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GC Strategies' Kristian Firth gives virtual testimony at the House of Commons committee on March 13.Supplied

ArriveCan contractor Kristian Firth will be called to the bar of the House of Commons next week to be censured for not answering parliamentarians’ questions, in what will be a rare use of the House’s power to issue formal reprimands.

The House unanimously passed a motion Monday evening approving the plan and declaring Mr. Firth to be in contempt of Parliament, after debating the issue all day. The motion also calls for him to face new questioning from MPs.

The bar of the House of Commons is a brass rod in the Commons chamber that acts as a symbolic barrier between MPs and non-members of the House. When someone is found to be in contempt of Parliament, they can be summoned to appear for a public admonishment by the Speaker on behalf of all MPs. They may also be asked to answer questions from MPs.

Mr. Firth is the managing partner of GCStrategies, a two-person information-technology staffing company that received more funding than any other contractor to work on ArriveCan, the mobile app for cross-border travellers that the government launched early in the pandemic. Auditor-General Karen Hogan reported in February that the app cost $59.5-million, and that GCStrategies had received $19.1-million of that.

Ms. Hogan also reported that GCStrategies was directly involved in setting narrow terms for a $25-million federal contract that included some ArriveCan work, which the company ultimately won.

It is that finding that is at the heart of the current standoff between Mr. Firth and MPs.

Mr. Firth appeared in March before the Commons committee on government operations to answer questions about Ms. Hogan’s findings. He told MPs that only about $11-million of the $19.1-million in ArriveCan contract spending referenced by the Auditor-General was for the app. He said the rest of the money was for other federal projects.

During the committee hearing, Mr. Firth said he could not answer questions about the Auditor-General’s findings related to the $25-million contract because it could ultimately be part of an RCMP investigation. He also said he had never been contacted by the RCMP. “In fear of interfering with the RCMP investigation, I don’t think I can comment on that right now,” he told MPs.

A few days earlier, top officials with the federal Procurement Department had said they had referred the Auditor-General’s findings on the $25-million contract to the RCMP.

Arianne Reza, the deputy minister of the Procurement Department, told MPs that when bid material is being prepared contractors are asked to fill out an attestation saying whether they have been involved in the process. If they have, she said, they are precluded from bidding on the work.

Catherine Poulin, the department’s assistant deputy minister, confirmed that the Auditor-General’s findings have been referred to police.

“We have shared our concerns with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about the fact that a supplier was working on its own evaluation, its own statement of work,” she said.

The government operations committee issued a report on March 20 to the House, approved unanimously by all parties, expressing concern about Mr. Firth’s refusal to answer some specific questions “and his prevarication in answering others.”

MPs spent most of the day in the House of Commons on Monday debating a motion from Conservative MP Michael Barrett that called on Mr. Firth to be found in contempt and summoned to the bar for his handling of these questions.

Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen proposed an amendment that would have had the sanction debated by the procedural and house affairs committee before any action was taken by the House of Commons.

Instead, MPs agreed to replace the motion and amendment with an entirely new motion, which they then approved by unanimous consent.

The new motion says Mr. Firth will be summoned to the bar on the afternoon of April 17, after Question Period. The motion says the House will “find Kristian Firth to be in contempt for his refusal to answer certain questions and for prevaricating in his answers to other questions.” It adds that Mr. Firth will receive an admonishment from the Speaker and will respond to several rounds of questions from MPs.

Although the motion had the support of the governing Liberals, Conservative MP Kelly Block said the move would hold the government to account. “It has taken us a long time to get to this point,” Ms. Block said shortly after the motion was approved. “It’s time for this government to be held responsible for its role in this. It’s time for Mr. Firth to be held accountable for his role in this, and we have actually had to impose this mechanism because we’ve been forced to.”

Mr. Firth sent an e-mail to some MPs Monday morning in which he apologized for not immediately answering all of their questions and criticized the committee process as unfair.

“I had been assured by certain committee members that there was an ongoing RCMP investigation, and I was growing concerned about the media circus making a fair trial an impossibility,” Mr. Firth wrote. “I am sincere in my apology to the Members of this House, yet I remain concerned, for myself and for all Canadians who may in future be called before committee, about the impact of partisanship and the lack of fairness that has attended the hearings in which I have participated.”

The last time the House of Commons summoned a non-MP to the bar was in 2021, when Iain Stewart, who at the time was president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, was reprimanded after a committee found he and his department had failed to comply with an order to provide unredacted versions of all documents related to the revocation of the security clearances of Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng, two scientists at Canada’s high-security infectious disease laboratory. Redacted versions of those documents were ultimately released in February.

Mr. Stewart’s appearance at the bar was the first by a non-MP since 1913. In that previous case, the House summoned R.C. Miller, a contractor. He was the subject of committee hearings into allegations of bribery involving federal contracts. When he refused to answer questions, the House ordered him jailed.

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