The federal Conservatives are calling for a parliamentary committee to study the outsourcing of Ottawa’s commercial rent relief program after its connection to the spouse of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most senior adviser was reported on Friday.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said Sunday his party will ask the House of Commons finance committee to study the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program and the decision to outsource it to independent mortgage finance company MCAP. The husband of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford is a senior executive at MCAP.
The program is supposed to reduce rent costs for small businesses that have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government says it gave the program to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) to administer. The Crown corporation said it didn’t have the capacity to run the initiative so it outsourced it to MCAP.
Robert Silver, Ms. Telford’s husband, joined the company in January and is its senior vice-president of strategy, policy and risk, according to his LinkedIn page. The Prime Minister’s Office told The Globe and Mail on Friday that Ms. Telford has voluntarily established an ethics screen to ensure she is not part of any discussions on MCAP, even though the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion told her a formal ethics screen was not needed.
Mr. Poilievre said the Tories will also ask the Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger to investigate whether MCAP or Mr. Silver should be registered on the public lobbying registry.
“We need to know if Mr. Silver or MCAP did any communications with any part of the federal government that they should have registered for,” Mr. Poilievre said.
The Globe has asked the Prime Minister’s Office since Friday if Mr. Silver has been in contact with Mr. Trudeau’s office, but has not received a response. After telling The Globe on Thursday that he would not discuss his job, Mr. Silver has not replied to subsequent requests for comment and neither have officials at MCAP.
Neither MCAP nor Mr. Silver are registered as lobbyists. MCAP has previously hired outside lobbyists to advocate on its behalf, but none of those registries are currently active and the last documented communication with senior government officials dates back to 2017.
The CMHC has said that Mr. Silver “was not involved in contract negotiations and has not been involved with the delivery of services related to CECRA.” However he took part in a meeting with the CMHC on June 22 regarding the publication of applicant numbers.
MCAP was awarded a $56-million contract to administer the federal program on May 15, according to CMHC. The program’s July extension raised the ceiling on the contract to up to $84-million. MCAP is paid based on a fixed fee per applicant.
NDP MP Charlie Angus said he expected the Prime Minister’s Office would want to reassure Canadians that Mr. Silver has not been contacting the government. “I think it would be a pretty simple thing for them to say ‘Absolutely not,‘” Mr. Angus said.
“I’m surprised that they haven’t given a straight answer on that. That raises many questions.”
Concerns about the outsourcing of the rent relief program come on the heels of the WE Charity controversy. In that case, conflict of interest allegations prompted the cancellation of plans for WE to administer a program to pay students for volunteer work. Mr. Dion, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, is investigating both Mr. Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Both have ties to the organization.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, is testifying at the ethics committee on Monday, which is studying the WE affair. He said there are also questions about the commercial rent program and how it was awarded to MCAP, and that Mr. Trudeau’s and Mr. Morneau’s offices should release all communications records.
“It’s the only way to get close to the truth of what actually happened,” Mr. Conacher said.
The NDP said it would support the Conservative’s plans to study the MCAP contract. Both parties take issue with the decision to outsource the program. The Conservatives said it should have instead been given to the Canada Revenue Agency to administer.
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor Mr. Morneau’s office responded by deadline to requests for comment on Sunday.
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