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Anand 'very surprised' to learn DND employee's company got ArriveCan contract, Poilievre calls for police probe

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News that the CEO of Dalian Enterprises, which received $7.9 million for its work on the ArriveCan app, was also an employee of the Department of National Defence (DND) was a "surprise" to former defence minister Anita Anand.

"I was definitely not aware. I was very surprised to hear this news," the Treasury Board President said to reporters on Parliament Hill on Thursday.

CTV News broke the story on Wednesday after the department confirmed that the employee in question, David Yeo, had been suspended. DND also said it was suspending Dalian contracts and launching an internal investigation.

Facing a series of questions about it on Thursday, Anand said she was "heartened" by the suspension and probe into "this very serious" issue.

Asked if it was normal government practice to award contracts to government employees, Anand said there is a rule that would prevent conflicts of interest. She was also asked what message she thinks it sends to taxpayers that the employee has not been fired.

"From a Treasury Board perspective, we set down the policies for the government… and I will say that ethical lines must be respected at all times," she said. "That is exactly why I've asked the Comptroller General to show, that he is pulling from all departments any contracts that are of a suspicious nature… We need to at, the end of the day, make sure that we are safeguarding taxpayer dollars."

Pointing to the ongoing investigations related to the controversial ArriveCan app, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that there will be consequences for anyone who tried to profit improperly from the "extraordinarily difficult" COVID-19 era.

Also reacting to the news, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Yeo should be "immediately" fired.

"And, there should be an immediate police investigation of his conduct and that of the company with which he is associated," Poilievre told reporters during a press conference.

Poilievre is also calling for a wider inquiry within the public service to uncover how the contracting was allowed to go on seemingly unchecked.

Dalian Enterprises has received multiple contracts from DND, as well as the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP and a number of other departments.

Yeo has previously been questioned by MPs about Dalian's work in connection to the app. Speaking before MPs investigating the ArriveCan debacle back in October, Yeo said "in every project for the government of Canada, Dalian follows all procurement and contracting rules and policies."

"We deliver according to scope of work or the task authorizations that we receive, and we only invoice for work performed, completed and signed-off by technical authorities or according to the terms and conditions of the contract," he said. 

Picking up on the controversy in the House of Commons during question period, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the ArriveCan "drama never stops."

"Remember when we told the Liberals that they could ask the public service to do the work that was required? They said 'no, it's not possible.' Well, it turns out that [an] ArriveCan contract was awarded to a DND employee. A public servant actually did the work… Why are the Liberals trying to give the Conservatives a run for their money at how much money they can waste on private consulting?"

In response, Defence Minister Bill Blair said it was an "important" question.

"As soon as we were made aware that the CEO of Dalian was a DND employee, we've taken immediate action to suspend all contracts with Dalian, and I can confirm for this House that all active contracts with Dalian have been suspended. I can also confirm with this House that the member in question has also been suspended," Blair said.

"The matter will be thoroughly investigated."

CTV News reached out to Yeo but did not receive a response by the time of publication. A statement issued by Dalian on March 7 states in part:

"From 2002 until September 2023, Mr. Yeo was not an employee of the Government of Canada in any capacity, but only provided IT professional services on a contract basis through Dalian to the Department of National Defence... In late September 2023, long after completion of all work on the ArriveCan app by Dalian, Mr. Yeo's professional relationship with the Department of National Defence changed from that of IT professional services consultant to employee.

"Due to this change of Mr. Yeo's status, he took steps to address any conflict of interest concerns by entering into a Confidentiality, Non-Disclosure and No Access Agreement with Dalian in which he agreed to refrain from participating in any Dalian proposal, project, contract, venture or other activity relating, directly or indirectly, to the Department of National Defence. Since becoming an employee of the Department of National Defence, Mr. Yeo has honoured that agreement, has had no involvement in the management or operations of Dalian, and has not had access to Dalian confidential information of any kind.

"Mr. Yeo has also made the appropriate conflict of interest filing with the Department of National Defence, has resigned as a director and officer of Dalian, and has put his shares in Dalian in a blind trust."

With files from Chief Political Correspondent Vassy Kapelos 

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