The House of Commons ethics committee voted Thursday to investigate the Facebook data abuse and agreed to call Canadian whistle-blower Christopher Wylie as a witness, as well as executives from Facebook, Amazon and Google.
The motion from NDP MP Charlie Angus was adopted unanimously, meaning it had the support of Liberal members even though the probe will inevitably lead to questions about Mr. Wylie’s relationship with the Liberal Party.
The vote came a day after the Liberal Research Bureau confirmed it awarded a $100,000 contract to Eunoia Technologies, a company owned by Mr. Wylie, in early 2016 to conduct a pilot project involving public-opinion research and “setting up social media monitoring tools.”
Liberal officials have so far declined to provide more detail on Mr. Wylie’s work or why the government did not continue with the pilot project.
The Globe and Mail reported this week that the contract was one of several interactions between the federal Liberals and Mr. Wylie over a number of years.
In August, 2016, two senior Liberal data specialists shared a stage with Mr. Wylie at a conference in Berkeley, Calif., on the topic of “effective altruism.”
Mr. Wylie appeared with the Liberal Research Bureau’s director of research and insights, Alexandre Sevigny, and Brett Thalmann, who was managing director of the bureau at the time. Mr. Thalmann is now director of administration and special projects in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr. Angus and Conservative MP and ethics critic Peter Kent both said Thursday that they would like to see the ethics committee call Mr. Sevigny and Mr. Thalmann to testify as part of their probe.
Mr. Wylie is at the centre of a controversy over the use of unauthorized Facebook data for a political campaign in support of Donald Trump’s presidential bid in the United States. Mr. Wylie is a co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, a company that is alleged to have improperly obtained the data of more than 50 million Facebook users.
Mr. Angus said the committee will be asking Mr. Wylie whether such tactics were used in Canada.
“Was this kind of technology used and abused by the Liberals? We don’t know,” Mr. Angus said. “But these are questions that would be good to be answered because of the effect that we’re seeing internationally because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.”
Mr. Wylie said in a tweet Wednesday that he had accepted invitations to testify before legislators in the United States and Britain. Mr. Wylie’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Globe Thursday. Witnesses normally appear voluntarily, though committees have a rarely used power to issue a summons.
The House of Commons is not sitting during the first two weeks of April, meaning the ethics committee meetings are not expected to begin until after MPs return to Ottawa on April 16.
Conservative MPs accused the Liberals Thursday of minimizing their ties to Mr. Wylie when in fact he is connected to senior Liberals.
“The Liberals assure us that the 2016 pilot data project and contract with Mr. Wylie was one time – a quick $100,000 out the door. Contract ended. Let’s move on,” said Mr. Kent to Treasury Board President Scott Brison during Question Period. “We now know two senior Liberal data specialists were on stage with Mr. Wylie at a conference later that year. … Can the minister explain this continuing relationship with Mr. Wylie at the highest levels of the PMO?”
Mr. Brison countered that Conservatives regularly discuss Facebook strategy at conferences. He also noted that the party’s 2019 campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, runs a company that offers internet advertising that will be “fearless in crafting an approach that pushes the boundaries [and] breaks the rules.
“Perhaps they should be explaining their association with someone who actively data mines all the time,” Mr. Brison said.