Canada taps David Johnston as interference rapporteur. Who is he, and what will he do?
David Johnston will take up the post as Ottawa’s “special rapporteur” to investigate allegations of foreign interference in Canadian elections and society.
Johnston, who served as the nation’s governor general from 2010 to 2017, was named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday as the prominent Canadian who will probe the interference issue and make recommendations to the federal government on how to handle it.
The Liberal government has been under immense pressure to explain what it knew about foreign interference in the 2021 election after the Globe and Mail reported last month that intelligence sources said China attempted to interfere in that campaign to help the Liberals win another minority government.
That report came after months of revelations from Global News about allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 election.
Trudeau recently announced a slew of investigations into the matter, but the creation of the special rapporteur position was billed by the government as a key measure.
Now that Canadians know who the government’s rapporteur will be, here’s a look at Johnston’s background and the work he’s expected to do.
Who is David Johnston?
Johnston, 81, was named as governor general by then-Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, and his term was extended when Trudeau was elected in 2015.
He left Rideau Hall in 2017 and currently serves as the Leaders’ Debates Commissioner, which arranges debates during Canada’s federal elections. He will step down from that position to take on the rapporteur role, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement on Wednesday.
Prior to his role as governor general, Johnston was a professor of constitutional law for 45 years and is a highly respected Canadian legal scholar. He has also chaired or served on many provincial and federal task forces and committees, and has served on the boards of more than a dozen public companies, the PMO said.
In 2007, Harper named Johnston as a special advisor charged with drafting the terms of reference for a public inquiry into the Airbus affair, which became the Oliphant Commission.
He’s also an author, with 25 published books and a new one looking at the role of empathy in Canadian society released in January 2023.
Johnston is also a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, according to the organization’s website. The charity recently made headlines after it returned a $200,000 donation it received seven years ago following a Globe and Mail report alleging a potential connection to Beijing.
The foundation funds awards and fellowships for doctoral research in the social sciences and humanities. Other members of the foundation include Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, along with prominent current and former leaders from financial institutions, top universities, a former Saskatchewan premier, constitutional experts, lawyers and writers. Its board of directors includes the former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, a former mayor of Iqaluit, and leaders from prominent Canadian universities and firms.
It is funded mainly through a $125-million endowment received from the federal government in 2002 and like all registered charities in Canada, is prohibited by law from engaging in any political activity, including funding any entity — parties, candidates, nominees, riding associations – registered with Elections Canada
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has had no involvement with the foundation, set up in his late father’s memory, since 2013.
What will he do as special rapporteur on foreign interference?
According to the PMO, Johnston will have a “wide mandate” to investigate foreign interference in the last two federal elections, and will make recommendations “on how to further protect our democracy and uphold Canadians’ confidence in it.”
Whether an inquiry should be called, or if a different kind of independent process like a judicial review is more appropriate, will be one of the questions Johnston will have to decide.
Opposition leaders and outside experts have been calling for the federal government to launch a public inquiry into the matter. Instead of calling one, Trudeau tasked the special rapporteur with the responsibility to recommend one or not.
The PMO said the federal government will “will comply with and implement his public recommendations, which could include a formal inquiry, a judicial review, or another independent review process.”
His mandate will be finalized in the coming days, it added.
Trudeau has also tasked the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians with probing foreign interference in the last two elections, as well as other ongoing processes.
In addition to those measures, Johnston will “identify any remaining gaps or areas requiring further attention to protect the integrity of Canada’s democracy,” the PMO said.
How long will his work take?
It’s unclear how long Johnston will serve in the role, but the federal government has been under pressure to act quickly.
Meanwhile, political reaction to Johnston’s naming has been pouring in.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has previously scoffed at the idea of a special rapporteur, saying it sounds like a “fake job,” and doubled down on the need for a public inquiry in the name of transparency.
In a statement Thursday, Poilievre said Trudeau must “end his cover up,” and criticized the prime minister for tapping another Trudeau Foundation member.
Despite Johnston being named as governor general under a Conservative prime minister, Poilievre’s tweet echoes opposition attacks on the government’s appointment of Morris Rosenberg, a former senior public servant and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation, to author a report into foreign interference in the 2021 election.
Has released last month, and he determined that there was no foreign interference that “threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election” in 2021, while noting there was foreign interference that did not meet the threshold of alerting the public.
The PMO stated Johnston’s naming to the role followed “consultations” with all parties in the House of Commons.
On Thursday Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Johnston is “close” to Trudeau, and called the idea a “superfluous” waste of time, since opposition parties will still demand a public inquiry.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on Thursday that Johnston is someone of “integrity,” and called his appointment a “positive step.”
However, he said he wants to ensure Johnston’s mandate is broad enough.
“I do want to make clear that I want to make sure that that Mr. Johnston has a broad enough mandate to answer the fundamental questions that Canadians have: What did the Prime Minister know, when did he know it and what did he do about it when it comes to foreign interference?” he said.
“I still believe that Mr. Johnston has to launch a public inquiry to have that public and independent response that provides Canadians with confidence in our electoral system.”
Meanwhile, Trudeau said in a statement Wednesday that Johnston “brings integrity and a wealth of experience and skills” to the role.
“I am confident that he will conduct an impartial review to ensure all necessary steps are being taken to keep our democracy safe and uphold and strengthen confidence in it,” he said.
— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton
Risk of a hard landing for Canadian economy is up, former Bank of Canada governor says – CTV News
Former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz says Canada’s economy is at a greater risk of a “hard landing” — a rapid economic slowdown following a period of growth and approaching a recession.
Amid the central bank’s interest rate hikes intended to tame inflation, inflation cooled to 5.2 per cent in February. That’s down from 5.9 per cent in January, after 40-year record highs over the summer, reaching as high as 8.1 per cent in June.
Poloz told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos — in a joint interview with former Liberal finance minister John Manley airing Sunday — the Bank of Canada and federal government’s efforts to rein in inflation are working, but the chances of a hard landing remain.
“The risk of a hard landing has definitely gone up, given that so much has already happened, and we’re still waiting for the rest of the effects of interest rate rises to work their way through,” he said, adding he is “heartened by the response of the supply side of the economy.”
“That’s really where a soft landing comes from,” he said. “It’s not fancy engineering on the part of the central bank. But as the supply side continues to grow — such as new entrants into the workforce, from immigration and from parents who are taking advantage of the new childcare policy — those kinds of things are giving us, coming up from below, strengthening the economy.“
While Poloz said the supply growth is a good sign, at this point it would require “some luck” to achieve a soft landing and avoid a recession.
Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland meanwhile is set to table the budget on Tuesday.
She’s long been signalling Canadians can expect fiscal restraint to avoid stoking inflation, but also some significant investments. Namely, the government has been teasing targeted measures to help relieve the impacts of inflation, plus the already-announced $196 billion in health care funding for the provinces and territories over the next 10 years, and clean economy spending to help compete with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which offers billions of dollars in energy incentives south of the border.
Poloz however called last year’s federal budget a “missed opportunity” to “have a different mix” of spending, and in doing so “lower the trajectory of the Bank of Canada’s interest rates.”
He said there’s now less risk government spending will counteract the impacts of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes.
“I think we’re mostly beyond that point as an issue,” he said, adding last year would have been a more opportune time to stimulate the economy.
“That might have been better for everybody,” Poloz continued. “But that missed opportunity is behind us and now the economy is clearly slowing down. We got all that news in the fourth quarter, sooner than most people expected.”
“All the interest sensitive parts, such as housing and business investment, had been down three quarters in a row already, so in that sense, it feels recessionary already,” he added. “So in that sort of space, I think that business about causing inflation is off the table.”
With files from CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha
Questions raised about safety of Old Montreal building destroyed by fatal fire
MONTREAL — More than a week after a fatal fire tore through a building in Old Montreal, accounts from former tenants and victims of the blaze are raising questions about the safety of the heritage property.
Four bodies had been found as of Friday afternoon and three people were missing in the shell of the once-elegant greystone building.
Police and firefighters have said it’s too soon to say what caused the fire. But witnesses have raised questions about safety, including whether smoke detectors were working and whether there were proper emergency exits.
A rental tribunal decision shows that in 2012, the owner, Emile-Haim Benamor, blamed actions of a tenant for creating a risk of fire in the building. The comments are found in a Sept. 6, 2012, decision from Quebec’s Régie du logement, stemming from a dispute between Benamor and a tenant whose lease he was trying to end. According to the document, Benamor claimed the tenant was “manipulating electricity” and had “modified or added” electrical systems and overloaded the building’s circuits.
“The landlord insists that in the current state of things, the building is not profitable, he is unable to have access to the apartment … that there is a risk of fire and he says he is being monitored by insurance companies, especially since it’s a historic building,” the tribunal’s decision says.
The landlord also called a witness from the insurance company Lloyd’s, who testified that the unit presented safety concerns. In an affidavit included in the tribunal decision, Michel Frigon said the unit was not originally intended to be an apartment but rather a storage area. Frigon noted that access to the unit was required to perform maintenance of the building’s heating and electrical systems.
“The shower adjoining the electrical entrance to the dwelling presents a real danger of electrocution,” he added, saying a new insurer would likely have to be found if the problems weren’t fixed.
But in her written decision, administrative judge Jocelyne Gascon concluded there was little convincing evidence to suggest the tenant, Piotr Torbicki, was to blame for any electrical issues.
“The various electrical systems, although they appear to the court to be non-compliant, obsolete, the evidence offered did not establish that it was a recent addition,” Gascon wrote. She did not offer an opinion on Benamor’s comments about the risk of fire.
The building, known as the William-Watson-Ogilvie building, was built in 1890 and originally housed the offices of a flour company. It was gradually converted to residential use between the late 1960s and the 1980s, with the office of an architecture firm remaining on the ground floor. Municipal property records show Benamor, a lawyer, bought the building in 2009.
Since the fire, both the father of a missing woman and a former tenant have said at least one of the units had no windows or fire escape, while survivors of the fire have suggested the fire alarms never went off.
Louis-Philippe Lacroix said his 18-year-old daughter Charlie, who is presumed missing in the fire, called 911 twice within several minutes to say she was unable to get out of the unit she and a friend were staying in, which had no window and no fire escape.
A survivor of the fire, Alina Kuzmina, said that while the semi-basement unit she’d rented with her husband had fire alarms, she doesn’t remember hearing them go off. Kuzmina was able to escape the building by breaking a window and crawling out.
The owner this week responded to the claims through his lawyer, saying the alarm system was replaced in 2019 and regularly tested. Regarding the emergency exits, lawyer Alexandre Bergevin said the building’s layout is complex.
“It has always been deemed compliant in the past,” he said in a text message.
A former tenant spoke on condition that he not be identified, saying he fears reprisals from Benamor, who owns multiple buildings in the city. The former tenant said that in recent years long-term tenants have gradually left and been replaced by units rented on the short-term rental platform Airbnb. He also said some units had been subdivided, and at least one did not have windows.
Benamor’s lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin, said in an interview Friday that the short-term rentals in the building were the work of tenants and not his client. He said one person was renting seven units in the building and “illegally” listing them on Airbnb. He said that Benamor had told the person to stop the short-term rentals, and they had reached an agreement for him to leave the building by July 1.
“It’s a real scourge, it’s uncontrollable,” Bergevin said of the Airbnb rentals. “He had doubts on several tenants in several buildings, but it’s quite difficult to get the proof of all that.”
The lawyer acknowledged that one apartment in the building “didn’t have a window in the traditional sense of the term,” but it did have a skylight.
Asked whether the smoke detectors were working, he replied: “That’s an excellent question. We don’t know yet.” But he said there were detectors in all apartments, the central detector had been working the day before the fire and it would be surprising if all of them failed.
Bergevin said he was not aware of any specific electrical problems, including those raised in the 2012 rental tribunal decision, but noted that the building dates to the 19th century.
“It’s certain that it’s not the electricity we know today,” he said, adding that at certain points when issues arose, qualified electricians worked in the building.
Benamor, he said, has felt under attack since news broke that people had died in the fire.
“The public trial, while we have no idea of the causes of the fire, is causing him a lot of psychological distress,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
St. John’s, N.L., airport closed after late night fire on 2nd floor forces evacuation
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A fire on the second floor of the international airport in St. John’s, N.L., resulted in the facility being closed late Friday night.
The airport authority said today the main terminal building was evacuated due to a “significant event” on Friday at 11:30 p.m.
No other details were immediately available.
The authority said in a release today it is working with police and the fire department to ensure all protocols are being followed before reopening the building.
The news release says the terminal building was expected to remain closed to the public until 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Passengers are being advised not to visit the airport until there is a public advisory the terminal has reopened.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.
The Canadian Press
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