ArriveCan costs rise to $60 million, audit reveals poor financial records and 'improper' contracting practices

Auditor General Karen Hogan estimated that the ArriveCan app, a pandemic tool used to track vaccination status during the COVID-19 pandemic, cost taxpayers at least $59.5 million. 'The financial records and controls were so poor that we were unable to determine the precise cost,' reads the report.

ArriveCan costs rise to $60 million, audit reveals poor financial records and 'improper' contracting practices
The Canadian Press / Giordano Ciampini and The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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Canada’s Auditor General published a damning report on Monday regarding the federal ArriveCan app, uncovering poor financial controls and its costs spiraling out of control.

Auditor General Karen Hogan estimated that taxpayers are on the hook for approximately $59.5 million for the pandemic tool, which tracked the vaccination status of travellers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Canada Border Services Agency’s documentation, financial records, and controls were so poor that we were unable to determine the precise cost of the ArriveCan application," reads the report. 

Parliament launched ArriveCan in April 2020 as an alleged pandemic management tool for travellers to upload mandatory health information, such as vaccination status, at border crossings.

Hogan told a House of Commons committee that the lack of accurate records had her "deeply concerned" because she could not ascertain where the money was spent, who did the work and the justification for the contracting decisions, reported The National Post.

On October 6, 2022, The Globe and Mail first estimated the project’s costs totalled $54 million — more than double the initial $21.2 million projection.

At committee that October 20, GC Strategies confirmed they subcontracted the IT work to several companies, charging between a 15% and 30% commission rate. The firm billed Ottawa for the project between $1,000 to $1,500 per worker daily.

GC Strategies received the lion's share of the initial funding at $11.2 million to work on the app, while Coradix and Dalian Enterprises received a combined $4.3 million.

"Overall, this audit shows a glaring disregard for basic management and contracting practices," testified Hogan.

Ritika Dutt and Amir Morv, founders of software company Botler, informed the RCMP in September 2021 of alleged ‘cozy relationships’ between the public service and private firms concerning the project.

They released a more detailed report the following November, suggesting senior government bureaucrats held improper contracting practices with representatives at GC Strategies, Dalian and Coradix. The federal policing agency launched an investigation into the app soon after.

The Auditor General’s Office concluded that the feds paid "too much" for the ArriveCan application that failed to exercise proper due diligence amid a public health emergency. The CBSA continues to pursue an internal investigation and has already referred issues on employee conduct and contractors to the RCMP.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters Monday that the RCMP must get to the bottom of this scandal.

"We want the truth to come out and we want the police’s findings to be complete and public, so that Canadians know about all the corruption and mismanagement in the Trudeau government," he said.

Hogan also found the federal government handed out non-competitive contracts, including to GC Strategies, who never put forward a proposal despite receiving the first contract for the application.

"The Canada Border Services Agency informed us that GC Strategies was awarded the contract on the basis of a proposal that it submitted," she wrote. "We found that the agency received a proposal from one of the three potential contractors, but this proposal was not from GC Strategies."

"There was no evidence that the agency considered a proposal … from GC Strategies for this non-competitive contract. This gave [them] an advantage that other potential bidders did not have," added Hogan.

Poilievre suggested cutting back taxpayer handouts to external consultants in place of the public service, who he claimed does the work "with more accountability" and "do it more affordable."

According to Hogan, the contractors and federal government failed to properly test the pandemic aid with 177 different versions of the app rolled out between April 2020 and October 2022. 

"We found little documentation showing that the Canada Border Services Agency completed testing prior to releasing new versions of ArriveCan," reads the report.

The lack of tests led to one version of the app, released in late June 2022, sending more than 10,000 people into a 14-day quarantine, reported The National Post.

"Do you believe that the civil service should be able to do more of its IT work?" asked a reporter. "The answer is yes, and we’ll make it happen because we’re going to cut back on the outside consultants," replied Poilievre.

"When you’re Prime Minister, how will you make that happen, given that you’re looking at cuts?" the same reporter asked. "We know that because public servants don’t cost $1990.00 a day — they cost significantly less than that," according to the staunch Tory MP. 

Another reporter told Poilievre that the Auditor General found the public service didn’t have the skills to do this kind of work. "So wouldn’t you need to train them, and wouldn’t that cost money?"

"Why is it that the public service doesn’t have these skills?" he posed. 

"It’s insane. We’ve increased the size of the public service by 50% under Justin Trudeau, and none of those 100,000 extra people have the skills to design an app that a couple of IT workers separately, and as a joke, designed in a single weekend."

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