First published at True North on July 14, 2021.
Canada’s ethics commissioner has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain his role in contracts between a majority of Liberal MPs and a company owned by Trudeau’s childhood friend.
Commissioner Mario Dion said the criteria for questioning Trudeau have been met after receiving a complaint from Conservative member of parliament Michael Barrett, who requested a formal ethics probe into payments made to Data Sciences, a firm run by Trudeau’s longtime friend and the Liberal party’s former digital operations director.
The controversy stems from the revelation from a Globe and Mail report that 97% of Liberal members of parliament use money from their government-funded office budgets to pay a company called Data Sciences, owned by Tom Pitfield.
Pitfield was in Trudeau’s wedding party in 2015 and also vacationed with the Trudeau family on the Aga Khan’s Bahamas island, a trip which itself was the subject of a report and finding of wrongdoing by the ethics commissioner.
Trudeau has said that services from Data Sciences aid members of parliament in their constituency work and are not used for political purposes. However, at least two members of parliament, Wayne Easter and John McKay, have said they were not aware what services Data Sciences was providing their offices.
“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,” McKay told the Globe and Mail of his office’s use of Data Sciences.
Trudeau also uses the company’s services in his own office as the member of parliament for Papineau.
The ethics code governing members of parliament prohibits MPs from acting “to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests.”
On Monday, the House of Commons ethics committee attempted to call Pitfield as a witness, but were blocked from doing so by the committee’s Liberal members.
Trudeau will have 30 days to respond to Dion’s letter, at which point Dion will decide whether there are grounds to launch a formal inquiry.