Liberal MPs on Monday filibustered an attempt by opposition parties to hear testimony from the party’s chief digital campaign strategist regarding constituency work that his company is being paid by taxpayers to perform.
The House of Commons ethics committee had been recalled during Parliament’s summer break to discuss whether to investigate the hiring with parliamentary funds of two companies – Montreal-based Data Sciences and U.S company NGP VAN – that are also central to the Liberal Party’s voter-outreach operations.
Conservative, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs particularly wanted to hear from Tom Pitfield, the founder of Data Sciences and a close friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His company works with NGP VAN during election campaigns and The Globe and Mail has revealed that both companies are also being paid to do constituency work for Liberal MPs out of parliamentary budgets.
The Globe reported last week that NGP VAN, a U.S. database software company that runs Liberal digital voter outreach, has been paid $1-million from parliamentary funds since 2016 to exclusively handle constituency case work for party MPs. Payments have also been received by Data Sciences to help Liberal MPs use NGP VAN software.
The opposition wanted Mr. Pitfield to appear before the ethics committee later this week for two hours of testimony, but Liberal MPs prevented the motion from coming to a vote by talking out the clock. After more than five hours of debate Monday, the Liberals voted to adjourn with support from the Bloc.
Filibustering, or delaying votes by prolonged debate, is a tactic members of the governing Liberal caucus have repeatedly used in recent months, including on the Commons’ health, defence and foreign-affairs committees. It’s been used to stymie efforts by opposition parties to demand more information.
The Conservatives accused the Liberals of blocking scrutiny over their Data Sciences and NGP VAN contracts. “Canadians have seen this playbook from the Trudeau Liberals time and time again,” Conservative MP Michael Barrett said in a statement after the marathon meeting.
“They will go to great lengths to hide the truth from Canadians. There is more to this scheme than … Liberals are telling Canadians.”
Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan, a vice-chair on the ethics committee, accused the opposition of launching “a real witch hunt.” She said Data Sciences provides French language and technical services to constituency casework software provided by NGP VAN, a company that also works for the U.S. Democratic Party.
And she said Mr. Pitfield is being unfairly targeted. “Poor Mr. Pitfield … has the misfortune of knowing Mr. Trudeau, or being his friend,” she said in French during the meeting.
Ms. Shanahan said she’d like to see the Conservatives’ voter-outreach and constituency-contact system put under the microscope as well.
House of Commons rules require MPs to use taxpayer resources for parliamentary purposes only and not to subsidize the operations of political parties or re-election campaigns. The Liberals say the spending is purely for constituency outreach services, which is an allowed expense.
“It’s important to know whether or not there have been taxpayers dollars from members’ office budgets being used to subsidize the political operations of a political party in Canada,” Mr. Barrett told the committee. “It creates a perfect storm for conflict.”
The Liberals wanted the matter referred to the Board of Internal Economy, which oversees the House of Commons budget. Liberals dominate that committee and its meetings are held in secret.
“Are Liberals using parliamentary funding to manage a database for partisan purposes? … We need to get the bottom of this,” NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said. The connection between Data Sciences’ political work and friendship with Mr. Trudeau suggests that this is a case of “Liberals helping friends of the Liberal Party” with taxpayers funds.
Liberal MP Steven MacKinnon said the attempt to trigger hearings on Liberal caucus spending is another example of dysfunctional politics in Ottawa. “I think we’ve reached a pretty high level of toxicity when an issue like this gets turned into an emergency meeting where members are dispatched from every corner of the country.”
Melissa Cotton, managing director of Liberal Caucus Research Bureau, has said there is an inviolable wall between the help Data Sciences and NGP VAN provide Liberal MPs in managing constituency case work and the voter-outreach assistance these companies provide the party during political campaigns.
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