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In extremely rare move, House of Commons set to question ArriveCan contractor

An ArriveCan contractor who declined to answer questions during a committee appearance last month will face further questioning by MPs when he appears in front of the House of Commons this afternoon.

No one has been questioned in front of the entire House in over 100 years

A man in a grey suit and blue stripped shirt speaks into a microphone.

An ArriveCan contractor who declined to answer questions during a committee appearance last month will face further questioning by MPs when he appears in front of the House of Commons this afternoon — an extremely rare measure that hasn't happened since 1913.

Last week, MPs unanimously agreed to find GC Strategies partner Kristian Firth in contempt of Parliament and ordered him to appear before the House to receive an admonishment from the Speaker.

A public rebuke from the Speaker is itself a rare measure that has only been used a handful of times in the past century. But it is even more rare for an individual to face questions from the House.

MPs will, through the Speaker, ask Firth to answer the questions he avoided during his appearance at the government operations committee last month. They will also be allowed to ask followup questions.

No one has been questioned "before the bar" — a reference to a brass rail in the House that's meant to keep strangers from entering the chamber — since 1913.

The auditor general has previously reported that the soaring cost of the controversial ArriveCan project — estimated at roughly $60 million — was in part due to the government's over-reliance on outside contractors like GC Strategies.

That same report found that GC Strategies was involved in developing requirements that were later used for an ArriveCan contract. That contract — valued at $25 million — was later awarded to GC Strategies, the report says.

WATCH | ArriveCan app was a hot mess: auditor general report:

ArriveCan app was a hot mess: auditor general report | About That

2 months ago

Duration 10:30

In a scathing new report, Canada's auditor general says the final cost of the ArriveCan app is 'impossible to determine' due to poor record-keeping by the Canada Border Services Agency. Andrew Chang breaks down the report's findings about this pandemic-era tool that is estimated to have cost Canadians nearly $60 million.

A separate report by Canada's procurement ombudsman found that the criteria used in awarding the $25-million contract were "overly restrictive" and had "heavily favoured" GC Strategies.

During his committee appearance, MPs repeatedly asked Firth which government officials he worked with to develop the criteria for that contract. Firth avoided those questions, citing an ongoing RCMP investigation into ArriveCan, even though he said he hadn't been contacted by the police force.

Firth is expected to appear before the House following Wednesday's question period.

The Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and NDP will each be given two 10-minute rounds to question Firth. A third round of five minutes will follow and will include the Green Party.

3 times since the 1990s

Only three other people have faced a public admonishment before the House since the 1990s.

Former MPs Ian Waddell and Keith Martin were admonished by the Speaker in 1991 and 2002 respectively.

The most recent case was in 2021, when Iain Stewart, the then-president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, appeared before the House after the agency failed to turn over documents to a parliamentary committee relating to the firing of two scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

But in those cases, none of the individuals were forced to answer questions from MPs.

The last time was in February 1913, when R.C. Miller was brought before the House to answer questions related to bribery allegations in relation to government contracts.

Miller previously had refused to answer questions before the House public accounts committee and did so again when he appeared before the bar. In response, MPs ordered that Miller be imprisoned.

It's unclear what consequences Firth could face should he decline to answer questions before the House. Last week's motion suggests that the government operations committee will "consider" Firth's testimony and " if necessary, recommend further action."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Major

CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at darren.major@cbc.ca.

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