Feds demand partial repayment of Arrivescam contracts in strongly worded letters

‘It has been 100 days since the Conservative Arrive-scam motion was passed to get money back from the fraudsters,’ said Conservative MP Kelly Block.

Feds demand partial repayment of Arrivescam contracts in strongly worded letters
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld and The Canadian Press / Justin Tang
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The Trudeau government penned letters to Arrivescam contractors demanding at least partial repayment of the $59.5 million pandemic application.

“The government couldn’t spend the money fast enough on Arrive-scam when they felt it needed to get out the door, and yet now we are waiting a fair length of time in order to have that money recouped,” said Conservative MP Kelly Block.

“It has been 100 days since the Conservative Arrive-scam motion was passed to get money back from the fraudsters,” she told the Commons government operations committee. 

Federal contractor GC Strategies received the lion's share at $19.1 million despite subcontracting all IT work at a 15% to 30% commission rate.

According to a Public Works briefing note, these charges were “fair and reasonable” despite multi-million-dollar cost overruns. 

On Monday, the Department of Public Works told MPs it sent letters to federal contractors asking for repayment, but did not specify when it expected an answer, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

“What is the role of the Department of Public Works, if any, in recovering these funds?” MP Block asked Deputy Public Works Minister Arianne Reza. “Letters to that effect have gone out,” she replied.

“Are you aware if any money has been recovered to date?” asked Block. “I am not aware if any money has been recovered,” replied Deputy Reza. 

The department official refused to speculate at committee but anticipated greater movement after the RCMP investigation into the pandemic aid.

The RCMP on April 16 raided the office of lead Arrivescam supplier, GC Strategies, upon receiving a search warrant to obtain electronics related to “fraudulent billing and résumé fraud.”

Kristian Firth, managing partner of GC Strategies, testified April 17 in a special session of the House of Commons. He did not elaborate on the charges. 

“I skimmed through the six pages,” said Firth.

GC Strategies was suspended as a federal contractor following findings of contract irregularities concerning the app.

Firth tapped Diane Daly, then-manager of contracting for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), as his personal contact on the deal.

“Once the contract had been awarded through regular procurement practices,” he said, “they became a client, and we would have frequent meetings to check on the health of the project.”

However, Auditor General Karen Hogan blasted CBSA for not following “good management practices in the contracting, development, and implementation of the ArriveCAN application.” 

Among the contracts include 46 that involved a non-competitive application process—including the pre-emptive $2.35 million contract to GC Strategies. 

“This gave [them] an advantage that other potential bidders did not have,” Hogan said. 

Treasury Board President Anita Anand, then-public works minister, dodged accountability for cost overruns despite her department overseeing 31 of 46 contracts approved for the application, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

GC Strategies received sole-sourced contracts billed at the equivalent of $2,600 an hour. “It did not cross my desk,” she told reporters on February 28. 

“Did you know about any of this?” asked a reporter. “The issues rested with officials and did not come to me as Minister,” replied Anand.

She promised taxpayers to recover Arrivescam overspending but did not specify when or how. 

“There is an ongoing RCMP investigation,” she testified April 18 at the Commons public accounts committee. “We intend to recoup all the funds of the Canadian taxpayer once that investigation is concluded.”

“We will always safeguard taxpayer dollars,” she reiterated. “That is what we do at the Treasury Board.”

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