Private company’s app tested by officials | A diversion of federal government resources, says the Bloc Québécois

(Ottawa) “Unacceptable” and “scandalous”. The opposition parties consider it completely unacceptable that federal employees paid by taxpayers are called upon to test an application based on artificial intelligence designed by a private company owned by a senior manager of a federal agency.




What there is to know

  • Federal employees tested an application for four months, mPersonato try to resolve the problems with the Phénix payroll system.
  • This app was designed by a private company, Symaiotics, which is owned by a top executive of a federal agency.
  • This senior official did not reveal this duplication at the Ministry of Public Services and Procurement (PSPC).
  • The opposition parties claim that the senior official placed himself in a situation of conflict of interest.

The Bloc Québécois maintains that this is a case of “misappropriation of resources” from the Canadian state and argues that police authorities should take an interest in this matter.

“The police authorities should take a look at this matter since there is literally a diversion of state resources for the benefit of a private company,” argued the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, in an interview with The Press.

The Conservative Party, for its part, is asking the Minister of Public Services and Procurement (PSPC), Jean-Yves Duclos, to specify how many hours of work were paid by Ottawa in total so that around thirty employees tested for four months an application developed by the company Symaiotics, which belongs to a senior executive of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Canada (FINTRAC), Janak Alford.

“Is it normal for federal employees, paid by taxpayers, to work on the development of artificial intelligence software for a private company owned by a senior official? », Launched conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, also in an interview.

The Press revealed Tuesday that the company Symaiotics has developed an application, mPersonawhich relies on artificial intelligence and which was tested between October 2023 and January 2024 by 34 federal compensation agents to find solutions to the numerous problems of the Phoenix pay system.

The problem is that Janak Alford did not disclose this duplication to senior officials at PSPC, an omission that led whistleblowers to denounce this situation to The Press. These undeclared links also caused an uproar within this department, which is responsible for the Phoenix pay system, when The Press began to ask questions on this subject, leading to a chaotic cutting of ties with the company and pushing a deputy minister to mention “values ​​issues”.

“Of course this is all scandalous. There is a blatant conflict of interest here. This person should no longer be a civil servant, in my opinion,” says MP Pierre Paul-Hus.

PHOTO ADRIAN WYLD, CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Pierre Paul-Hus, conservative MP for Charlesbourg–Haute-Saint-Charles

(This person) works for an organization that works to protect the integrity of the country’s financial operations, but (she) has 34 federal employees paid by taxpayers working on her application.

Pierre Paul-Hus, conservative MP for Charlesbourg–Haute-Saint-Charles

“If this app had worked, would the government have bought it? “, he said, adding that this situation “has odors that are similar to the financial fiasco ofArriveCAN “.

The Bloc leader, Yves-François Blanchet, also argues that Janak Alford can hardly continue to work for FINTRAC, in light of the information published in The Press. Because according to him, it appears that the aim of the operation was “to try to obtain a contract later with the Canadian state”.

Ottawa and artificial intelligence

The federal government has been examining for several months the possibility of expanding the use of artificial intelligence in the deployment of its numerous programs. This shift could result in a windfall of contracts for private companies working in this sector.

Ottawa has also used artificial intelligence in nearly 300 projects and initiatives so far, according to a compilation carried out by an associate professor at Western University, Joanna Redden. This technology has been used to predict the outcomes of cases involving tax returns, temporary visa applications and also to promote diversity in employee hiring, among other things.

Recently, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos confirmed that his department is evaluating the possibility of using artificial intelligence to solve the hundreds of thousands of payroll problems in the Phénix system. If the approach is successful, it could even be used to develop the next remuneration tool.

In an interview, Mr. Duclos maintained that PSPC requested a demonstration of software “which is public and free and transparent and which everyone can use”. He said he had obtained assurances from FINTRAC that Mr. Alford respected “expected” ethical standards and that everything was done according to the rules. However, he agreed that the latter should have disclosed that he owns the company to senior PSPC officials.

FINTRAC also defended Mr. Alford by affirming that he designed this application “on his personal time” and that the latter “never attempted to patent this product or sell licenses or the product itself”. “Mr. Alford’s personal business, Symaiotics, has never obtained or sought to obtain government contracts,” FINTRAC also said.

Senior management claimed to be aware that Mr. Alford is the owner of Symaiotics. She maintains that this poses no problem.

With the collaboration of William Leclerc, The Press


reference: www.lapresse.ca

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