PM won't clarify business ties between friend, Liberal Party

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau avoided a question today about why the Liberal Party hired his close friend Tom Pitfield to train people to use the party’s database.

CTV News reported Wednesday that the Liberals hired Pitfield’s company, Data Sciences, to help campaigns use the database, known as Liberalist — including provincial Liberal campaigns.

Speaking at an event in Brampton, Ont., Trudeau was asked how he responds to allegations of cronyism over the contract for Data Sciences. Rather than answering directly, he talked about the Liberals’ outreach in the 2015 election campaign.

“The Liberal Party of Canada reached out to more Canadians than had ever been reached out to in the past,” Trudeau said.

“Through a multiple of ways — digital, social media, advertising, door-to-door connections — we were more effective than any other political party has ever been at gathering people into a movement that engaged them in the political process, that used the cutting-edge tools to build that kind of conversation and dialogue.”

Some of that engagement involves Pitfield training candidates to use the party’s sophisticated voter-tracking software.

Pitfield’s wife, Anna Gainey, is the Liberal Party’s president. The party says she recused herself from any decisions involving Pitfield’s company.

And Pitfield said he was hired not through his connections but because his company is a world leader in digital engagement.

Data Sciences isn’t Pitfield’s only political venture. In 2015, Pitfield helped start Training For Progress. The program is intended to teach students how to organize progressive political campaigns.

Pitfield left the organization’s board in mid-2015, a spokeswoman for Training For Progress said in an email to CTV News.

“The organization is a not-for-profit, volunteer-run initiative. No salaries, fees or payments are or were paid to any directors,” Meghan Mcachern said.

“We don’t have staff — it’s purely run as a volunteer initiative.”

Participants are charged a fee “to recoup our costs (room rental, projector, etc.),” she added.

The online curriculum shows the school taught students how to the use Liberalist, though Mcachern says Training For Progress runs “a variety of sessions to a variety of audiences.”

“The programs we do are open to volunteers and campaigners of all stripes, from all levels of politics and government and a variety of not-for-profit groups. We also work with a number of different platforms and tools that help connect with Canadians,” she said.

Pitfield also continues to run Data Sciences and Canada 2020, a think tank that puts on policy conferences, often featuring government cabinet ministers.

Canada2020 is already a source of Opposition concern.

“Canadians will look at this overall and see a common thread here, quite frankly, that the prime minister’s friends seem well oiled and taken care of,” said Conservative MP Alex Nuttall.

New Democrat MP Don Davies shared his criticism.

“That kind of insider business dealing, when it happens inside the Liberal Party, doesn’t give Canadians confidence that the same kind of approach won’t be taken with their public tax dollars,” he said.

With a report from CTV’s Glen McGregor in Ottawa