritical as it all actually IS, it's still the price of admission to international trade and foreign relations, which anyone with a shred of imagination can see are undeniably complicated, never more than now.

Wait a minute. Our institutions have been undermined by their own behaviours.
You bet there are unscrupulous conservatives out to win power ... but how different is that from the unscrupulous liberals out to win power?
I don't "obsessively hate" Trudeau, though I could probably be reasonably accused of obsessive hatred of Conservatives, generally.
However, what a spade's called shouldn't depend on who's got the handle, and what's being shovelled is still bovine excrement as long as the handle's being hefted with a load of it.
Posing the appointment as a fiendishly clever ruse to hoist Poilievre on his own petard is a bit of a stretch.
It's completely in line with Mr. T's "friends and family" orientation.
It seems quite clear that Chinese operatives *did* interfere ... and quite likely with the condonation if not collusion of the editors of the Chinese language publications in which the pieces funded by "the Chinese" ... were effective in the swing ridings targeted, in that most of them resulted in a Liberal MP being elected.
As far as that goes, credible media reported that the BC "branch" of Cambridge Analytica was used by Liberals in the 2015 election ... it's not as though only the Conservatives have indulged in illegal election practices.
The main difference between Liberals and Conservatives seems to me to be that the former cloaks their daggers better ... when it comes to environmental destruction, they're pretty much both equal opportunity funders.
Neither ever saw a privatization scheme they didn't love, neither has stepped up to properly fund anything remotely approaching anti-poverty, both have consistently transformed refundable tax credits into non-refundable ones (i.e., they give to the rich, and take from the poor), and they are equally brazenly hostile to any finding that they have, in fact, been guilty of conflicts of interest, and caught with their hands in the cookie jar, faces smeared with chocolate and jam.
It's hard to fathom that anyone applies "progressive" to the Trudeau Liberals. They're just not, though it's entirely possible that most of the people who voted for them might be, in their beliefs and druthers. Maybe they just need some progressive lenses in their glasses, preferably in a shade other than pink. My own guess is that a whole lot of people who vote Liberal are at heart far Left of the liberals, under Trudeau or anyone since his father. And maybe he wasn't: I was too young and trusting to know the difference then, and hadn't yet realized how important politics was.
That didn't happen till the year BC got an NDP government ... and while hitch-hiking in Kitsilano (Vancouver) had a lift from Rosemary Brown and didn't know who she was ... despite that I had every intention of voting for her. I'd heard *of* her, and of Dave Barrett. Later that year, I found that the BC forest industry was hamstrung by "the real powers" ... all of a sudden, there were no boxcars available to transport lumber. The day after the NDP government was defeated, there were cars.
It's not the politicians or the party that makes the difference: it's who they're in bed with. Figuratively speaking, most of the time.

I think you've provided a few good reasons for electoral reform -- i.e. proportional representation -- being constantly stymied.

In my view, provincial gov'ts are effectively owned by dominant provincial corporations. Essentially, it doesn't much matter the party in power. Federal is similar, though add in nationally registered corporations and international influence.

The party in power doesn't own the apple cart; with rare exception (such as the seemingly precautionary steps being taken with West Coast aquaculture), however, avoiding upsetting the status quo apple cart seems to be a common goal of governments.

Would it be fair to say that the Dave Barrett BC gov't in the 70s actually was able to govern without the corporate yoke and, in fact, accomplished things? I wasn't paying close attention at the time.

If we want to get a wedge inserted in the bearhug shared by corporations and Canadian governance, I think we need to get prorep.

So, you are an ethnic Chinese Canadian and you get a call asking about your family in China, you want to know who is calling; but the caller is unidentified. This last is a problem which we all suffer from and should not have to. The telephone companies should be required to ensure that all callers are correctly identified (doctors could be identified by their business phone number). This would make it much harder for those working on behalf of a foreign government to exert influence anonymously.

It would also solve a festering problem that we all suffer from, i.e. calls from Florida, Oregon, Jamaica, Ontario, unidentified, and so on.