Canada's NDP


April 29th, 2024

GC Strategies Partners Astonishing Call to the Bar of the House

Last week, one of the partners of GC Strategies, the contractor responsible for the ArriveCan boondoggle, was questioned by the entire House of Commons. The individual in question, Kristian Firth, joins the rare ranks of the select few people to ever be admonished by the Speaker of the House. But more so than that, he became the first person in 111 years to actually be questioned by MPs within the House of Commons chambers itself.

The reason for Mr. Firth being called to the bar of the House of Commons was directly related to his intransigence at recent meetings of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO). In both meetings he was called to testify at, Mr. Firth refused to answer questions truthfully or directly about his involvement with GC Strategies, and MPs in the Committee unanimously passed a motion to outline the breach and forward this to the House. The House then unanimously passed a motion to have Mr. Firth appear in the House for questioning and declaring him to be in contempt of Parliament.

At Committee, he was being questioned about the absurd amount of money the development of the ArriveCan app cost Canadian taxpayers. The Auditor General ran the numbers, and while she determined the actual cost of the app was “impossible to determine” due to poor accounting and record-keeping, the estimated costs are around $59.5 million, with some $19.5 million having been paid out to GC Strategies. By Firth’s own admission, GC Strategies does not do IT work, but acts as an IT staffing company. They are essentially a middleman, at best, or another canary in the coalmine for a broken procurement system, at worst.

Now, it’s clear that ArriveCan has been a colossal waste of taxpayer money. To be called to question in front of the House of Commons is not a decision to be taken lightly, so to be called unanimously means that Mr. Firth’s testimony at committee didn’t exactly pass the smell test. So it was doubly fascinating to see that the day prior to Mr. Firth’s appearance in the House of Commons, the RCMP raided GC Strategies’ office. Although an RCMP spokesperson said the search warrant was not related to ArriveCan, the office that was searched was owned by GC Strategies, confirmed by Firth at the start of his testimony, and related to an issue involving the editing of resumés by GC Strategies to gain government contracts for Botler AI, who blew the whistle on the ordeal.

During Mr. Firth’s appearance in the House of Commons, where he was just the fourth person admonished by the House since 1990, he put up another wall of intransigence. While the Liberals supported his call to the bar, they refused to question him on grounds of Mr. Firth having a doctors note related to apparent heart and mental health issues, while all other MPs took the opportunity to push for more answers. However, those answers were mostly vague, with many inconsistencies, and a repeated pattern of claiming to not understand basic questions from MPs.

One of the most astounding moments involved questioning from NDP MP Peter Julian, who asked “Mr. Firth mentioned earlier that he did in fact falsify or alter the resumés. According to what we heard in committee, one person was said to have 13 years of experience, when that was not true. Other information about these people was also falsified. I want to ask two questions. First, does Mr. Firth regret the fact that those resumés were falsified? Second, to date, the federal government has not asked for the questionable amounts to be repaid. Is Mr. Firth prepared to reimburse Canadian taxpayers for the questionable amounts of these contracts?”

Mr. Firths response: “Mr. Speaker, the Botler contract was in no way related to the ArriveCAN application. Furthermore, I made a margin of zero dollars on the Botler opportunity.”

Canadians across the country are disappointed in both the dramatic failure of the procurement system that allows someone like Mr. Firth to be involved in procurement at all, but also in the clear gaps that allow poor reporting of information and invoicing that makes it so that even the Auditor General can’t come to a reasonable conclusion about how much was blown on the development of the app. Mr. Firth, somewhat ironically, highlighted exactly what is wrong with Ottawa’s procurement processes, whether he realizes it or not. We have what can best be described as a poster boy for taxpayer waste and corruption that echo’s past government scandals, most closely the $400 million ETS scandal from the Harper Conservatives. It demonstrates that government contracts, without clear oversight, can cost the government and taxpayers far more than simply hiring a few full-time employees to do the same work without someone lining their pockets.