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GC Strategies' Kristian Firth virtual testimony at the House of Commons committee on March 13, 2024.Handout

The head of two-person IT staffing company GCStrategies said he and his business partner collected $2.5-million in commissions for part-time work on the federal government’s ArriveCan app project, but refused to answer questions about his involvement in a $25-million IT services contract.

Kristian Firth also disputed Auditor-General Karen Hogan’s recent finding that his company received $19.1-million to work on the app project, saying it was closer to $11-million.

Mr. Firth’s testimony Wednesday at a House of Commons committee was his first public response to last month’s ArriveCan report from Ms. Hogan, which found that GCStrategies was directly involved in drafting narrow terms for the IT services contract, which it ultimately won.

Mr. Firth repeatedly refused to answer questions about that finding, saying any comment could interfere with a potential RCMP investigation.

“Apologies, but after speaking with my lawyer, my stance still stands the same. With the RCMP investigation pending, I don’t interfere with that,” he said. He also said he has not been contacted by the RCMP.

Mr. Firth appeared Wednesday shortly after the Auditor-General’s office itself revealed that it has informed police that two of the watchdog’s own employees failed to disclose they had contracts with the federal government and a third case is under investigation. In two of the cases, the employees no longer work for the office.

Mr. Firth has previously said he and his business partner, Darren Anthony, keep between 15 and 30 per cent of the value of the government contracts they win as commission. They have also said they do no IT work themselves. Rather, they put together teams of individuals who complete the work requested by government departments.

In the case of ArriveCan, Mr. Firth said that while he has billed the Canada Border Services Agency for about $22-million over three years for various IT-related tasks, he said he disagrees with the Auditor-General over how much of that was specifically tied to ArriveCan. GCStrategies received four CBSA contracts that were used for ArriveCan, but the Auditor-General has acknowledged it is sometimes unclear how much outsourcing work can be attributed to the app. That is partly why she said her report’s finding that the app cost $59.5-million was only an estimate.

According to public accounts data, GCStrategies has received $59-million in federal funding from all federal departments combined since 2017.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Mr. Firth said he and Mr. Anthony worked for about 30 to 40 hours a month on ArriveCan.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said he believes Mr. Firth is underestimating the amounts he and his company received for the app, but even at face value, the figures raise concerns. He calculated that the $2.5-million that the two individuals received over a two-year period works out to $2,600 per hour.

“How do you justify to taxpayers that you, as a recruiter, were effectively billing them at over two-and-a-half-thousand-dollars per hour for your involvement on the ArriveCan app?” he asked.

“You have to look more about the fact that this is not an hourly job,” Mr. Firth replied. “I mean, it says 30 to 40 [hours]. I can be working in the evenings. I can be working in the daytime. I can be working on the weekends. Like you must appreciate it.”

Mr. Anthony is scheduled to appear before the same committee on Thursday. Both GCStrategies executives are appearing in response to a House summons.

Mr. Firth regularly defended the quality of his company’s work on ArriveCan on Wednesday and said that his business model is not unlike hundreds of other companies that act as staffing intermediaries between the federal public service and private contractors.

He said his company was created in 2015 by buying an existing company with a history of federal contracts and changing its name. When asked, he said the “GC” in GCStrategies stands for Government of Canada.

Questions have also been raised about another key ArriveCan contractor, Dalian Enterprises, after cabinet ministers recently expressed surprise to learn that the company’s president, David Yeo, had been working as an employee with the Department of National Defence.

Controversy over the ArriveCan app and the political fallout from Ms. Hogan’s report have led to heightened scrutiny on Parliament Hill on connections between government employees and federal contracts.

Natasha Leduc, a spokesperson for the Auditor-General’s office, said the office became aware of potential staff concerns after being informed by Public Services and Procurement Canada that it was undertaking a review of the security status of one of the contractors and had asked whether the person was still employed with the Auditor-General’s office.

The identities of the employees and their businesses were not disclosed. Ms. Leduc said the office first referred both cases to the RCMP in early January. Then, on the advice of the RCMP, the OAG referred the cases to the Ottawa Police Service in early February.

“Additional values and ethics training will be rolled out to all OAG employees in coming months, and additional controls are being implemented to verify outside employment or contracts,” she said.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Conservative MP Michael Barrett also pressed Mr. Firth on his previous testimony that he had never met government officials outside of an office setting.

In a Nov. 2 exchange, Mr. Barrett had asked Mr. Firth whether he had ever met with government officials outside of government offices and outside of government business hours.

“No, I have not,” Mr. Firth told MPs then.

Since then, CBSA president Erin O’Gorman has provided the committee with various meeting invites and e-mails showing Mr. Firth inviting government officials to restaurants and brew pubs.

Mr. Barrett accused Mr. Firth Wednesday of lying in his previous testimony. Through a series of answers, Mr. Firth said he had met outside of work with several senior officials, including Philippe Johnston, who held various senior tech-related positions throughout the government, and Marc Brouillard, a former chief technology officer for the Government of Canada.

Mr. Firth also said he had meetings outside of work with Cameron MacDonald and Antonio Utano, two former senior CBSA officials who worked on ArriveCan and who were suspended from other government positions without pay in January.

“I asked you these questions when you appeared before this committee before and you said that you hadn’t met with government officials outside of government offices. That sir, and you can check with your lawyer or with a dictionary, is a lie. It’s perjury,” he said.

Mr. Barrett said it is now clear that Mr. Firth provided hospitality to government officials on multiple occasions.

“I’m allowed to do that,” Mr. Firth replied.

“But you lied about it to the committee,” Mr. Barrett replied.

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