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Friends in high places: Eminent Canadians play by their own rules
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When Justin Trudeau announced he’d be appointing an “eminent Canadian” as his special rapporteur on China’s interference in Canada’s elections, the short list was pretty apparent.
Eminent Canadians are a subset of Laurentian elites – kind of like the VIP room at the back of the private club. They’re the elites’ elites. You’re just a cabinet minister? A CEO? A Federal Court judge? Psssh, get to the back of the line.
The eminent are in a league of their own. There’s no official membership, but I’m hard pressed to come up with even 10. This makes it more 16 times more exclusive than even the highest level of the Order of Canada, which has no more than 165 members.
Who are these eminent Canadians? Louise Arbour, Beverley McLachlin, Michael Sabia, Morris Rosenberg… am I missing anyone? Oh yes, David Johnston.
The eminently eminent Johnston was tapped by Trudeau to “strengthen confidence in our federal electoral process and democratic institutions,” as Canada’s “independent special rapporteur” on foreign interference. (For what it’s worth, I predicted McLachlin. Though Johnston was a popular pick too.)
Johnston is, perhaps, the poster boy for an eminent Canadian. The word “unimpeachable” gets thrown around about him, as it does for most of the eminent.
His eminence has secured him a revolving door of prominent postings. He was appointed (on Stephen Harper’s recommendation) as governor general in 2010. When he retired from that in 2017 he picked up a gig as the Leaders’ Debates Commissioner. He’s stepped down from that to be the special rapporteur. Once his report’s done, I have no doubt there will be another commission in desperate need of his eminent eminence.
The problem with exclusive groups is that their members tend to travel in the same circles, though Johnston and Trudeau have more overlap than most.
Trudeau has lauded his and his family’s longtime friendship with Johnston, which involves ski trips. It was Trudeau who hired Johnston to head the Leaders’ Debates Commission (where he personally authorized banning True North and Rebel from reporting on the debates, until the Federal Court told him to pound salt).
He’s also a member of the Trudeau Foundation, which is presently implicated in China’s interference efforts. Johnston also chairs the Rideau Hall Foundation, to which the Liberal government has given millions of dollars.
Other Rideau Hall Foundation board members include retired Supreme Court justice Rosalie Abella, former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, and, you guessed it, Beverley McLachlin.
The web of eminent elites would be comical if it weren’t so revealing of the different rules by which they and we must live. When it suits them, they’re friends. When they need to be at arm’s length, they’re just ships passing in the night.
Trudeau has experience with this. He tried to use the close family friend card (to no avail) when he was busted vacationing on the Aga Khan’s private island.
Despite previously heralding Johnston as a close family friend, he’s now as “independent” as he is eminent.
As the old saying goes, one must be just as diligent in preventing the appearance of conflicts of interest as with bona fide conflicts.
If your family friend worked for the Canada Revenue Agency, I doubt they’d be allowed to do your audit. If you had given millions to a judge’s charity, I doubt that judge could preside over your trial. Yet these connections are no big deal in the world of the eminent. In Trudeau’s world.
Perhaps Trudeau is auditioning to join the legion of the eminent upon his retirement. Perhaps he is rewarding his dad’s old chums with a steady of stream of plum gigs. Perhaps he thinks these folks will go easy on him and his government.
We’ve already seen how Trudeau manipulates supposedly independent processes. With the Public Order Emergency Commission, Trudeau issued a mandate beyond what the Emergencies Act required so that the commission would also spend its time investigating the convoy (rather than just the government).
While we haven’t yet seen Johnston’s mandate, Trudeau’s statement about his appointment makes it seem like he’s there to help the government rather than investigate it.
Whatever the motivation, it’s a slap in the face to Canadians and just basic common sense.
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