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Former McKinsey Chief Barton Denies Trudeau Ties Helped Win Contracts From Canada

(Bloomberg) – Dominic Barton, the former head of global consulting giant McKinsey & Co., has dismissed claims that his ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led to his firm being favored for Canadian government contracts.

Barton testified that he never oversaw McKinsey’s contracts with the Canadian government and said he only had a professional relationship with Trudeau.

“I’m not a close personal friend of the prime minister,” Barton said at a hearing of Canada’s parliamentary committee. When asked if he would put Trudeau on a list of his 50 best friends, he replied, “No,” saying he’s had virtually no social contact with him.

“I think he respects me,” Barton said, speaking of his role as the government’s economic adviser. “I don’t have his home phone number, nor was I alone in a room with him.”

Opposition lawmakers are targeting Barton because McKinsey’s contracts from various government agencies have surged over the past five years, although overall they have remained much lower than those contracted to other major consulting firms, including Deloitte LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Since Trudeau took office in 2015, Barton has chaired an advisory council on economic growth and served as ambassador to China from 2019 to 2021. In that post, he was tasked with defusing a diplomatic crisis over Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei executive in the US on extradition requests and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadian nationals.

But Barton, who is now chairman of mining giant Rio Tinto Plc, said he also held advisory roles under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

“I’m not a partisan,” Barton told the committee. “I am not a member or supporter of any political party in Canada.”

He also said government contracts awarded to McKinsey were not awarded by political staff, but through an established process overseen by public officials.

“McKinsey has publicly stated that the vast majority was the result of publicly bid, competitive bids evaluated independently by public officials on the basis of objective, scored technical and price criteria,” he said.

The problem first came to light after academics and media outlets calculated the rise in government outsourcing to consulting firms during Trudeau’s tenure. A group of university researchers set up a website to track the contracts awarded, flagging this as a sign of dwindling government capacity and the transfer of influence to the private sector.

In early January, state broadcaster Radio-Canada issued a report stating that McKinsey’s contracts have grown from virtually nothing when Trudeau took office in 2015 to a total of at least CA$66 million ($50 million) in the seven years since have increased. When a parliamentary committee began investigating the matter, a government statement put the number even higher, exceeding CAD$100 million.

Academic researchers who spoke to the committee have pointed out that other firms have received much larger orders during this period, telling lawmakers there is no evidence McKinsey’s orders were awarded in a suspicious manner.

“The greater erosion of government capacity is what this committee can address,” Carleton University professor Amanda Clarke said in testimony Monday. “I think McKinsey, if I’m being honest, is a bit of a distraction.”

–Assisted by Stephen Wicary.

©2023 Bloomberg LP

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