Dominic Barton, the former global managing director of McKinsey & Company, says he had no involvement in federal contracts awarded to the firm in recent years.
Barton insisted to members of Parliament Wednesday that he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are not friends, and says he's "sad" to see continued insinuations about his relationship with the federal Liberals.
His comments come as a House of Commons committee pushes ahead with a study of McKinsey's work for the federal government, prompted by media reports that highlighted a rapid increase in the value of its contracts with Ottawa under Trudeau's tenure.
According to the most updated tally from the Procurement Department, McKinsey has been awarded at least $116.8 million in federal contracts since 2015.
Barton said the process by which federal contracts are awarded to firms is "very rigourous," but he denied having anything to do with recent business.
"I had no involvement whatsoever in any awarding of paid work to McKinsey by the federal government since I relocated to Asia in 1996," Barton told members of the government operations committee.
Ottawa's past relationship with Barton — and what kind of relationship remains — had come under renewed scrutiny amid questions about the extent of the firm's influence on public policy.
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Barton had served as the chair of an advisory council on economic growth for former finance minister Bill Morneau.
He was later appointed as Canada's ambassador to China, and resigned in late 2021, not long after Trudeau praised his "leadership and skilled diplomatic approach" in securing the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from Chinese detention.
In his opening remarks, the former McKinsey executive said he is not a partisan.
"I'm not a partisan adviser. I'm not a member or supporter of any political party or any candidate," Barton said.
He also highlighted that he is no longer affiliated with the consulting firm and does not benefit from McKinsey's financial success, saying: "It has now been over three and a half years since I left McKinsey and sold all my shares."
In response to questions from MPs, he went on to deny allegations that he is friends with Trudeau, maintaining that the relationship is strictly professional.
"I am not a friend," he said.
The former ambassador said his involvement with the federal government has stemmed from a drive to help and serve his country.
The insinuations that have been made about his relationship with the Liberals have been "frustrating," Barton said. "It makes me sad."
Barton also faced questions about his time as the chair of Morneau's advisory council and McKinsey's global track record. The firm has faced scrutiny for its work around the world, including its alleged involvement in the opioid crisis in the U.S. and its work with authoritarian governments.
But Barton had his own questions about why McKinsey was being singled out, saying it would make more sense for the committee to look at the federal government's use of consultants more broadly. He noted that the private and social sectors have also increased their use of consultancy firms in recent years.
"I think this committee is good to look at the impact and what people are doing," he said. "I don’t know why McKinsey is the only focus."
New Democrats have been making the same argument, and they are hoping to see the committee expand its study to include other consulting firms that have received large contracts.
New Democrat MP Gord Johns aims to bring forward a motion at a committee hearing next Monday to expand the scope of the study to include other firms including Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Accenture, KPMG and Ernst & Young.
A researcher testifying before the committee earlier this week called the focus on McKinsey a distraction.
Amanda Clarke, an associate professor of public administration at Carleton University, said the study should focus on the public service's reliance on consulting firms overall.
"The focus on outsourcing and contracting in the federal government is the broad enough umbrella to get at these issues and any given firm," Clarke said Monday.
In a statement published on its website on Jan. 10, McKinsey refuted the accusations of impropriety made against the firm.
"Our government work in Canada is entirely non-partisan in nature and focuses on core management topics, such as digitization and operations improvement," the statement said.
"Our firm does not make policy recommendations on immigration or any other topic."
The committee has asked the auditor general to review the contracts awarded to the firm based on performance and value for money.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.