Ranj Pillai, Yukon Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, listens to a speaker in Whitehorse on June 20. Pillai told reporters on Oct. 24 that he and his department invited Dominic Barton, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, to the Yukon for a conference. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon government invites executive from embroiled consulting firm to Whitehorse

Dominic Barton, senior partner at McKinsey & Company, was at a conference in Whitehorse this week

A high-ranking executive associated with a consulting firm whose work may have been used by Saudi Arabia to clamp down on dissidents, was invited by the Department of Energy Mines and Resources to the Yukon to speak.

“We, and I, reached out to he and his assistant and he said he would come,” Minister Ranj Pillai told reporters after question period Oct. 24. “We have actually thought of bringing him up on a number of occasions.”

Dominic Barton is currently a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, according to Graham Ackerman, who’s part of the firm’s media team. Barton was the former global managing partner.

McKinsey, as reported by the New York Times on Oct. 20, produced an internal document weighing public opinion on Saudi-imposed austerity measures in 2015. According to the Times, that document identified three critics, and, sometime after it was released, one was arrested, another individual’s phone was hacked, his two brothers imprisoned, and an anonymous user’s account was shut down.

McKinsey addressed the Times’ story on the same day, stating that it wasn’t commissioned by the kingdom to “prepare a report of any kind or in any form to identify critics.”

“(The document) was not prepared for any government entity. Its intended primary audience was internal,” the statement continues.

“We are horrified by the possibility, however remote, that it could have been misused in any way. At this point, we have seen no evidence to suggest that it was misused, but are urgently investigating how and with whom the document was shared.”

Barton, also the chair of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s advisory council on economic growth, according to the McKinsey’s website, attended a conference this week, part of Opportunities North, which was organized by the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.

He spoke at Yukon College, too, according to Pillai.

“We offered up the opportunity to reach out to Mr. Barton, if the chamber felt that (he) would be a good speaker,” Pillai told reporters. “Of course, inevitably, it’s their decision what they want for an agenda.”

During question period, Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard asked Pillai whether it’s “appropriate for the Liberal government to associate with an organization linked to the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia …”

Pillai clapped back, calling it “petty, very unprofessional, quite sad” to be linked to Saudi Arabia himself.

“I think what we’re really seeing from both sides of the floor today is the fact that — why aren’t we talking about the economy? Why aren’t we talking about the fact that this conference was heralded?” he said.

“We certainly don’t condone what’s happening abroad. The fact that this is becoming a geopolitical conversation because an individual came to speak at an academic institution or to Economic Development staff or even as the keynote speaker — I think it is a really big stretch,” Pillai said.

A day later, on Oct. 25, the matter was raised once again during question period, with the Yukon Party asking questions surrounding the company’s track record.

“Once again, I don’t think that data should be misused,” Pillai said. “I don’t believe that companies should undertake this activity — if that’s all accurate — but I also think this is a bit of the opposition trying a bit of a smear campaign. I understand that and Yukoners understand that.”

No money, Pillai told reporters on Oct. 24, was spent to bring Barton to the Yukon.

Pillai also said he first met Barton in 2012 in Halifax at a Governor General’s leadership conference.

As reported by the CBC, Pillai said he wasn’t aware of the Times’ story ahead of the conference.

“I didn’t have a chance to see it,” he said during the press scrum. “I think we did the right thing in making sure we had a phenomenal speaker. I think students at Yukon College got some great value.”

After coming to learn about “one story,” Pillai said he would invite Barton back to the Yukon.

“At this point in time, I certainly would,” he said.

The eyes of the world have been on Saudi Arabia after acclaimed journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, raising questions as to whether the kingdom was complicit.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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