MONTREAL — The political opponents of Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault took aim at him on Friday after it was revealed his government awarded a major American consulting firm $35,000 a day for strategies on managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Legault said McKinsey & Company advised the government on best practices from around the world as Quebec faced a pandemic for the first time in a century. The advice from the company "saved lives," the CAQ leader said.
A Radio-Canada investigation published Friday revealed McKinsey billed the Quebec government $6.6 million — or $35,000 a day — and played a key role in the Quebec government's pandemic response, conducting strategy meetings and advising the government on the purchase of personal protective equipment.
The leaders of the four other main parties say the decision to award millions in sole-source contracts to the global consulting firm — and the lack of clarity about the influence the company had on the Legault cabinet — reflects a broader lack of transparency in the CAQ government.
Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime said he wants a public inquiry into the contracts given to McKinsey.
"It's very concerning. How is it that a firm like this one — a foreign firm — was able to play such a large role in such a major crisis?" he told reporters outside his campaign office near Quebec City. "We have the right to know what happened."
Radio-Canada reported that Quebec agreed that McKinsey wouldn't reveal its other clients to the provincial government — a contract stipulation Duhaime said creates serious conflict of interest concerns. The report, for instance, said McKinsey was a client of COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer and that the consulting firm was involved in planning Quebec's COVID-19 vaccination strategy and its strategic communications.
Legault defended the contracts, saying that McKinsey is widely used by other governments and in the private sector.
"It's expensive, McKinsey, but, obviously, that's in line with the service they provide," Legault told reporters in Amos, Que., around 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal. The decision to award the contracts to the company came from the public service — not the cabinet — Legault said, adding that the urgency of the situation justified awarding consulting contracts without a public procurement process.
"Ultimately, it was up to me and my team to make decisions, but I think the recommendations that we received from McKinsey helped us save lives," he said.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, a former McKinsey consultant, said the contracts are a sign of the Legault government's lack of transparency. "The fundamental question for me is why, as Quebecers, we were not informed about this," she told reporters in Longueuil, Que., near Montreal.
Anglade and Québec solidaire spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the McKinsey contracts are more reasons to hold a public inquiry into the province's overall management of the pandemic. Nadeau-Dubois also accused Legault of "privatizing" part of the province's management of the pandemic and listening to a foreign multinational instead of Quebec health-care workers.
Earlier this year, the French Senate issued a report questioning the role played by consulting firms, including McKinsey, in the country's pandemic response and warning that the contracts create the possibility of conflicts of interest. In April, French prosecutors opened an investigation into tax fraud allegations against McKinsey contained in the Senate report.
In the United States, McKinsey has faced a conflict of interest investigation in both houses of Congress because of its role advising health regulators while also working for opioid drugmakers on boosting sales of painkillers.
Meanwhile, the Parti québécois on Friday suspended two of its candidates over anti-Muslim comments on social media.
On Friday morning, PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said he was suspending Pierre Vanier, who was standing in the Rousseau riding, over what he called "unacceptable" posts, which questioned the intelligence of Muslim women who wear a veil and suggested that Muslims "kill democracy."
Later in the day, Plamondon said Catherine Provost, Vanier's wife and the PQ candidate in the neighbouring riding of L’Assomption, would also be excluded from the PQ caucus, because she has shared similar posts.
Plamondon said both candidates refused to withdraw their candidacies; therefore, if they win their ridings, they will sit as Independents, he said.
Polls suggest the CAQ is likely to win re-election in both ridings, including L’Assomption, which is currently represented by Legault.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2022.
— With files from Stéphane Rolland, Jocelyne Richer and The Associated Press.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press