Thanks very much, Chair.
The reasons for the 106(4) letter that you referenced, which has us here today, are some concerning revelations that have been reported in the media, specifically The Globe and Mail, that deal with contracts involving Data Sciences, which is a company that was founded by an individual named Tom Pitfield. This individual is a personal lifelong friend of the Prime Minister, who is a member of the Liberal caucus. This individual is also a senior Liberal campaign strategist, and that organization, Data Sciences, has been an integral part, as publicly reported, of the Liberal Party of Canada's electoral campaigns and their voter contact database known as Liberalist. It helps with things like digital engagement for its campaigns.
Furthermore, NGP VAN is a company that the Liberal Party of Canada licenses to run its political database. NGP VAN and Data Sciences are reported by the folks who have been contacted by The Globe and Mail to do the same thing. We've seen the contract between the Liberal members who have signed and NGP VAN, and we know that Data Sciences is being contracted by Liberal members. The rationale once given by the company for the contract with Data Sciences is that it provides technical support for the services provided by NGP VAN. The problem with this is that the contract that was published in The Globe and Mail details the service-level agreement including technical support for its own software, which raises the question, what is Data Sciences doing for the Liberal members? What are they getting from this contract?
When asked, some members of the Liberal caucus responded—and here I'll refer to a June 21 Globe and Mail article entitled “Liberal MPs’ budgets pay same firms that help run party’s digital campaigns”—as follows. The article reads in part:
Mr. Easter [the member for Malpeque] was unable to explain what Data Sciences did for his office in managing social media. “I do my own,” he said. “I quite honestly don’t know what [Data Sciences] does,” he added.
Liberal MP John McKay also said he had no idea why money from his office budget was going to Mr. Pitfield’s company. “I haven't got a clue,” he said. “I can't explain it. I vaguely recall that once a year we write a cheque and it's always been explained that it is within the ethical guidelines, so we all kind of sign up for it and it just goes into some oblivion”.
The concern as it relates to this committee, Chair, is that this places some members of the government—members of the Liberal caucus—in a conflict of interest based on their relationship with Mr. Pitfield. We have individuals who have personal friendships with public office holders. They're then given contracts by those public office holders, and, what's more, those individuals, in this case a minister, are in a position to direct or coordinate other members to retain those services for purposes that the members are unclear about.
Certainly in the context of our fiduciary responsibility to manage the funds that are entrusted to us in the exercise of our role as members of Parliament and to dispense funds from what we know as our MOB, our members' operating budget, it's important that we first of all understand why we're retaining the services of others. I also think it's important for Canadians to understand that signing contracts is not something a member can delegate. Members have to personally sign and authorize those contracts. There needs to be an understanding and certainly a basic awareness of what a contract is for. That's exercising a basic fiduciary responsibility.
When there is all of this context of those personal relationships, of that connection to a political organization, and when in these contracts it's very clear that there's an exclusivity, that the company will only deal with members of one political affiliation, in this case Liberal members, it raises all kinds of questions. The functionality of the software also raises questions about whether there is an ability to engage in very specific voter-related activities.
It's for those reasons that we initiated the call for this meeting. It's very important, when there seems to be an inevitable election coming this summer.... I welcome the Prime Minister's proving the speculators wrong on that, because now is not the time for an election. I think it's important that we understand whether or not taxpayer money from members' budgets has been used to subsidize the political operations of a political party in Canada. It's very important that we know that there's been no misappropriation of that money and that we understand that there have been no conflicts of interest in members' and ministers' exercise of their duties. That's what brings us here today.
With that said, Chair, I would like to move the following motion:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vii), and in light of recent media reports, the committee undertake a study on conflicts of interest relating to taxpayer-funded contracts with Data Sciences Inc; and that the committee do invite Mr. Tom Pitfield to appear and testify before the committee at a time and date of the Chair’s choosing and no later than seven days following the adoption of this motion.
Mr. Chair, that motion is available in both official languages in paper format, and it's been provided in electronic format to the clerk, so it's whatever your comfort or members' comfort is with receiving that in paper. Once that's been distributed, I just have a few final comments to make before other members speak to or against the motion.