The Conservative Party wants to know who was responsible for outsourcing the federal government’s $84 million rent subsidy program during the novel coronavirus pandemic, which was awarded to a company where the spouse of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, holds a senior vice-president position.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said he would be submitting a request to the lobbying commissioner for an investigation on Monday.
“So often when governments make programs unnecessarily complicated, it’s not out of incompetence, it’s because somebody stands to benefit from all of the complexity,” he said.
“We want to know how that decision happened. Who pushed this multi-billion dollar program out of the department where it belonged so that it would be contracted to a company that just happened to have, as its senior vice president, the husband of the prime minister’s chief of staff?”
On Friday, the Globe and Mail reported that Telford’s husband, Robert Silver, senior vice-president of independent mortgage finance company MCAP, had a meeting with the Crown corporation responsible for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program.
The contract was first awarded to MCAP in May. Alex Wellstead, a spokesperson from the Office of the Prime Minister, said Telford set up a voluntary ethics screen test to determine if she was in breach of the Conflict of Interest Act long before MCAP was selected to administer the program.
“Before Mr. Silver was hired at MCAP, Ms. Telford proactively reached out to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner in January to inquire if any action was required on her part. The Office said no additional measures were required,” Wellstead said in a statement to Global News.
“However, out of an abundance of caution, Ms. Telford implemented a voluntary conflict screen at that time. This screen applies to anything related to MCAP and it has been diligently followed since it was implemented. Ms. Telford has not been involved in any discussions related to MCAP.”
The contract was originally worth $56 million but appreciated to $84 million after it was extended in July. MCAP was expected to receive 10 per cent of the program’s costs to cover administrative fees.
Poilievre criticized the program as being an “utter disaster” that has only helped a “tiny minority” of businesses who applied.
He said the Canadian Revenue Agency could have delivered the rent subsidies in an easier, faster way — not dissimilar to how it has been administering the Canadian wage subsidy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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“Businesses just needed to apply, showing their revenues were down 30 per cent and they could get up to 75 per cent of their payroll reimbursed by (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation). All the machinery is in place. There’s an application portal. CMHC has the ability to deposit money directly into the accounts of small businesses and nothing would have been different here,” Poilievre said.
“But no. Strangely, the government said, ‘we won’t go through the established mechanism that’s already in place.'”
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson from the minister of finance’s office said the government had taken “the initiative to create a program that would help the hardest hit small businesses cover the cost of rent.”
“The CMHC, as the Crown corporation that deals with mortgages and has the best understanding of the real estate market, was the appropriate partner for the federal government,” read the statement.
“CMHC later made the independent decision to have MCAP as the administrator for CECRA. This decision was made through their own competitive process. As mentioned, CMHC is an arm’s length Crown corporation responsible for their own operations.”
A statement from an NDP spokesperson also told Global News that the party had long been asking the government to make the CECRA more tenant focused.
“We’ve also long been calling for this program to get fixed and not lean so heavily on landlords which has meant that tenants lose out and the program fails,” read the statement.
Poilievre also drew parallels to the WE Charity scandal, which saw the federal government award the charity a $900 million sole-source contract for a now-scrapped student grant program.
Less than one week after WE was selected, the charity confirmed that Alexandre and Margaret Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother and mother, had both been paid to appear at WE events. Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, also hosts an unpaid podcast with the organization.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is currently investigating whether Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act.
The parliamentary ethics committee will reconvene this week to discuss the events that led to the contract’s approval, where several ministers are expected to testify.
“Our economy will take a $100 billion hit this year. And what is the prime minister focused on?” Poilievre said.
“Not on getting Canada through this crisis or rebuilding our economy, but on helping his friends, helping his cronies and creating programs that are so complicated that only the most sophisticated, with the best lobbyists and consultants, can benefit and profit.”