Johnston Faces Criticism for Hiring Crisis Communications Firm on Taxpayer Expense

Canada’s special rapporteur on foreign interference, David Johnston, has come under scrutiny for hiring crisis communications firm Navigator to assist him in his investigation, with taxpayers footing the bill. 

Navigator, known for its high-stakes strategic advisory and communications services, has previously worked with Hockey Canada and Ottawa’s police chief during sensitive situations. While the firm has been providing communications advice and support to Johnston, his office clarified that it had no involvement in the investigation or development of conclusions.

The House of Commons, with the support of the NDP, Conservatives, and Bloc Québécois, passed a motion urging his resignation last week. 

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Critics argue that the decision to hire a crisis communications firm suggests the government’s primary concern is optics rather than addressing the serious issue of foreign interference. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh emphasized the Liberals’ failure to reassure Canadians about the integrity of elections and questioned why a public inquiry wasn’t initiated instead.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner expressed confusion over the hiring of Navigator, suggesting the firm could face extensive questioning from opposition parties. 

Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for the Conservatives, added that the appointment and the use of taxpayer money for Navigator’s services highlight the need for an open and independent inquiry into the matter.

Johnston’s team also includes Ottawa-based communications company RKESTRA, which provides media relations support, and international law firm Torys LLP for legal, investigative, and drafting support. 

Critics have raised concerns about Johnston’s connections to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation and his relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while Johnston has defended himself, stating that the family connection is overstated.

Prime Minister Trudeau has expressed his commitment to retaining Johnston in his role, stating that he looks forward to the public hearings and the release of the final report later this year. 

As of now, the total cost of Navigator’s services to Johnston remains undisclosed, as the work is ongoing. Johnston’s appearance before a parliamentary committee to discuss his report on foreign interference by China’s government is scheduled for Tuesday.

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