Barton says he had nothing to do with increase in federal government contracts awarded to McKinsey
Dominic Barton was the global managing partner of McKinsey & Co. from 2009 to 2018, a period that coincided with several high-profile controversies, including the New York-based consultancy’s consulting work for Purdue Pharma to increase sales of OxyContin.BLAIR GABLE /Reuters
Dominic Barton, the former head of global consulting giant McKinsey & Co., told MPs he had nothing to do with the surge in government contracts awarded to his former company in recent years, dismissing suggestions by the opposition party that he was a close friend of the Prime Minister.
He was challenged on Wednesday by Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who produced an email showing McKinsey Canada was touting a role as a senior partner on a federal government economics advisory board as it sought a meeting to brief Ottawa on its capabilities.
The Economic Growth Council, which provided Ottawa with advice on promoting Canada’s long-term prosperity, was chaired by Mr. Barton in 2016 and 2017 while he ran McKinsey.
Mr Barton addressed two hours in person late Wednesday afternoon before the House of Commons Government Operations Committee, which is investigating growth in federal contract spending on advice from McKinsey.
Government spending data shows that while McKinsey received some commissioned work under the Conservatives, its value had fallen to zero in the final years of that administration. After the Liberals formed government in 2015, annual spending on McKinsey contracts rose steadily, peaking at $32.5 million in fiscal 2021-22.
The government released an updated spending estimate in January and said it had spent at least $116.8 million on McKinsey contracts since 2015.
During the meeting, Mr. Genuis reported an email dated March 2020, obtained under the Access to Information Act, showing a McKinsey Canada official explaining Mr. Barton’s previous consulting work and related support from the Canadian Managing Director Company shareholder cites Andrew Pickersgill – as part of a request to arrange a briefing for government officials on the company’s capabilities.
Mr Barton told MPs he was unaware of the exchange and suggested questions about Mr Pickersgill’s interactions with the government could be directed to current McKinsey Canada staff.
“I don’t know what he was doing on that side,” Mr. Barton replied.
It was a frequent response from him throughout the testimony.
During his appearances before lawmakers, he repeatedly emphasized the difference between the policy advice he provided as an individual to the federal government and the commissioned work McKinsey does, which he says focuses on program execution rather than policy recommendations.
He also deflected questions about potential conflicts of interest at McKinsey during his tenure as head, saying he was not involved with individual files. He declined to discuss specific contracts, saying he was not involved in awarding the contracts and many of them were awarded after he left the company.
“There’s no relationship there. I know it sounds like a good story, but there was actually no connection between what I was doing and what McKinsey was doing,” he said.
He told MPs he is neither a partisan nor a supporter of any Canadian political party. He pointed out that he also advised Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, including former Treasury Secretary Jim Flaherty.
Opposition MPs have repeatedly questioned Mr Barton whether the surge in treaty spending is in any way related to his volunteer work as an influential political adviser to the Trudeau government during its early years in office.
In 2016 and 2017, Mr. Barton served as both the head of McKinsey and chaired a federal economic advisory council to then-Liberal Treasury Secretary Bill Morneau. The Council of Economic Experts made a number of far-reaching policy recommendations, many of which were later adopted by the government, such as: B. Establishing a Canadian Infrastructure Bank and increasing annual targets for immigrant intake.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh questioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons earlier in the day about why the government is working with a company that has played a role in boosting opioid sales.
The Globe and Mail first reported the surge in McKinsey contracts under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year.
Mr Barton is a former board member of the Century Initiative, an organization that says Canada should aim to increase its population from the current 39.4 million to 100 million by the year 2100.
In an unusual move for a party leader, Yves-François Blanchet attended Wednesday’s committee meeting to question Mr Barton directly. The leader of the Bloc Québécois told reporters earlier in the day he was particularly concerned about Mr Barton’s support for much higher immigration targets, which he said would mean Quebec’s French-speaking population would be overwhelmed with English-speakers.
“It’s so dangerous to Quebec’s identity,” he told reporters in reference to the 100 million population goal.
Mr Blanchet asked Mr Barton about the objective on the committee and what that would mean for the French language in Canada.
Mr Barton replied that integration in both languages was important.
“We are a bilingual country,” he said.
Founded almost a hundred years ago, McKinsey is regularly consulted by governments and corporations around the world. His former advisors include many prominent figures from business and politics, such as US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
Mr. Barton was the global managing partner of McKinsey & Co. from 2009 to 2018, a period that overlapped with several high-profile controversies, including the New York-based consultancy’s consulting work for Purdue Pharma on opportunities to increase sales of OxyContin.
That advisory work, which Mr. Barton says he was unaware of, resulted in the company agreeing in 2021 to pay nearly $600 million to settle investigations in dozens of U.S. states.
US lawmakers have also investigated McKinsey for advising Purdue Pharma on how to increase sales of opioids while the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) relied on the company’s advice to ensure drug safety and life to protect from Americans.
In 2017, McKinsey, led by Mr. Barton, apologized for “misjudgments” in dealing with corruption-ridden firms in South Africa.
Mr. Genuis expressed frustration after questioning Mr. Barton on several of McKinsey’s international controversies.
“However friendly you may or may not be to the Prime Minister, one thing you have in common with him, sir, is that you don’t seem to take any responsibility for anything that happens under you,” Mr Genuis said.
Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Barton expressed his frustration at the questioning.
“I find this thing quite confusing. I’m a Canadian who wanted to give back,” he said. “I feel like I was trying to help and then there’s this scheme that I’m kind of a puppet [master] – and I find it sad. I find it frustrating. Because that’s not who I am and what I do. It makes me sad.”
The Government Operations Committee began investigating the McKinsey contracts this week. It also examines outsourcing trends in general and the cost of the ArriveCan app. On Wednesday, the NDP proposed expanding the McKinsey study to other accounting firms such as Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Accenture, KPMG and Ernst & Young.