LILLEY: Did you know David Johnston was skiing buddies with Trudeau?

The former GG should have said no when the PM came calling

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There are few eminent Canadians as eminent and as respected as David Johnston.

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Which is why Johnston should have had the wisdom to pass on being asked to serve his country one more time as Justin Trudeau’s “Independent Special Rapporteur.”

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Having only met Johnston a few times but having watched him hold his office with grace during his time as Governor General, it’s understandable why Trudeau would turn to him. Here is a man who not only served as GG, not only been an election debate moderator and sought-after board member, but he’s also done this job before.

Johnston was asked to act as independent advisor to the Harper government in drawing up the terms of reference for the public inquiry into the Airbus Affair involving Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber. That was in November 2007 and by January 2008, the government had a series of recommendations, including 17 questions to examine in the inquiry.

Here’s the difference between then and now: There is no evidence that David Johnston and his entire family ever went skiing with the Harper family. Johnston’s children didn’t run the slopes with either Harper nor his children and he has never been described as a Harper “family friend.”

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When it comes to Justin Trudeau, all those things are true. Johnston’s kids did spend a lot of time skiing with Justin and his brothers, and the former GG was friends with the former PM.

“His three boys were the same age as our five daughters so we were kind of a ski party from time to time at Mont Tremblant,” Johnston told CTV in 2016.

In the same interview, Johnston said that his wife, Sharon, had become “good friends” with the Trudeau family after they opted to move into Rideau Cottage, on the grounds of Rideau Hall where the Governor General lives, rather than living in the dilapidated 24 Sussex Drive.

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When Johnston stepped down in 2017, Trudeau referred to him as his family friend.

“Getting to know someone as a family friend, or a friend of your father, is very different from having the honour of working alongside them,” Trudeau said in September 2017.

After he stepped down as Governor General, Johnston joined the board of the Trudeau Foundation – a government and not family-controlled entity but still one with strong Trudeau family connections. At the foundation, he served as one of the people who would select board members for the organization.

Now, Johnston is going to advise Trudeau on how, or if, he should investigate himself.

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Trudeau never should have offered this role to Johnston and Johnston never should have accepted the role. No matter what he says now there will always be a group of people who believe Johnston’s recommendations were influenced by his personal connections, dating back decades, with the Trudeau family.

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“Canadians need to have confidence in our electoral system, and in our democracy,” Trudeau said in making the announcement.

He is apparently oblivious to the optics of all of this.

“As Independent Special Rapporteur, David Johnston brings integrity and a wealth of experience and skills, and 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,” Trudeau said.

David Johnston is an honourable man, and we now must hope that he gives his best advice and recommendations on helping Canadians understand how and when China interfered in our elections.

The truly honourable thing for Johnston to have done, though, would have been to say no when Trudeau came calling.

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