I think it's important, considering the massive costs of this program and the controversy around ArriveCAN.
The massive cost is $54 million. We've seen that a couple of tech companies have stepped up and recreated the app for what they said would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, not $54 million. They would do it over a weekend.
It also goes into some of the further studies we're looking at on outsourcing government contracts.
Canadians are appalled that in Edmonton we have veterans on the streets having to go to food banks, yet somehow there's $54 million for an app that the experts are saying could have been done for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It's very important that we see how this debacle—for lack of a better word—has happened, how a company with almost no employees received such a large contract and was allowed to subcontract out so many times to so many different companies, how the process happened, and how the costs overran so much. Also, who authorized the continuing cost increases for this app? Canadians deserve to know how the government is spending its hard-earned tax money, and why $54 million.
This reminds me of a book I am reading now called Victory on the Potomac. It's about U.S. defence reform. It talks about $650 hammers and $1,000 toilet seats. This reminds me of that issue. Canadians deserve to get to the bottom of it.
I hope the rest of the committee will support this study.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
I want to start by saying that I do believe the committee should look into ArriveCAN because of all the publicity that's come out over the last week.
I don't agree that we need to consider what may be a molehill a mountain and start with six meetings, and drag in five ministers and all of the people who were involved in the disruption contest to try to recreate the app, when that has literally nothing to do with the creation of a complex and secure app.
I think the right way to go about this—because we have to take very seriously Canadians' concerns about what is alleged to be a high cost—is to bring in the four departments that are involved. These four departments can provide their understanding of what happened, the contracts and whether or not the costs were what they are being speculated to have been. Then the committee can decide, once we've heard from the people who were actually involved in these contracts, whether or not we wish to go further and ask for documents to be produced and other witnesses to appear.
Obviously, many people out there don't feel that those who created an app over a weekend were doing something that is consistent with developing this type of an app that the government had millions of people use. So now we want to hear from those people who don't agree. This is really a group of people.... It is on their wish list to hear that the app was too costly.
I don't believe that's a fair way to begin, but I am willing, after two meetings and after we've heard from the departments, to go further if that is what the committee is willing to do because the departments have been unable to satisfy us with what they have come forward with.
I do want to say, though, based on what I've already undertaken to do since I first heard these costs, that I come from this industry. I want to look at what I already know to be misleading information related to the numbers Mr. McCauley cited. Whether the number is $54 million or $52 million, which has been cited, one thing is clear: $25.377 million, or $25,377,165 that is being included in this figure, comes from a competitive contract that was awarded earlier this year, on May 16, 2022. The requirements were for the services of a contractor to maintain and support various CBSA applications, which would include ArriveCAN but also many other IM/IT applications.
This contract was awarded more than two years after ArriveCAN went live. This contract covers many different CBSA services, not just ArriveCAN. Yet somehow this $25.3 million is being lumped into the cost of the development of ArriveCAN. So right away we can see that the number being used is clearly incorrect and highly inaccurate.
What we seem to have found is that the cost to develop the first version of ArriveCAN was approximately $80,000. Subsequently, there were more than 70 updates done to ArriveCAN. The 70 updates were done because, at various times over a two-year period, the regulations changed and travel was different, so ArriveCAN had to be adapted. Those 70 updates over the two-year period cost a total of $8.8 million.
So if you're looking at the cost of development of ArriveCAN, as opposed to multiple other direct and indirect costs of different things—for example, different apps that Public Safety has out there; telephone support lines that handle calls for Canadians seeking help with this app and other apps; the support for accessibility requirements for those with disabilities, meant to enable people who are visually impaired to use the app; the necessary level of security when dealing with a program that handles Canadians' personal information and touches on border security; costs associated with coordinating with provinces, territories and other countries to verify that the provided proof of vaccination was authentic; indirect support, maintenance and upgrades of this and other apps....
All of these numbers are being thrown in and out all together. They don't relate to the costs of the development of the app, which to the best of my understanding at this point, if you're looking at direct costs, was $80,000 for the first version that was launched. It was $8.8 million for the 70 subsequent updates.
I want to say that the officials we would bring in would be much better placed to deal with this than I am. It is important to hear from them, so that they can answer the committee's questions—and I'm sure they will be tough—and Canadians' questions as to the direct and indirect costs of the app.
I do have to say, Mr. Chair, that one thing we need to be careful about, again, is not creating mountains out of molehills or mountains out of hills. At this point, we don't have the necessary information to throw out the numbers that are being thrown out. To the best understanding that I have at this point, they are inaccurate.
I also want to talk about the issue—because I do come from this industry—of a primary contractor versus subcontractors. In this case, there was one primary contractor. The Government of Canada engaged one company to do this work. That company subsequently won the competitive contract that was awarded earlier this year for the $25.3 million that I mentioned, which related to going-forward support and maintenance for this app and many other Public Safety apps. That primary contractor cannot be conflated with the specialized people it used to develop the app.
We contracted with one party. Many companies in this industry don't just keep employees forever. They have certain work that rolls in at certain times. They have a small number of employees who go out and seek work and manage the work, but then they handle specialized subcontractors, usually individuals who are hired to work on the projects that they secure. They go and get the people who better understand the area of the app they're asked to roll out.
For example, here, privacy and international privacy law would be very important to understand because you're getting vaccination proof from many different countries. You need specialists to write the documentation and specialists to link this to the back office of the CBSA for security. You need usability for our people, to be able to have millions of people on different iOSs using the app on different platforms.
Here we had one company that hired 23 people as subcontractors to help it deal on its contract with the Government of Canada. That is not unusual in this industry. Anybody who's involved in this industry will tell you that this is very common. I wanted to deal with that misconception, Mr. Chair.
Finally, I also want to deal with a third misconception, which is that you can create an app over the course of a weekend that is identical to an app that people are creating, like ArriveCAN, which has serious back-office requirements, like password lookup, passport deals and airline flight timetables across borders and jurisdictions.
When you're dealing with an app like this, you have training, documentation and a requirement for language—not just translation, but finely checking the wording to make sure it complies with regulations. You have procurement and licensing. You have deployment. You have parallel development platforms for testing the next version. You have source code repositories. You have backups. You have physical alternatives if the digital one goes down. It has to work in many degraded conditions. You have to have user testing on a wide range of phones and system language settings. This includes testing scanners and the QR codes that you scan on arrival and long pauses while someone finds their flight number while in line.
This is not the same as just copying every interface and screen from the existing app or the navigation fields of every drop-down. It's an entirely different process, and anybody who is involved in the industry will tell you that this is sort of like you've built a house and you added on at some point, with the help of different architects, 70 different rooms, which are the updates to this app, and then you—multiple times—redesigned and rewired the house, and then somebody comes and takes a picture of the house. That's sort of what the hackathon could be compared to, and it's not fair to compare an apple to an orange.
Mr. Chair, just based on what I understand related to how this works, my recommendation again is, let's call in the departments. Let's have the experts from the departments in two meetings—from all four departments—explain to us exactly what they did, exactly how they contracted and exactly what costs are directly related to the development of the app and which are indirect or not associated with the app.
Then, the committee can, at its discretion, based on what we've heard, determine whether further meetings are required, whom we need to hear from and what documents we need to get, but let's do it with the full and clear understanding of what actually happened, versus lots of hypotheses, lots of speculation and lots of numbers being floated around that do not seem to me to be accurate.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'll just be 90 seconds on this. I think we need to get to a conclusion on it.
I will say that I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Housefather. I would have more sympathy for his arguments if the Cadillac price had gotten a Cadillac product.
I think it's pretty clear from what we're hearing from constituents that the performance of the app was disastrous, and that, for me, is an important factor to take into consideration. People who should not have been told to quarantine were told to quarantine, and then were in this weird limbo of having done everything right but being ordered by a glitch in a piece of technology that was extremely expensive.... The price should be commensurate with the quality. For me, that's an important factor.
I would also say that the motion my colleague put forward initially sought to recognize two important principles. One is ministerial accountability for the actions of their departments, and the other is the value of hearing from outside expertise. I agree with the principle that we should hear both sides on this subject. One side is outside expertise that may be critical of the actions of the government, and the other side is that of ministers accounting for the decisions of the government. To call not ministers but public servants, and not to call outside experts, means that we are respecting neither of these principles, that we're not hearing both sides and that we're not able to ask questions of those who are ultimately accountable for those decisions.
I think this amendment misses the opportunity to hear from external experts, who are supposed to be more neutral on the question, and it gives a pass to ministers, who should be accountable for the decisions they are accountable for.
On that basis, I don't support this amendment.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Always with a view to reaching consensus between all parties and reconciling each party's vision, so as to remove politics and partisanship, I agree to a minimum of two meetings to start.
I would suggest meeting next with senior officials from the Department of Public Services and Procurement, the Public Health Agency, the Department of Public Safety and the Border Services Agency. I would add to the list Kristian Firth and Darren Anthony of GC Strategies. If possible, I would like us to request a list of contractors and subcontractors, the list of requests for proposals, the unredacted breakdown of expenditures, with supporting invoices and a list of actual contracts.
I believe that's a happy medium between what was originally requested and the amendment that was proposed. We could agree on those aspects, which I have in writing and can send to the clerk so that he can word them appropriately. That's what I propose, without much ado. It's important to know what it's about.
I always base the questions I ask witnesses on documents that we have received, to keep the questions fair and relevant and get the facts right. Call me a doubting Thomas if you will, but I do like to get a visual aid so I can have a complete record.
I appreciate the collegiality of the committee. I'd like to try to bring everything around to one amendment that everybody agrees to.
Let's start with the two additional witnesses that were proposed by Mrs. Vignola, to bring in the company, which I think is absolutely fine. Mr. Johns' request to bring in the person from the CBSA union is fine. I'm in agreement with adding those two witnesses to the list of witnesses, which I have now put into section three of my amendment. Instead of just saying, “Public Services and Procurement Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Safety Canada and Canada Border Services Agency”, it would add the individuals from the company proposed by Mrs. Vignola and the individual proposed by Mr. Johns.
I am not in agreement with the proposal of Mr. McCauley because, again, this assumes that the hackathon is remotely connected to the actual development of the app. In the event we were to take those witnesses who somehow believe that their hackathon was related, then we would want to bring in any number of people who would say that it wasn't. So, I don't believe that this has anything to do with getting to the bottom of what the actual interaction between the government and the contractor was and what those costs were.
I agree with the additions of Mr. Johns and Mrs. Vignola. I consider them friendly, and I'm happy to add them.
With respect to the other request of Mr. Johns'—to use the word “maintenance” and not just say “with a focus on...development and launch”, but to say “undertake a study on the development and maintenance of the ArriveCAN app”—I'm happy to do that as a friendly amendment as well and add that to my amendment.
I agree with Mrs. Vignola, who has moved that we ask to receive the documents within 10 business days. I have no problem with the list she read out either.
Mr. Chair, I hope that, given these changes, we will come to a consensus to allow the majority of committee members to support the amendment.
I can draft the revised amendment, but the clerk can also do that. That's fine with me either way, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Housefather, I appreciate your comments and your attempt to find a solution, but I have to say that it seems that, rather than pushing to bring transparency to this whole issue, you're pushing to avoid transparency. The two companies that did the hackathons and Mr. Hyatt, who was quoted in the article, I think are very important experts to address this issue of the cost overruns and the massive costs to Canadian taxpayers.
I do not want to sit and listen to bureaucrats come in front of us to read talking points about how great this program is, how many lives it saved, etc. Canadians want to hear why this cost so much. What were alternatives to using GC, and how could they have delivered this program for a lot less money? I think excluding industry experts would basically neuter this study.
I'm not sure why it appears to me that you're trying to hide and neuter rather than bring light to this massive cost. We're willing to move from six meetings to two. We've made a lot of compromises, but I don't think we're going to compromise on this. We do need to hear other experts. We're hearing from someone from the union on how they were consulted. We're hearing from outside people. I certainly think Canadians, Canadian taxpayers, are owed it to hear from these other companies, as well as Mr. Hyatt.
We're happy to give on a lot of things, leave the ministers for now, shorten the meetings and shorten the witness list, but I think these three that we have should be included.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to go back to the comments from my friend Mr. McCauley, whom I have great respect for.
At this time, I do not support the witnesses who are being proposed for this third meeting. The committee at this point, under the revised amendment, would have two meetings with the departments, with the company that was actually involved in the contract, and with somebody who was representing employees who were involved in the discussions.
The parties that Mr. McCauley is suggesting had no involvement whatsoever in the development of ArriveCAN, and no involvement whatsoever in the contract process. They had no involvement at all. They are simply people he wants to bring in who have a fixed and specific view without actually, I think, having the background or the knowledge of what happened, to say there was an overcosting that was considerable and they could have done something very fast that would have delivered a different kind of product.
Should the committee, after the two meetings where we get the background from the department and the people actually involved, feel like delving further into the issue, the amendment that is proposed allows the committee to add additional meetings and additional witnesses.
Rest assured that if Mr. McCauley wants to bring in the people he named, who have a very fixed view of exactly what happened and were not involved themselves in creating the app, to support this hypothesis that Mr. McCauley is bringing forward that there was overcosting, there's an equal number of people we can bring forward as witnesses who would say the exact opposite, who would say the hackathon has no relationship whatsoever with the development of this kind of app.
I wouldn't just agree to add the witnesses Mr. McCauley wants to bring, because they're witnesses on one end of the spectrum, who had nothing to do with the underlying question that we're looking at, which is, what happened?
After we find out what happened, after these two meetings, if there's a desire, Mr. McCauley is free to bring in a request for additional witnesses. If the committee wants to hear from that group of witnesses, we would propose other witnesses who would have a different point of view.
There's no need to have the debate right now, before the committee actually knows what the real costs are for the development of the app, what the real costs are with respect to the maintenance of the app, how many of these contracts were related to other Public Safety applications and not just the ArriveCAN app, and how many were related to telephone support and other things that were unrelated to the development of an app.
We're putting the cart before the horse by jumping beyond what we have now called for, which is the two meetings and having the people who were directly involved come to the table, who can add the most light to these questions.
Adding the documents as requested, and adding the additional witnesses as requested, I am very open to what was proposed by Mr. Johns and Mrs. Vignola. Again, we've come to a relative consensus. I don't think it's fair to say that simply because we don't agree to add the witnesses related to the hackathon at this point, we're not being open and transparent. I think we are. We've arrived at a general consensus even if, unfortunately, one colleague is not happy with it.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Housefather, I think you will find that the three parties sitting on this side of the table agree these witnesses should appear.
Your comment about us having witnesses.... Your fear seems to be that these three proposed witnesses will only give one side. You said, “Well, we can bring in an equal number of people to say the opposite.” I think, with the witnesses from PSPC and others, you are bringing in an equal number of people.
Having sat on this committee for seven years, I can guarantee you that every single time PSPC or any government department comes in, they are defending one side, and that's their side. No one from PSPC is going to show up and say, “Yeah, you know, you caught us. We blew the bank on this.” It's nonsensical to have a one-sided study only to hear from the bureaucrats saying how great a job they're always doing, saying there are no cost overruns and no government could have possibly done it better, so let's not hear from anyone else on this—case closed and let's move on.
I appreciate what you're trying to do, but we're trying to figure out why the costs have gone so high and are so overrun when people have come forward saying, “You know, we could have done it for a heck of a lot less.” If we only hear from one side—the bureaucrats saying what a great job they've done, how many lives they've saved and how much money they've saved Canadians—we're not going to hear the full story.
I think my colleagues with the NDP and the Bloc have recognized, per our original witness list, that we've compromised and whittled it down quite a bit. I think they're comfortable with the compromise of adding them to a third meeting—or two meetings and then the third meeting is one hour—but I think they need to be part of this discussion.
Perhaps Mr. Johns will be a mediator.
My colleague Mr. McCauley has, on the record, a number of times, referred to a huge cost overrun. At this point, I realize the numbers being thrown out...we need to do a deep dive on them. I'm not going into that level of detail. My understanding of when we do software development.... I have to hear that there was a budget and that budget was blown, because my colleague constantly referred to budget overruns and expenditure. I agree with the expenditure and on doing a deep dive, but constantly referring to it as a “budget overrun”....
I know I'm getting a bit technical, but a lot of people are watching out there. When we pick the term “budget overrun” and $54 million or $52 million, that means there was a budget. I'd love to know what the budget is. I'm going to ask whether there ever was a budget, whether there was a budget overrun, and what the cost breakdown is. All of those questions are valid questions.
I suggest we refrain from those terminologies until we have a good understanding of what the cost elements were and what decisions were being made. I don't think my colleague, Mr. Anthony Housefather, is objecting to Mr. McCauley having those witnesses. It's a matter of timing. Timing allows us to do the two meetings as amended, in order to get a solid understanding of the breakdown through all the documents, and to ask the tough questions we are all going to ask of the departments and other witnesses. We could then collectively have another meeting, where we decide and say, “Hey, look, now we want to hear from other witnesses”, and submit our list.
I think there is agreement to move forward, and I suggest we actually move forward.
Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
These are the changes that, to my understanding, are part of the revised amendment proposed by Mr. Housefather: changing six meetings to two; adding “launch and maintenance” after the words “on the development” in the first paragraph; deleting the words “with a focus on the costs to develop and launch the app” in the first paragraph; and striking all words following the word “study” in the first paragraph.
In the second paragraph, it would essentially be that the committee send for, in unredacted format, the following documents: list of contractors and subcontractors; the broken-down list of costs—in French it's “liste des dépenses ventilées”; unfortunately, I'm not that good at translating on the fly—list of contracts; the request for proposals and the invoices, and that the documents be provided to the clerk of the committee in electronic format no later than noon on the 10th business day following the adoption of this motion.
Also, the list of paragraphs includes that the committee invite the following witnesses: Public Services and Procurement Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Safety Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, Kristian Firth and Darren Anthony of GC Strategies, and Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union.
Finally, it says that after hearing from these witnesses, the committee will determine whether other further meetings are required and the witnesses the committee considers relevant to appear.
If I may ask, Mr. Chair, did I get that all right?
I'm looking to Mr. Housefather to make certain that he's okay with it. That is correct.
We will now call for a vote.
(Amendment agreed to: yeas 7; nays 3 [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: We are now discussing the motion as amended. Is there any discussion on the motion as amended? I'm looking around the room to see if there is any discussion. I'm not seeing any. Therefore, I would ask if there is support for the motion as amended or whether someone requires a vote.
Does anyone disagree with the motion? I'm not seeing anything.
(Motion as amended agreed to)
The Chair: Thank you.
At this point in time, we are coming to the end of the public portion of the meeting. We will be going in camera. We had a two-hour time limit and we started at 11:15, so we basically have another 50 minutes. It will take us about five minutes to go off and then come back in.
Before we do that, as we are still in public, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee. I've been working with this committee for the last two years and it has been my pleasure to be working with you on this committee. I want to thank you for your professionalism and your respect for the committee chair and for everything we've done here.
With that said, I'd also like to indicate that in my seven years as a member of Parliament, I've served on many committees, and it's been a great honour for me to work with the clerk of this committee, who does a fantastic job. I want to thank the analysts, who have done fantastic work here, as well as the technicians and all the interpreters. I want to thank you for that.
Go ahead, Mr. Johns.