The federal ethics commissioner agreed Wednesday to review an investigation request towards Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - one day after the ethics committee voted to block further inquiry into contracts awarded to a childhood friend.
Conservative MP Michael Barrett wrote the ethics commissioner Mario Dion Tuesday requesting an investigation into Trudeau's role in the contracts to see if he violated the Conflict of Interest Code.
The Liberal Research Bureau awarded $75,000 in contracts to Data Sciences Inc. for technical support and training related to software that “assists MPs in their parliamentary engagement with constituents.” However, a Globe and Mail report said that another company, NGP VAN, conducted the software training for $1 million since 2016.
Barrett referenced comments in his letter from two Liberal MPs, Wayne Easter and John McKay, who had “no idea” as to the role of Data Sciences.
Easter could not explain what the firm did for his office, stating that his constituency office and staff managed his social media. “I quite honestly don’t know what [Data Sciences] does,” he said.
McKay also could not recall why money from his office budget went to the firm. “I haven’t got a clue,” he said. “I can’t explain it. I vaguely recall once a year we write a cheque and it’s always been explained that it is within the ethical guidelines, so we all kind of sign up for it and it goes into some oblivion.”
Firm co-founder and CEO Thomas Pitfield served as the party’s chief digital strategist during the 2015 and 2019 federal elections, with his wife, Anna Gainey, the former party president. Both “figured in the events” of Trudeau’s “illegal vacation” on Aga Khan’s private island in late-2016 that was ruled a conflict of interest by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion.
Liberal MPs expressed their discontent previously with Barrett’s letter, with Liberal MP Han Dong calling requests for an investigation a “taxpayer-funded fishing expedition.”
Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan asked, “Why are we here today?” Wednesday as vice-chair of the ethics committee.
“We all know why we’re here,” she added. “We all know why our colleagues from a certain Party wouldn’t want to let a whole summer go by without having this kind of meeting.”
“This is a fake scandal,” said Shanahan. “It seems my colleagues are really trying to engineer a fake scandal at all costs.”
According to the National Post, Dion replied to Barrett’s letter Wednesday, stating he had forwarded the inquiry request to Trudeau as the criteria were met.
A request for comment by the publication was not received from the Prime Minister’s Office on the matter. Dion said Trudeau has a month to respond, and upon such a response, would decide whether to launch a formal inquiry.
Should there be an inquiry against Trudeau, it would mark the fourth ethics investigation against him since he became prime minister.
In December 2017, Dion's predecessor Mary Dawson found Trudeau contravened the Conflict of Interest Act when he accepted a vacation on the Aga Khan's private island.
In August 2019, Dion ruled he contravened the Conflict of Interest Act by using his authority to try and influence Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould regarding the SNC Lavalin scandal. The firm faced fraud and corruption charges dating between 2001 and 2011 when they paid Libyan officials over $48 million in bribes.
However, in May 2021, Dion found Trudeau did not commit an ethics violation in a proposed deal with WE Charity to administer a youth program at $900 million to Canadian taxpayers.