Conservatives are plotting their next steps on how to probe payments the offices of Liberal MPs made to a company founded by a friend to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while the clock ticks down to a possible election that would bring any parliamentary investigation to a halt.
The party’s push to get a parliamentary ethics committee to study why members had contracted Data Sciences Inc., and hear from its founder went nowhere after about five hours of debate on Monday.
“It’s important for Canadians to know, before we have an election, what their taxpayer money has been going to,” Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said Tuesday.
The Globe and Mail reported last month that MPs’ expenditure reports showed most of the Liberal caucus had paid money through their office budgets to the company founded by Tom Pitfield. He is a close childhood friend of Trudeau’s and also served as chief digital strategist for the Liberals in the 2015 and 2019 election campaigns.
Conservatives say the payments from Liberal MPs’ offices to Data Sciences smacks of nepotism funded by taxpayers. They also point out the Liberal Party of Canada has a relationship with the company, which had been hired to provide digital services and support for its voter database.
Trudeau has said his members use Data Sciences for constituency casework and there is “a complete separation between political and parliamentary work.”
“We have always ensured that all rules are followed,” he told the House of Commons June 23.
Messages sent to the Montreal-based office of Data Sciences did not get an immediate reply.
A spokesperson for the Liberal Party of Canada confirms it continues to work with the company on “a wide variety of innovative digital engagement” as it has during the past two election campaigns.
“The Liberal Party of Canada’s use of (voter database) Liberalist is not associated with the parliamentary work of Liberal MPs, and information from parliamentary offices isn’t shared with the party,” Braeden Caley said in an email Tuesday.
During Monday’s debate, Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan, who is vice-chair of the committee, brushed off the Conservatives’ concerns as a “witch hunt” and a “fake scandal.”
She told the committee her office relies on the company for technical support and because it’s a Canadian firm, it can offer services in both French and English.
Barrett said Tuesday that the Conservatives are speaking with other opposition parties about other ways to push the issue forward.
“They were supportive of getting some answers on this,” he said.
He stopped short of saying Liberal MPs should no longer pay Pitfield’s company and believes the first priority is to get more details on the contract.
The House of Commons is on its summer break and is set to resume sitting September, but it is widely believed that Canadians will head to the polls before then.
The Conservative party used the Liberals’ ties to Data Sciences in a recent email seeking donations ahead of a possible federal vote, saying its leader Erin O’Toole will “clean up the mess in Ottawa” and is the only ethical choice for prime minister.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press