A McKinsey partner organized a workshop for the Canada Infrastructure Bank involving Dominic Barton while he was Canada’s ambassador to China, even though Mr. Barton told Parliament in February he had no contact with his former company during his brief time at Global Affairs.
An e-mail dated June 17, 2020, from McKinsey & Co. partner Zak Cutler to Annie Ropar, who was a CIB executive at the time, discusses setting up a June 23 call with Mr. Barton, who was in China, and the bank, a Crown corporation created in 2017 aimed at attracting private capital to invest in Canada.
“Dom’s calendar has been pretty tight, so looks like this is the only time we could get him. Given he’s by himself, we’re hoping to limit attendance to a few people,” Mr. Cutler wrote in the newly released e-mail. “It’s a bit delicate and don’t want to offend, but want to make sure Dom is able to speak freely.”
Mr. Barton faced repeated questions about the e-mail Thursday as he appeared again before a House of Commons committee to answer questions about the government’s ties to McKinsey, a global consulting firm that has received more than $100-million in federal contract work since the Liberals formed government in 2015.
He told MPs that his understanding was that he was taking part in a call with Michael Sabia, who had recently become chair of the CIB, and Mark Wiseman, former chief executive of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
Mr. Barton said Mr. Sabia was seeking their advice on the future of the CIB, given that the three of them had been key members of an economic advisory council to then-finance minister Bill Morneau in 2016 and 2017, which had recommended the creation of the CIB.
“I did not see that at all as a McKinsey thing. I recall that as a request from Michael Sabia. I didn’t see any of those e-mails,” Mr. Barton said Thursday as he appeared via video link. He also said he had no idea how the McKinsey partner obtained details about his personal schedule that were mentioned in the e-mail.
At a February committee appearance, Mr. Barton had said he was under “extremely strict” rules while ambassador to ensure he was not involved with anything related to his former company.
“Basically, it was excommunicado,” he said then.
However, a July 2, 2020, document on McKinsey letterhead said: “We recently facilitated two working sessions with leading thinkers in Canadian infrastructure.” The letter said the second session was with Mr. Wiseman “and Dominic Barton, former Managing Director at McKinsey and now Canada’s Ambassador to China.”
The McKinsey summary included direct quotes from Mr. Wiseman but does not reference any specific comments from Mr. Barton.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis told Mr. Barton on Thursday that his explanations were not plausible.
“With all due respect, you’re really expecting this committee to swallow quite a fudge,” he said.
Mr. Morneau was also scheduled to appear at the hearing, but his virtual testimony was cut short because of technical issues.
The House of Commons standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities is in the midst of examining McKinsey’s role in the creation and beginnings of the Canada Infrastructure Bank. The e-mails and letters brought up at the committee were obtained by MPs as part of that study.
Shortly after the Liberals formed government in 2015, Mr. Morneau created an economic advisory council that was chaired by Mr. Barton while he was still the global managing partner of McKinsey. During the roughly two years that the council provided policy advice to the Finance Minister, the panel received free research support from McKinsey staff.
The council issued several reports with policy recommendations, including that the government should create a Canada Infrastructure Bank.
The government ultimately followed that advice, with some differences from the original proposal.
The Globe and Mail has previously reported that while McKinsey received a small number of contracts under the previous Conservative government, the value of its federal contracting had declined to zero in the final years before the 2015 Liberal election victory. After the Liberals formed government, annual spending on McKinsey contracts has climbed steadily. Total spending since 2015 is at least $116.8-million, according to federal officials.
Mr. Barton has long maintained that there is no connection between the policy advice he provided as an individual volunteer adviser to the government and the fact that federal contracting with McKinsey later increased.
Mr. Barton left McKinsey in 2018. He was named Canada’s ambassador to China in 2019 and left that position in 2021. He is now chair of Rio Tinto, a global mining company that conducts a significant amount of business activity in China.
Mr. Sabia, who has been deputy minister of finance since December, 2020, was briefly chair of the CIB beginning in April, 2020. The next month, the bank awarded a $490,000 contract to McKinsey to provide consulting services that contributed to the bank’s $10-billion growth plan, which was announced later that year. The bank also awarded two contracts to McKinsey in 2018.
During a Tuesday appearance before the same committee, Mr. Sabia said the e-mail reference to the “delicate” issue of limiting attendance on the call with Mr. Barton meant that there was a desire not to offend people who weren’t invited.
“I don’t think that there’s a conspiracy hiding in behind there,” Mr. Sabia said.
“It may not be a conspiracy, but did it not seem like a conflict to you?” asked Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis.
“How could that possibly be a conflict of interest when Dominic Barton was simply providing some further thinking to help accelerate our own thinking?” Mr. Sabia replied. “There’s not even the potential for a conflict of interest there. I simply do not understand the question.”
The current CEO of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Ehren Cory, told MPs earlier this month that he worked at McKinsey more than a decade ago and that three other current CIB employees have previously worked for the consulting firm.
He also said the bank has not awarded any contracts to McKinsey since he joined the organization in December 2021.
“The four of us are just a small portion of the CIB team, which now stands at 125 people,” Mr. Cory said in a May 9 appearance.
Also Thursday, NDP MP Gord Johns asked the government in Question Period about a Globe report that Ottawa is planning to join a B.C. class-action lawsuit that accuses McKinsey & Co. of engaging in reckless marketing campaigns related to opioids.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek said the lawsuit does not affect McKinsey’s ability to compete for federal contracts.
“Civil litigation is not grounds for suspension,” she said.