Ottawa’s $54 Million Spending on ArriveCAN to Be Investigated by Opposition MPs

According to a report from The Globe and Mail, Conservative, Bloc Québécois, and NDP Members of Parliament plan to launch a committee investigation into the Liberal government’s $54 million spending on the ArriveCAN app, as the opposition parties have majority votes to proceed.

Ottawa built the now-optional ArriveCAN app so that travellers could submit their vaccination status and other mandatory health information online before crossing into Canadian borders.

According to reports, the Liberals’ spending on the ArriveCAN app is on track to exceed $54 million this year. Ottawa hired 23 different contractors and several unidentified and classified subcontractors for the job.

GCstrategies received the most funding for ArriveCAN, at $9 million (and possibly more in the current fiscal year). Opposition parties plan to call representatives from GCstrategies to testify about their contract work on ArriveCAN.

The most interesting aspect is GCstrategies has three contracts with the federal government, growing to $45.2 million in value.

According to The Globe and Mail, GCstrategies has fewer than five employees and no standalone office as it is virtual only. The company is currently relying on over 75 subcontractors to fulfill more than a dozen contracts with federal government departments.

Both GCstrategies and the government have refused to identify any of these subcontractors, arguing that their identities constitute confidential third-party information.

Conservative MP Kelly McCauley on Wednesday served formal notice of a motion urging the government operations committee to launch a study into ArriveCAN’s cost.

McCauley’s motion proposes a minimum of six days of hearings and a witness list that includes Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, and other cabinet ministers. It also urges the operations committee to hear from several tech leaders who have spoken out about the app’s cost.

Many of Canada’s top tech companies were outraged when they learned that the government paid $54 million to develop, deploy, and maintain the ArriveCAN app.

Two companies even held internal hackathons to replicate ArriveCAN and demonstrate that it should not have cost Canadian taxpayers $54 million. Lazer Technologies built an ArriveCAN clone over the Thanksgiving weekend, as did Toronto-based TribalScale.

“This is an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money, with absolutely no oversight, no accountability, and no sense of caring from the government that this money could have been better used elsewhere,” McCauley said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Conservative MP also wants the operations committee to obtain and examine contracts and other documents pertaining to the ArriveCAN app. McCauley’s motion could be put to a committee vote as soon as Monday.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, a member of the operations committee, said he will review the motion before deciding how he will vote. Housefather believes there has been a lot of misunderstanding regarding ArriveCAN’s price.

“I think we’re conflating many different costs here,” he said. He noted that the Liberals’ spending on ArriveCAN includes items such as call centres to support the app and the cost of primary reporting kiosks.

“And not all apps are the same. ArriveCan is not a simple information sharing app. It’s a secure transactional tool that used artificial intelligence to verify proof of vaccination,” he added.

GCstrategies managing partner Kristian Firth told the Globe on Wednesday the company adheres to all federal security screening requirements for contracting and subcontracting. “While I am not going to comment on the political process, GCstrategies is a qualified vendor to provide services to the Government of Canada,” said Firth.

NDP MP and committee member Gord Johns said he wants the Auditor-General to review outsourcing methods by the Liberal government. “There’s no transparency and it’s out of control. You’ve got expensive consultants that are hiring expensive consultants to deliver services,” said Johns, adding, “This is just absurd.”

Even if Liberal MPs vote against the investigation, McCauley’s motion could still go through since all three opposition parties are on board.

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