Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced questions in the House Wednesday about allegations of threats and lies levelled by a senior government official against another over events tied to the ArriveCan app, describing them as “extremely concerning.”
Cameron MacDonald, an assistant deputy minister at Health Canada, told MPs on the government operations committee Tuesday that he was threatened by Minh Doan, the current chief technology officer of the federal government. He said this occurred during an October, 2022, phone call over what officials should tell MPs about who selected two-person IT staffing firm GCStrategies to build the app.
At the time of the call, Mr. Doan was the Canada Border Services Agency’s vice-president and chief information officer. Mr. MacDonald had been a director-general at the agency during the early days of the ArriveCan app and Mr. Doan was his former superior.
The CBSA was primarily responsible for building and maintaining ArriveCan.
Mr. Doan told MPs last month that he “was not personally involved in that decision” to hire GCStrategies.
Mr. MacDonald told MPs Tuesday that it was Mr. Doan who selected GCStrategies.
“It was a lie that was told to this committee. Everyone knows it,” Mr. MacDonald said.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre raised the testimony Wednesday during Question Period, asking Mr. Trudeau about the allegations of threats and lies.
“Obviously, the reports coming out are extremely concerning,” Mr. Trudeau responded. “And I know that the respective authorities will be taking this extremely seriously. We expect our professional public servants to always conduct themselves with utmost integrity. And I’m sure that that will continue to happen.”
Mr. Doan currently works for the Treasury Board Secretariat. The TBS referred questions related to Mr. MacDonald’s testimony to the CBSA. The CBSA declined comment.
Health Minister Mark Holland, who leads Mr. MacDonald’s department, provided a brief comment to The Globe, but said he needed time to review the facts.
“I’m just being made aware of this, so, obviously concerned by the testimony. I’m going to be taking a look at it. I need a moment to digest it,” he said after a Wednesday morning caucus meeting.
Mr. MacDonald testified that he had the heated conversation with Mr. Doan in October, 2022, after The Globe and Mail reported earlier that month that the cost to build and maintain the app was on pace to exceed $54-million.
“I felt incredibly threatened on that phone call with Minh Doan,” Mr. MacDonald told MPs. He said Mr. Doan told him then-public safety minister Marco Mendicino was not happy with the ArriveCan stories and wanted “somebody’s head on a platter” and that the CBSA was prepared to tell MPs that Mr. MacDonald hired GCStrategies.
Mr. Mendicino said those were not his words.
“I was not part of the conversation with these individuals and I did not use the language attributed to me,” he said In an e-mail to The Globe Wednesday.
The Globe has also reported that the company that received the most outsourcing work on the ArriveCan project was GCStrategies. That company later told MPs that it has just two employees, no standalone office and does no IT work itself. GCStrategies subcontracts the work and takes a commission of between 15 per cent and 30 per cent.
The government operations committee recently expanded its continuing study of ArriveCan costs to include a review of new contracting issues after they were first reported by The Globe last month. The Globe reported that Montreal software company Botler – which worked on a project for the border agency – objected to layers of subcontracting that hid key details about who was getting paid for what and cozy ties between private staffing firms and public servants.
Botler did not work on ArriveCan, but its allegations involve GCstrategies and two other IT staffing companies – Coradix and Dalian – that also worked on ArriveCan.
The CBSA has launched internal audits and referred Botler’s allegations to the RCMP, which is investigating. This week, CBSA president Erin O’Gorman announced that the agency was temporarily suspending all contract work with the three IT staffing firms.
Mr. Poilievre questioned why the government turned to GCStrategies for the ArriveCan project.
“It’s not just $54-million. There’s $11-million given to a two-person IT firm to do absolutely nothing. The same firm has gotten $60-million from this Liberal government since 2017 alone,” he said Wednesday.
Mr. Trudeau said his government is co-operating with all related investigations.
“When we see matters of wrongdoing, we ensure that proper authorities are looking into it and of course our government will always ensure full cooperation with investigating authorities,” he said.