OTTAWA—The federal Liberals paid $ 100,000 in 2016 to Christopher Wylie, the B.C. man who assisted Cambridge Analytica in allegedly exploiting the Facebook data of 50 million North American users.
The Liberals confirmed Wednesday that Wylie was contracted for a national and regional data analysis “pilot project” in 2016. The Liberal research office said despite paying $ 100,000 to Wylie’s company, Eunoia Technologies, they ultimately did not proceed with his work.
Multiple sources tell the Star there have already been preliminary talks to request Wylie testify before the House of Commons’ ethics committee about his role with Cambridge Analytica.
The U.K.-based political consulting firm is at the centre of a scandal that rocked Facebook, after the New York Times and The Observer of London revealed millions of the social networks’ users’ data was harvested and used to assist the campaigns of U.S. President Donald Trump and the “Leave” side of the Brexit referendum. Wylie, who helped expose Cambridge Analytica’s activities, has become a key public figure in the resulting scandal.
But Wednesday’s revelations, in addition to Wylie’s previous involvement with the Liberal party, brought the scandal closer to home.
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According to the Liberals’ research office, Wylie was briefly contracted in 2016 to build a “pilot project” that combined polling on national and regional issues, monitoring Liberal MPs’ outreach to constituents, and acquiring tools to monitor social media. But despite paying Wylie $ 100,000, the Liberals say they ultimately rejected his project.
Speaking to reporters in Toronto, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not directly address a question about Wylie’s involvement with the party.
“We know that in an increasingly digital world, protecting citizens’ privacy, protecting our democratic institutions and our elections is a top priority for Canadians and for us,” Trudeau said.
“I’m very pleased that the privacy commissioner has indicated that he’ll be moving forward with an investigation to ensure Canadians’ privacy is protected.”
Wiley had previously worked for the Liberals between 2007 and 2009, under Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Opposition parties seized on those connections Wednesday, although stopped short of accusing the Liberal party of the kind of wrongdoing attributed to Cambridge Analytica.
“They have a creature in their own house that was part of the design and development of something that has now gone wild. And there clearly is a path that goes back to even the Dion days,” said New Democrat MP Brian Masse.
“The reality is, they need to take some ownership here.”
Conservative MP Peter Kent told the Star the opposition has many questions about Wylie’s involvement with the Liberal party. But he said the House of Commons also needs to deal with the larger Cambridge Analytica scandal, and find out if Canadians’ data was compromised.
“The larger question, which we will investigate in the ethics committee, is how many Canadians were scooped in the data gathered under the Cambridge Analytica scheme,” said Conservative MP Peter Kent.
“How were those Canadians privacy compromised or not? We really don’t know.”
With a file from The Canadian Press