Politics

Freeland, Vance and several federal officials barred from official dealings with ex-ambassador

Canada's ethics commissioner has ordered nine senior officials — including two Liberal cabinet ministers and the chief of the defence staff — to have no official dealings with Palantir executive David MacNaughton for one year after his office found the former ambassador and Liberal adviser broke the Conflict of Interest Act.

Former ambassador broke law by offering officials pro bono assistance on behalf of Palantir

David MacNaughton, then the ambassador to the U.S., looks out of his window at the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. Monday August, 12, 2019. Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion launched a probe into MacNaughton’s interactions with senior Trudeau government officials in his new role as Palantir Canada president back in June. (Jason Burles/CBC)

Canada's ethics commissioner has ordered nine senior officials — including two Liberal cabinet ministers and the chief of the defence staff — to have no official dealings with Palantir executive David MacNaughton for one year after his office found the former ambassador and Liberal adviser broke the Conflict of Interest Act.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said MacNaughton, who was named president of Palantir Technologies Canada more than a year ago, spoke with or arranged multiple meetings with several public office holders for the purpose of offering pro bono assistance on Palantir's behalf.

The controversial company builds data mining technology for its clients and is used by intelligence agencies, banks and some of the biggest companies in the world.

While the offers did not result in any contracts being awarded to Palantir, the former ambassador to the U.S. "has acknowledged, with the benefit of hindsight, that these communications and meetings, to the extent they could have furthered the interests of Palantir, were contrary to [the act]," Dion wrote in his findings.

The act prohibits former public office holders from "acting in such a manner as to take improper advantage of their previous public office."

If the commissioner determines that a former reporting public office holder violated that rule, he can order current public office holders to have no official dealings with them.

The nine officials include:

  • Chrystia Freeland, current deputy prime minister (and minister of intergovernmental affairs when MacNaughton's communications with government officials took place)
  • Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff 
  • Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and industry
  • Rick Theis, director of policy and cabinet affairs, Prime Minister's Office
  • Ryan Dunn, chief of staff to Bains
  • Leslie Church, chief of staff to the minister of public services and procurement
  • Jody Thomas, deputy minister, Department of National Defence
  • Bill Matthews, deputy minister, public services and procurement
  • Simon Kennedy, deputy minister, innovation, science and economic development

Freeland and MacNaughton, who worked closely on negotiating the updated trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico back in 2017–2018, had three general discussions about the novel coronavirus in March during which McNaughton talked about what Palantir was doing to help other governments on a pro bono basis, said Dion.

That same month, MacNaughton also talked to Vance twice and offered Palantir's help if needed. 

"From my part there was no conversation on the matter of pro bono work," Vance told CBC News. He recently announced his retirement but remains Canada's top soldier until his replacement is named.

"It was offered, noted and not acted upon."

MacNaughton's March contacts with Bains involved arranging a meeting between Palantir staff and Public Service and Procurement Canada, according to the ethics report.

News of MacNaughton's interactions with government officials was first reported by The Logic back in April. The outlet reported that the longtime Liberal told a business audience during a teleconference that Palantir was in discussions with the federal government and several provinces.

Dion announced he was investigating MacNaughton back in June after NDP MP Charlie Angus asked the commissioner's office to take a closer look at the former ambassador's conversations with government officials.

"Here we see a senior Trudeau Liberal nailed for breaking conflict of interest laws, while working for a dark and controversial surveillance giant," said Angus in a statement on Wednesday.

"Trudeau's former U.S. ambassador should have known better, but it seems that Mr. MacNaughton didn't think the rules applied to him as he used his former status to pitch his new employers. Hasn't anyone in Trudeau's team read the law?"

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now