Canada’s trade minister faces ethics probe over Liberal’s $17K contract

Minister of Economic Development, Minister of International Trade and Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion Mary Ng rises during Question Period, Thursday, March 24, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The federal ethics commissioner has opened an investigation into the conduct of International Trade Minister Mary Ng over a contract given to a company co-founded by a Liberal strategist.

Conservative MP James Bezan had asked commissioner Mario Dion to examine the contract awarded to the firm Pomp and Circumstance by Ng’s office for media training in spring 2020.

The contract itself was worth only about $17,000, but the Tories said the deal raised questions about whether any conflict-of-interest rules were breached because Amanda Alvaro, one of the firm’s co-founders, is allegedly Ng’s friend.

The Tories point to a tweet Alvaro posted in July 2018, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet and promoted Ng to his inner circle. In her tweet, Alvaro shared a photo of herself with her arm around Ng, saying she was celebrating her “dear friend.”

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Neither Alvaro nor her firm have yet responded to requests for comment.

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In his initial request for an investigation, Bezan pointed to several sections of the Conflict of Interest Act which he said Dion could investigate to see if any rules were broken.

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In a response letter sent Monday, Dion says he will examine the matter to see if Ng put herself in a conflict of interest, used any influence to advance someone’s private interest, and recused herself from the decision. He also said he had informed Ng.

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A spokeswoman for Ng says the minister “has always rigorously followed all the rules” and contracts are reviewed to ensure adherence to procurement protocols.

“Different contractors provided media training that were critical in supporting the minister and members of her communications team to inform Canadian small businesses, workers, and families about the supports available to them at the height of the pandemic,” Alice Hansen wrote in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“Minister Ng did not make the decision on this contract,” Hansen added.

Dion wrote that while he will investigate Ng for possible breaches under several sections of the federal conflict-of-interest law, he doesn’t believe Alvaro’s firm was given preferential treatment because a similar contract was handed to a different company.

“Another company with no known personal connection to Ms. Ng was awarded similar contracts around the same time,” Dion wrote.

The contract was disclosed in a recent government response to an order paper question requesting a breakdown of public relations or media training contracts.

Bezan argued in the letter that Ng and Alvaro are “close friends,” citing social media posts of them together at events as well as one 2018 tweet from Alvaro calling Ng her “dear friend” when the latter was named to the federal cabinet.

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He said federal ethics rules prohibit those in public offices from conflicts of interest where they exercise “an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further [the] private interests … of his or her relatives or friends.”
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Federal contracts are a frequent subject of scrutiny from all sides of the political spectrum when it comes to alleged conflicts of interests.

The Liberals have faced several such accusations during their time in office, including a controversial $456-million contract — later cancelled — with WE Charity to run a student grant program that put the government under intense public scrutiny two years ago.

— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly 

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