The three main opposition parties in Parliament are planning to co-operate on an investigation into the spike in federal outsourcing contracts with the McKinsey and Company consulting firm since the Liberals formed government.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet both held news conferences on Parliament Hill Tuesday to announce that they, along with the NDP, will be supporting motions at the government operations committee to compel the production of government contracts and other documents in an effort to find out what taxpayers have received in exchange for the multimillion-dollar contracts.
“We need to know what this money was for, what influence McKinsey has had in our government,” said Mr. Poilievre, who argued that spending on consultants should be redirected to help the public service deliver core programs.
“I think we need less of these PowerPoint presentations and more actual work and delivery of service to the people on the ground,” he said.
McKinsey is headquartered in New York City and is among the world’s largest consulting firms. It has dealt with several high-profile controversies in recent years, including agreeing to a settlement in 2021 for nearly US$600-million over its role in promoting opioid sales. More recently, France’s financial prosecutor has announced it is investing allegations the company engaged in tax fraud.
A book published late last year, When McKinsey Comes to Town, by two New York Times reporters, generated unflattering headlines for the company, which was accused of “chasing profits at the expense of moral principle,” according to one review.
The Globe and Mail first reported in January, 2022, that the value of outsourcing contracts to McKinsey has climbed steadily under the Liberals after federal outsourcing with the company had declined to zero in the final two fiscal years of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
Under the Liberals, the company received $33.6-million over the five fiscal years than ended March 31, 2021. When new data were released in November, The Globe reported that the figures revealed a dramatic continuation of the trend.
During the 2021-22 fiscal year alone, McKinsey received $32.5-million, bringing the six-year total to $66.1-million.
Federal opposition politicians announced their plans for a committee investigation after a news report last week by Radio-Canada and the CBC on outsourcing and McKinsey, which was based on the same figures previously reported by The Globe.
Throughout 2022, The Globe published a series of reports highlighting concerns related to a lack of transparency and oversight regarding the billions of dollars spent each year on federal outsourcing. This included the revelation, first reported by The Globe, that the cost of the ArriveCan app is on pace to exceed $54-million. The Globe also reported that annual spending on outsourcing contracts has climbed by 74 per cent under the Liberals, reaching $14.6-billion in the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The government operations committee is already in the middle of two separate but related investigations that were launched after The Globe’s reports. One review is focused on federal outsourcing generally and a second study is focused on the cost of the ArriveCan app.
Committee members from all parties unanimously endorsed an Oct. 17 motion ordering federal departments to hand over, “in an unredacted format,” a wide range of documents related to the ArriveCan app. However, after months of delay, committee members recently learned that the Canada Border Services Agency will not be releasing all of the requested information. Many of the documents provided to MPs by the CBSA included redactions of key information, such as pay rates for contractors and the purpose of contracts.
The committee chair has described the CBSA’s redactions as unacceptable and said MPs will be preparing follow-up requests.
Mr. Blanchet, the Bloc Leader, was asked Tuesday what opposition parties can do when their requests for documents and other information related to outsourcing are denied by the government. He blamed the government’s lack of transparency on its supply and confidence agreement with the NDP.
“We have to live with the institutions as they are. This is a minority government which behaves like a majority government because it has some kind of a weird deal with another party. And because of that, they just don’t answer questions,” he said.
Mr. Blanchet said he is not in a position to say definitively whether the McKinsey contract work was inappropriate, but MPs need to receive more information.
“I just want to know,” he said. “Our job is to make sure that we know as much as possible … This government cannot be left alone. It has to be under scrutiny all the time because they have some really bad habits.”
McKinsey issued a statement Tuesday after the two leaders’ news conferences saying it is aware of the request by MPs for a committee hearing and that the company “welcomes the opportunity” to provide information.
“Our government work in Canada is entirely non-partisan in nature and focuses on core management topics, such as digitization and operations improvement. Our firm does not make policy recommendations on immigration or any other topic,” the statement says. “We are proud of the work we do on behalf of the Government of Canada and the programs which we have strengthened through our independent analyses and advice.”
NDP MP and ethics critic Matthew Green said in a statement that his party supports a committee review and noted that McKinsey did receive some contract work under the Conservative government.
“Canadians have to be able to trust that their money is being spent to benefit real people, and not just to line the pockets of wealthy consultants who buddy up to Liberals and Conservatives,” he said, adding that such consulting contracts undermine the work of the public service.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek’s office said in a statement that it will work with the committee if a motion is adopted on the matter.
“We will always ensure that the advice received helps the Government continue delivering for Canadians,” the office said. “Minister Jaczek is taking these concerns seriously. We continue to maintain the highest standards of openness, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.”
The increase in federal spending with McKinsey overlapped with a period in which the government maintained close ties with Dominic Barton, who was until 2018 the firm’s head.
Mr. Barton was an early adviser to the Trudeau government and chaired former finance minister Bill Morneau’s advisory council on economic growth while still leading the firm.
In September, 2019, after having left McKinsey, Mr. Barton was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to China. His foreign posting ended in December, 2021.