Ethics commissioner set to look into Liberal data contracts

pm housing 20210630

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has taken the first step toward a possible investigation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after a Conservative MP filed a complaint alleging that Trudeau may have improperly furthered the financial interests of a longtime friend.

In a letter to Conservative MP Michael Barrett, Dion said he has asked Trudeau to respond to Barrett’s claim that contracts between the majority of Liberal MPs and Data Sciences — a company owned by Trudeau’s friend Tom Pitfield — contravene the ethics code for MPs.

Dion said Trudeau has 30 days to respond. Dion will then decide whether to launch a formal inquiry.

Should Dion choose to conduct an inquiry, it would be the fourth ethics investigation into Trudeau since 2017.

In December 2017, then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson found that Trudeau had contravened sections of the Conflict of Interest Act when he accepted a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island. In August 2019, Dion ruled that Trudeau had contravened section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act in the controversy surrounding SNC Lavalin by using his position of authority to try to influence then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

In May 2021, Dion cleared Trudeau of violating ethics rules in the controversy over a proposed deal to have WE Charity administer a youth program.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett sent the letter to Dion’s office alleging impropriety in the awarding of the contracts. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Barrett’s complaint to Dion came after the Globe and Mail revealed that 97 per cent of Liberal MPs have been using their taxpayer-funded members’ budgets to pay for services from two companies that also provide services to the Liberal Party of Canada: Data Sciences and NGP Van, an American political campaign software company the Liberals use to run their Liberalist campaign database.

The Liberals have maintained that there is a firewall between the services provided to MPs to help them with their constituency work and the services provided to the Liberal Party to do things like raise money and keep track of potential voter support.

Pitfield is a longtime friend of Trudeau who oversaw the Liberal Party’s digital operations in the last two elections. Pitfield was also among a small group of Trudeau’s friends who joined him during the vacation on the Aga Khan’s island.

CBC
Tom Pitfield (right) takes part in a panel discussion with Scott Goodstein of Revolution Messaging (left) and Teddy Goff, chief tech and digital strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign at the 2016 Liberal Biennial Convention in Winnipeg on Friday, May 27, 2016. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

In his letter to Dion, Barrett pointed out that two Liberal MPs, Wayne Easter and John McKay, told the Globe and Mail that they weren’t sure what services Data Sciences was providing to their offices.

“Mr. Easter and Mr. McKay’s public comments raises concerns about whether Mr. Trudeau himself was also improperly furthering a person’s private interest,” Barrett wrote. “A person who is in fact a friend of Mr. Trudeau’s. Additionally, the research bureau for which Mr. Trudeau is responsible hasn’t been clear about the services Mr. Pitfield provides.”

Barrett asked why Pitfield’s company was hired to provide a service already provided by a separate company and whether Trudeau gave other contracts to Pitfield’s company.

The prime minister’s office has not yet responded to a request from CBC News for comment.

On Monday, the Liberals successfully blocked an opposition bid to have the House of Commons ethics committee call Pitfield to testify about the contracts.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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