Dominic Barton insists he's had no involvement in McKinsey's government contracts
Barton previously served as Canada's ambassador to China, adviser to former finance minister Bill Morneau
Dominic Barton, McKinsey & Company's former global managing director, told a House of Commons committee Wednesday he has played no role in the federal government's decisions to grant contracts to the consulting firm.
The Commons committee on government operations agreed to probe contracts granted to the consulting firm after Radio-Canada revealed that the Liberal government awarded $66 million in business to the firm — a number that rises to $100 million when new contracts, signed in recent months, are included in the total.
By comparison, the Conservative government under former prime minister Stephen Harper awarded McKinsey $2.2 million in federal contracts while in power.
Questioned by MPs, Barton insisted he had no involvement in any contracts granted to McKinsey over the past few decades.
"I had no involvement whatsoever in any awarding of paid work to McKinsey by the federal government since I relocated to Asia in 1996," he told the committee.
The Liberal government's relationship with Barton has come under scrutiny related to questions about the extent of the firm's influence on federal policy.
Barton was the chair of an advisory council on economic growth for former finance minister Bill Morneau and later served as Canada's ambassador to China.
Since Parliament returned earlier this week following a six-week hiatus, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has used the McKinsey contracts as a line of attack on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Poilievre contrasted the contracts with the effects of the rising cost of living on Canadians.
"Not everyone is suffering. The high-price consultants are making off like bandits," he said.
Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie questioned Barton about his relationship with Trudeau.
"Would you consider yourself a friend of the prime minister?" Kussie asked.
"No, I'm not a friend. I have a professional relationship [with him]," Barton said in response. "I don't have his personal phone number and I haven't been in a room alone with him."
In his opening statement to the committee, Barton noted that he had acted as an adviser to the previous Conservative government.
In an effort to put the debate to rest, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather followed Kusie's line of questioning by asking more about Barton and Trudeau's relationship. Housefather asked if Trudeau was one of his "50 best friends," if they exchanged birthday gifts, and if they had ever exercised together.
Barton answered "no" to all of Housefather's questions. He insisted throughout the heated, two-hour long meeting that he had no personal relationship with Trudeau. Barton also claimed the first time he met Trudeau was when he was in an elevator on his way to meet with former Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty.
NDP says probe should be extended to other firms
MPs continued to press Barton on why McKinsey became so involved in the government in recent years.
NDP MP Gord Johns — who brought forward a motion to expand the scope of the study to include other consulting firms — suggested that large companies have an inside track on government contracts based on personal connections.
"What is McKinsey doing? Who does McKinsey know?" Johns asked, accusing both Liberal and Conservative governments of prioritizing the private sector over the public sector.
Barton insisted that government procurement processes are rigorous and conducted by civil servants, not politicians.
Johns said he wants the study to include other consultancies — such as Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Accenture, KPMG and Ernst & Young — to get a broader sense of public service outsourcing.
"We need to look at the whole scope of this thing and we need answers and we need all of these companies before this committee," Johns said. "They need to explain how they're getting these contracts."
A researcher testifying before the committee Monday called the focus on McKinsey a distraction.
Amanda Clarke, an associate professor of public administration at Carleton University, said the study should focus on the public service's reliance on consulting firms overall.
"The focus on outsourcing and contracting in the federal government is the broad enough umbrella to get at these issues and any given firm," Clarke said.
The committee agreed to vote on Johns' motion next week.
With files from The Canadian Press