Parliament returns with Liberals facing pointed questions about ethics, health care
Two of Trudeau's ministers are in the hot seat over questionable contracts
Parliament is back after a six-week break and the Liberal government is facing aggressive questions from the opposition bench about a number of ethical missteps and the sorry state of Canada's health-care system — two issues that are poised to dominate this spring sitting.
On the ethics front, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called on the Liberal government to report the amount of money it has funnelled to McKinsey, a consulting firm that has received tens of millions of dollars in government contracts over the past seven years.
The U.S.-based McKinsey, which has faced criticism over its past role in the opioid crisis, was once run by Dominic Barton, the man tapped by Trudeau to be Canada's ambassador to China.
WATCH | Poilievre questions Trudeau about McKinsey contracts
McKinsey has provided advice to the federal bureaucracy on immigration issues, among other matters. Poilievre said it's not clear the government got good value for its money.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is grappling with a backlog of some 2.2 million cases as it works to review applications.
While many Canadians are struggling with a shaky economy and sky-high inflation, Poilievre said "the people Trudeau surrounds himself with — like the high-priced consultants at McKinsey — are doing better than ever."
Trudeau ducked questions about McKinsey in question period Monday, saying his government is focused on the middle class while the Conservatives are pushing "cuts and austerity and not being there for Canadians."
"He's always had difficulty defining what the middle class is," Poilievre quipped.
Procurement Minister Helena Jazceck later told the Commons that the government is doing a "full review" of the McKinsey contracts to ensure they align with all Treasury Board policies and directives.
Barton also has been called to appear before a parliamentary committee reviewing the increase in federal outsourcing to the New York-based consulting giant.
A researcher testifying before that committee Monday said the focus on McKinsey is 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.
Trade minister questioned over breach of ethics rules
International Trade Minister Mary Ng was also in the hot seat Monday. The ethics commissioner concluded she breached Canada's conflict of interest rules when her office signed a contract with Ng's friend, communications professional and CBC's Power & Politics pundit Amanda Alvaro.
In 2019-2020, Ng's office signed contracts for media and communications training with public relations agency Pomp & Circumstance, co-founded and run by Alvaro.
WATCH | "I made a mistake" — minister makes statement on conflict of interest
Ng was "lining the pockets of her insider friend" by giving Alvaro's firm some $16,950 for work, said Conservative MP Michael Barrett, the party's ethics critic.
He called on Ng to "cut a cheque" to provide some "restitution for her corruption."
Ng apologized for not recusing herself from internal discussions about the contract but has refused to resign from cabinet.
That's not good enough for the Conservatives. The Conservative chair of the ethics committee, John Brassard, will convene a meeting Tuesday which could kick off a weeks-long probe into the matter.
Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen is also facing mounting criticism about a contract.
Global News reported earlier this month that Hussen's constituency office hired a firm with ties to one of his staffers to do communications work in his Toronto-area riding.
That outlet reported Hussen's office awarded $93,050 in contracts to Munch More Media, a company that's usually focused on the food and restaurant industry.
Hussen said Monday politicians are expected to communicate with their constituents. He said his office followed all the procurement rules.
The ethics commissioner, he added, also concluded there was no conflict of interest.
One of Munch More Media's directors is Hiba Tariq, the sister to Hussen's director of policy, Tia Tariq, Global News has reported.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was focused on health-care issues on his first day back on Parliament Hill. He accused the Liberal government of allowing conservative premiers to undermine Canada's public health-care system.
At issue is Ontario's decision to send some surgeries like knee and hip replacements to private clinics to help clear up a massive backlog for these procedures in the hospital system.
The NDP has said such a plan is a slippery slope to a two-tier health-care system.
WATCH | Singh accuses Trudeau of a 'flip flop' on health-care privatization
The Ontario PCs have defended the move as a prudent approach that will relieve a severely strained hospital system.
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Singh said Ontario's plan may "cannibalize" the health system by diverting personnel from public-run hospitals to for-profit clinics.
"The problem that we're up against will not be solved by an American-style, for-profit approach to health care," Singh said. He accused Trudeau of flip-flopping on the issue after he blasted former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole for raising the possibility of some privatization during the last federal election campaign.
Trudeau has not condemned Ford's plan and has said he's open to "innovation" and solutions that alivate wait times.
Trudeau has said, however, that the federal government will aggressively enforce the Canada Health Act.
The Canada Health Act requires universal access to publicly funded health services covered by provincial and territorial plans, and bans user charges and extra-billing.
- This story has been updated from a previous version that identified Amanda Alvaro as a lobbyist. In fact, Alvaro is a communications professional.Jan 31, 2023 11:03 AM ET
With files from The Canadian Press
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