ArriveCan App Budget Started at $80,000, Ballooned to $54 Million: Report

Canada’s ArriveCAN app originally started out as an $80,000 project before turning into a $54 million expense for taxpayers — reports The Globe and Mail.

The information comes from a recent breakdown of the costs provided by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

After the federal government suspended the mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app for travellers crossing into Canada earlier this month, a report surfaced indicating that the Liberal government’s total spending on the app was on track to hit $54 million this fiscal year.

Leading Canadian tech companies were outraged by ArriveCAN’s price tag, as were opposition leaders. Conservative, Bloc Québécois, and NDP Members of Parliament last week urged the government operations and estimates committee to launch a study into ArriveCAN’s cost.

The parliamentary committee agreed to launch a cursory inquiry on Monday. As part of the investigation, several federal departments were ordered to provide documents pertaining to ArriveCAN contracts.

According to the breakdown provided by the CBSA, Ottawa initially spent $80,000 on the development of the ArriveCAN app. More than 70 updates to the original app led to an additional $8.8 million.

“As with any project, many elements had to come together to do this. The $54M we expect to have spent by March 31, 2023, was not just budgeted and spent on the creation and launch of the app itself, which costed $80K to launch in April 2020, but also on all the necessary work to operate, maintain and upgrade the app over the last two years,” a CBSA spokesperson said.

As for the rest of the spending, $7.5 million went to Service Canada for call-centre time, cloud hosting services for ArriveCAN cost $4.6 million, $5.2 million was spent on data management, and $4.9 million was incurred as “indirect costs” such as employee benefits and accommodations.

Of course, that doesn’t account for the entire $54 million budget. Other federal departments have 10 business days to comply with the motion passed on Monday, which requires them to hand over the list of contractors and subcontractors, cost breakdowns, a comprehensive list of contracts, and all requests for proposals and invoices related to the app.

The investigation the House of Commons committee on government operations and estimates agreed to on Monday is a cut-down version of Conservative MP Kelly McCauley’s original proposal.  It will consist of at least two meetings into ArriveCAN’s overall cost, while McCauley asked for six days of hearings.

The committee will call several witnesses, including senior government officials and representatives from GCstrategies, the company that received the most funding for ArriveCAN, at $9 million. McCauley’s proposed list of witnesses was more extensive, also including cabinet ministers and Canadian tech leaders who recently cloned the ArriveCAN app to demonstrate it shouldn’t have cost as much as it did.

Liberal MPs were able to persuade the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to not support the entirety of McCauley’s motion, and instead reassess after looking over key documents and contractor/subcontractor lists for ArriveCAN.

After reviewing the breakdown, NDP MP and committee member Gord Johns said it raises new questions. He said in a statement that it is “wrong to keep Canadians in the dark,” adding that the Liberals have not been transparent.