(i) the cost of government is driving up the cost of living,
(ii) the Parliamentary Budget Officer states that 40% of new spending is not related to COVID-19,
(iii) Canadians are now paying higher prices and higher interest rates as a result,
(iv) it is more important than ever for the government to respect taxpayer dollars and eliminate wasteful spending,
the House call on the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a performance audit, including the payments, contracts and sub-contracts for all aspects of the ArriveCAN app, and to prioritize this investigation.
He said: Madam Speaker, I will begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I am rising today in the House of Commons at a time in history where more Canadians than ever are saying that they are worse off financially than they were last year. In one month, 1.5 million Canadians had to use a food bank, and 20% of Canadians polled said that they had to skip meals because of the cost of groceries. To top it all off, the Jane and Finch food bank was forced to relocate because the landlord raised the rent. More Canadians are using food banks because of inflation, which is affecting food prices, and food banks have to relocate because of inflation, which is affecting the cost of rent. What is causing this phenomenon? Obviously the cost of government is increasing the cost of living. A $500-billion inflationary deficit is driving up the cost of the goods we purchase and the interest we pay.
Inflationary taxes further increase the cost of production of goods and services for our businesses, farmers and workers. That is “justinflation”. The government says that it was impossible to avoid this spending, which was entirely related to COVID-19. However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer told us that almost 40% of the spending announced since 2020 had nothing to do with COVID-19. Rather, it was related to discretionary decisions made by the government to spend more money.
Even some of the COVID-related spending was wasteful. The government continued to pay benefits to keep people off work, despite the fact that there were almost a million vacant positions. It also sent cheques to inmates and to public servants who were already employed but were still receiving the benefit. Lastly, there was the wastefulness of ArriveCAN, which we are discussing today.
We know that this was a huge waste of our money. The government spent $54 million on an app that could have been developed over a single weekend for $250,000. Moreover, we know that the app was unnecessary. Canadians have been able to cross the border without it for decades, and even centuries. Why did this app suddenly become necessary?
According to some, it was needed to show people’s vaccination status. Personally, I was against that requirement. However, even if I believed in the requirement, it was not necessary to develop an app. There were other ways of providing that information. In short, it was not necessary, it did not work, and it could have been developed at a cost of $250,000 instead of $54 million.
Also, we do not know where the money went. We asked that question here in the House of Commons, and the government tabled documents with a list of companies that received contracts, including ThinkOn, which was purportedly given $1.2 million. The problem is that, a few days later, the company said that it never received the money. Ernst & Young was supposedly paid $120,000, but, there again, the company said that it never worked on ArriveCAN.
A few weeks later, the government said that it was a mistake, that it thought it had paid these companies, but it was other companies instead who received that payment. There is obviously something fishy going on. The government does not want Canadians to know the truth. That is why the Conservative Party is introducing a motion in the House of Commons that calls on the Auditor General of Canada to investigate so that Canadians can know the truth.
We will find out the truth. The government will have to answer to Canadians. In fact, at a time when Canadians are unable to pay their bills, it is an outrage to force them to pay $54 million for such a useless waste of money.
As I stand in the House today, 20% of Canadians are skipping meals because they cannot afford the cost of food and 1.5 million of them are going to food banks in a single month. Speaking of food banks, one food bank at Jane and Finch was forced to move because the rent doubled. Food price inflation is driving people to the food bank and rent price inflation is driving food banks out of the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Canadians tell pollsters that they are in their worst financial situation ever.
How did we get here? The cost of government is driving up the cost of living. A half-trillion dollars of inflationary deficits have bid up the cost of the goods we buy and the interest we pay. Inflationary taxes have increased the costs for businesses to produce those goods and services. The more they spend, the more things cost. It is just inflation.
The government said it had no choice but to add this half-trillion dollars to it. It had no choice but to double the debt or add more debt than all other governments in Canadian history combined. However, we know that is not true because the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that 40% of new spending announced in the last two years alone had nothing to do with COVID. It was discretionary spending.
On top of that, the money that was linked to COVID was often wasted. The government paid CERB benefits to people, even when there were a half-million vacant jobs and the economies had been totally reopened by provincial governments. It paid CERB cheques to prisoners. Even federal public servants who were employed managed to get their hands on CERB cheques at the same time.
We also know that the government tried to give half a billion dollars to the WE Charity, only to be caught by Conservatives who held it to account. Now we learn that it spent $54 million on an app that we did not need, that did not work and that could have been designed for $250,000.
We looked into this. We wanted to know where the money went and who got rich. The government tabled documents in the House that showed us that among the contracted companies, one was ThinkOn, which was paid $1.2 million for QR code experimentation. The only problem was that the company, ThinkOn, said the government should dream on as it did not get the money. It said, “We have received no money from the CBSA”. The government has since put out a correction saying it thought it gave ThinkOn $1.2 million, but it turns out it did not.
It is a strange mistake to make. It is kind of hard to envision it happening. Did the government put a cheque in the mail and send it to the wrong address? Did it get an invoice from the company asking for reimbursement for costs and accidentally wrote the wrong name on the invoice? These are curiosities.
Madam Speaker, from scandals to failed programs, spending Canadians' money is a favourite pastime for this costly coalition. In the lead-up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Liberals had already added an additional $110 billion to Canada's debt. That alone should have raised the alarm for any reasonable members across the aisle, but obviously it did not.
Instead, the money printers kept rolling to the tune of half a trillion dollars of new debt during the last two years, over half of which was not even COVID-related spending. In the last five years, overall government spending has increased by 44% while the size of an already inflated bureaucracy has just kept growing.
The Liberals dragged out their measures longer than any of our other allies when it came to COVID restrictions, using political science instead of real science. Countries with lower vaccination rates reopened faster and they removed barriers to business and tourism. Those countries did not persecute their citizens for making personal choices. Meanwhile, in Canada, we remained restricted to much of the world as the Liberals continued spending on random testing, forcing Canadians into quarantine and keeping loved ones apart.
ArriveCAN is exhibit A of the government's failed drawn-out COVID policies. At $54 million, one would expect an app that could not only do what it was promised to do but that would prevent disruptions to people's lives by making it easier to travel. What taxpayers got instead was an app that failed at nearly every turn. ArriveCAN turned out to be arrive scam.
Because of one glitch, over 10,000 healthy, fully vaccinated people were forced into government-mandated quarantine. Those who did not comply received threatening emails, phone calls and even visits from law enforcement. Travellers entering Canada were even fined because of the app. Seniors were threatened with $5,000 fines if they did not have the app, even when they did not own a phone.
After over 70 updates, the app still failed and never lived up to the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars the Liberals forked over. This is money that, it turns out, cannot even be accounted for. CBSA originally said that ThinkOn received a $1.2-million contract related to ArriveCAN. That was news to the company, which said it does not provide the mobile QR code scanning and verification services that CBSA said it paid ThinkOn for, and the company never received payment from the Liberals.
Now CBSA is saying that Microsoft received the $1.2 million. While the government figures out where it was spending all this money, Canadian developers were proving how big of a waste of money arrive scam really was. It took the CEO of a Toronto technology company and his friends a weekend to clone the app and show how fast and cheap it would be to build. In all, it should have taken two days and cost $250,000 to build the junk the government paid $54 million to create.
This is a symptom of a more significant problem. It again shows Liberal misspending is costing Canadians. Since taking office, the has had misspend after ethics violation after scandal. All of this was at taxpayers' expense. From vacations on private islands to politically interfering in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, resulting in the Prime Minister firing two strong women cabinet ministers, he has proven himself not to be trustworthy. It again showed when he gave the federal contract to the WE Charity to administer the almost billion-dollar Canada student summer grant program.
Liberal misspending also extends beyond arrive scam. My colleague from recently received a response to her Order Paper question, where we learned that the estimated cost to run the random testing at airports was at least $411 million. That was half-a-billion dollars spent on random testing in the year they were shutting it down. This spending was on top of the $150 million the Liberals gave to their old friends at SNC-Lavalin for field hospitals that were not even used. The government gave another $237 million to a former Liberal MP for ventilators that were not even used.
Even before the pandemic, the Liberals spent $12 million on new fridges for Loblaws while small businesses received higher carbon and payroll taxes. There is also the $35 billion the government spent on the Infrastructure Bank, a bank that has done nothing to help build infrastructure in Canada. Instead, this bank spent $5.7 million in short-term bonuses to 79 employees in the past five years.
There are so many other things that $35 billion could have been used for, such as addressing the housing supply shortage to prevent home prices from soaring, building energy projects to keep gas and home heating bills down this winter, and finally connecting rural Canadians to the Internet and stable cell service. Instead of showing fiscal restraint, the has spent and spent, and Canadians are the ones who have to pay the price.
The tourism industry, before the pandemic, was valued above $100 billion and now is down to $80 billion. After spending $54 million, we have clogged up airports and delivered a massive hit to one of Canada's largest industries, which has cost us jobs and businesses.
It is not just tourism. The inflationary spending of the government has meant higher prices, while failed policies like the carbon tax and cancelling energy projects mean more dollars chasing fewer goods. That is just inflation.
Our agriculture sector is hurting as farmers, ranchers and other food producers cannot afford to run their equipment, heat their barns or buy feed for their livestock. The energy sector continues to get squeezed by “leave it in the ground” policies and the tripling of the carbon tax.
What this means for Canadians is less money in their pockets and impossible choices between heating their homes or putting food on the table. Among Canadians, one in five are cutting back on meals or skipping them altogether. In one month alone, 1.5 million people visited a food bank in this country, and one third of them were children.
Home and rent prices are out of reach for too many Canadians and their families. Instead of addressing inflation, the government has forced the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates, making mortgages even more expensive. Meanwhile, the spent $24,000 in four nights on a hotel in London, the same amount that an average rent of one year costs here in Canada.
The situation is desperate for Canadians, who are doing what they can to save money however they can, yet they look at the government and see wasteful spending and scandals. It truly is more critical than ever for the government to respect taxpayer dollars and eliminate unnecessary spending, such as the arrive scam app.
I rise today to support this motion to have the Auditor General conduct a performance audit on ArriveCAN. It is time that Canadians get to see where the payments really went, who really got the contracts and sub-contracts, and whether, in the end, the was telling the truth.
The arrive scam app is a symptom of the larger problem. Canadians cannot afford any more of the costly coalition. They are out of money, out of patience, and done with this. Liberals need to stop the pain, stop the carbon tax, stop spending and stop raising taxes.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to this opposition motion, which has been brought forward by the member for .
I am going to come to the substance of my remarks shortly, but before I do, I want to say that, listening to the Conservatives this morning, it seems that throughout the pandemic they have suffered from some amnesia.
The very federal spending and investments this government put into place during the course of the pandemic included many initiatives the Conservatives voted in favour of. As one of my colleagues was reminding me this morning, when it came to CERB, the Conservatives were advocating that it was a federal program that ought to have been increased and enhanced.
There is, regrettably, some cognitive dissonance in the lack of ability of our Conservative colleagues across the aisle to remember the very investments the government made during the pandemic to have Canadians' backs to help workers, families, seniors and young people were federal investment initiatives that the Conservatives supported. That is an appropriate background to bear in mind as we debate the merits of this motion.
As the , I am always proud to talk about what our country is doing on all fronts to protect the health and safety of Canadians. In much of the work before us as parliamentarians, I am also pleased to help scrutinize how we are spending to do just that.
However, the wording of this particular motion is perplexing, to say the least, as the ArriveCAN app has been tenuously lumped in with a broader discussion about the cost of living. The measures we have introduced to protect Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic should not be confused with the cost of living topic. That said, if it is the will of the House to discuss our pandemic measures, including ArriveCAN, I am very pleased to do so today.
Throughout the pandemic, the government put in place the measures necessary to protect the health and safety of Canadians. We introduced the Canada emergency response benefit. We made sure to introduce wage and rent subsidies to keep businesses alive and to protect workers. Indeed, we put into place the public health-related measures necessary to keep Canadians safe, to facilitate travel, and to keep our economy moving, including the tool we know as ArriveCAN.
Let me preface my remarks further by saying that we have removed all testing, quarantining and isolation requirements for anyone entering Canada as of October 1.
Public health measures at the border were lifted on October 1, 2022, and people are no longer required to provide health information via ArriveCAN.
The government has taken a prudent, incremental and risk-based approach to adjusting our public health measures at the border. I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain that approach.
The goal has been simple. It is to reduce the risk of importation and transmission of COVID-19 and the new variants of concern. Our measures have both helped to reduce and monitor the risk of the importation and transmission of COVID-19 and new variants in Canada associated with international travel.
As the situation evolved, we worked closely together with our partners in real time, especially those at Health Canada, and we adjusted and eased measures based on the best-available data, associated risk and the latest available scientific evaluations.
At every phase of the pandemic, we took careful steps based on the epidemiological situation in Canada, as well as the international situation. We saw that restrictions were lifted in domestic jurisdictions, as they were internationally. We saw that the latest science told us that Canada has now largely passed the peak of the omicron BA.4- and BA.5-fuelled wave. The largest urban areas are showing decreased levels of the virus, and with some regional variation remaining across Canada, we are now in a much better position.
In no small part, that is also thanks to the actions of Canadians themselves. We have seen a high uptake in vaccination rates and strong adherence overall to common sense, evidence-based public health measures. We have more tools now, such as rapid tests, to help prevent the spread of the virus, as well as better treatments.
Just recently, the World Health Organization indicated, “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet, but the end is in sight.”
Today, I am pleased to say that based on all these considerations, we have now removed all COVID–19 border requirements for all travellers entering into Canada. That includes the removal of all federal testing, quarantining and isolation requirements. Relevant to this motion today, it includes removal of the mandatory submission of health information in ArriveCAN.
As I said, as of October 1, 2022, travellers are no longer required to provide health information via ArriveCAN.
Allow me to parse this further. All travellers arriving in Canada are no longer required to be vaccinated against COVID–19 or subject to COVID–19 testing, quarantining or isolation requirements. Travellers no longer have to submit their public health information through ArriveCAN. However, travellers may, on a voluntary basis, use the optional CBSA advance declaration feature in ArriveCAN to submit their customs and immigration declaration in advance of arrival if they so choose. It has saved travellers time, and it continues to be available at Toronto Pearson, Vancouver and Montréal–Trudeau international airports. Border officers have the authority to screen passengers for illnesses, and not just COVID–19.
With respect to the motion's language on the efficiency of ArriveCAN, I can offer some further insight from a public safety perspective. It was imperative that we had ArriveCAN as a tool. It helped us to collect necessary health information while facilitating travel and border processing. At the pinnacle of that information, we were able to screen whether or not travellers at the time had met the threshold for being appropriately vaccinated.
It also allowed travellers to be processed efficiently and saved about five minutes of time at the border for each traveller, in what would have otherwise been a series of questions put to them by CBSA frontline officers. The information collected by ArriveCAN was mandatory at the time.
It had high ratings in the mobile app stores, and as of September 2022, ArriveCAN had been downloaded more than 18 million times. It was built with accessibility needs in mind. If not for the app, every traveller would have had to input their information manually, spending more time with a border services officer while the lines were growing longer.
The situation has now evolved. With the removal of public health border measures surrounding vaccination, testing and quarantine isolation requirements, travellers are no longer required to provide mandatory travel and public health information through ArriveCAN.
As noted, travellers can continue to use the optional CBSA advance declaration feature in ArriveCAN to submit their customs information, should they choose to do so. Data shows us that using advance declaration cuts down the amount of time a traveller spends at a kiosk by roughly one-third, which is significant. In the coming months, the optional CBSA advance declaration feature will also become available to travellers arriving at the Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Billy Bishop Toronto City, Ottawa, Quebec City and Halifax international airports. The CBSA is exploring other optional ArriveCAN features to provide a smoother, more efficient experience for travellers. This will be expanded to include travellers by land and other modes of entry, such as marine and rail, so that all can make use of the available technology to expedite and facilitate travel.
ArriveCAN has clearly been an important tool in our tool chest during the pandemic to keep Canadians healthy and safe and to facilitate the movement of people across the border. I want to remind the House that we are aware of the costs related to ArriveCAN. They covered many things. They were not just for the development of the app; there are many safeguards built into the procurement system. The proper processes were followed. An analysis of the costs associated with ArriveCAN is posted on the CBSA website.
All members can see that several professional service contracts were used for its development and maintenance. Contractors were selected based on their expertise and were compensated within the terms and the rigours of the policies that are put in place to ensure accountability and transparency.
All payments related to ArriveCAN were made in line with Government of Canada policies and directives on financial management, as managed through PSPC, and the maintenance of the internal controls framework.
Further, a review of the list of contracts is ongoing to ensure that Canadians and Parliament are provided with all accurate information. ArriveCAN served as an important tool to keep Canadians safe and to manage public health information at the border.
Moving forward, though, we cannot be complacent. That is why the Government of Canada will continue to work with international partners to closely monitor the global epidemiology of COVID–19, and that is a very important part of our overall strategy.
The epidemiology of COVID-19 is different in other countries, and some are experiencing higher case counts than Canada is. Just as we have done throughout the pandemic, we will remind travellers to make smart, informed, common-sense decisions when considering travel outside of Canada, to ensure their health and safety.
The Government of Canada will maintain a capacity, obviously, to reinstate testing where necessary for monitoring purposes at the border, if and only if required, so that we are prepared and so that we can protect the health and safety of Canadians.
Colleagues, allow me to be quite clear. It is still important for individuals to remain up to date with their vaccinations; it is also important to get boosters when they become eligible, and it is still important to keep up with personal protective habits like hand-washing, wearing masks in poorly ventilated places and staying home if symptoms manifest.
Canadians can still help to protect themselves and others and reduce the spread of COVID-19 by getting vaccinated; getting boosters; wearing a well-fitting, good-quality mask; staying home if they have symptoms; and self-testing if possible.
There is no doubt that the last few years have been challenging. I want to thank all of our officials, our agencies and the frontline workers who have been rigorously there to help support Canadians through this unprecedented time. I also want to thank all colleagues in the chamber for this important debate.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank Canadians, because indeed it is they who have made the sacrifices; it is they who have been following the advice of public health care experts, and it is they who have gotten vaccinated. It is Canadians who have gotten boosted; it is Canadians who continue to show good, smart, common-sense practices when it comes to not only protecting themselves but each other, and that is at the very spirit of what makes this country strong, healthy and prosperous.
I welcome the opportunity to answer some questions.
Madam Speaker, I was saying that the worst obligation for a prince is always having to cover things up.
Unlike the Conservatives, who were not pleased to speak to our motion last week, I am pleased to speak to the Conservative motion this morning. I am pleased to talk about it.
A lot of attention has been given to inflation. However, I will look at this from another angle, specifically, from an ethical perspective. Ethics is about doing the right thing. Currently I am concerned. I am concerned because the articles we read in the media leave us with a lot of questions. They leave us hanging. They pique our interest and then fail to report on what really happened with ArriveCAN. I am concerned and this is why.
For several years now, the government has made a habit of outsourcing its services. Many services have been outsourced to the private sector. Here we are talking about GC Strategies. Again and again, private firms are benefiting from the government's decision to let go of the expertise it should have internally. By outsourcing its services, the government is draining departments of their expertise, thereby becoming vulnerable to the whims of its outsourcers. I recently read a book about the McKinsey firm entitled When McKinsey Comes to Town. Companies like McKinsey advise governments and, on some level, influence public policy despite the fact that they are not elected. I am therefore concerned. I am concerned that the government is outsourcing this procedure and the related expertise.
GC Strategies knows all this. The company is a two-person intermediary that finds resources elsewhere. Without this intermediary, however, the government of Canada could not act. I am a little concerned about that as well. I wonder what that company had that the departments in question did not. Outsourcing worries me. I am concerned that companies are influencing public policy and making choices that governments should be making.
On several occasions, the government has shown a culture of secrecy and cover-ups. Secrecy means preventing others from seeing and knowing, and to cover up is to make believe. The government's culture is often to make us believe something other than the truth. We are kept in the dark. Essentially, there are some files, of which ArriveCAN is a prime example, that show us how secretive the government's intentions are. It does not want us to understand. I am concerned about this culture of cover-ups.
As they say, people who know they are serious tend to be clear, while those who want to look serious tend to be secretive. I think this applies here.
Basically, when I look at ArriveCAN from an ethics standpoint, what strikes me is the fact that they talk about trust. Trust is the foundation of life in society. Without trust, we are constantly asking questions, which, incidentally, is what we are doing now. Trust means not having to provide proof. When there is no trust, we need a facsimile or substitute: transparency.
When trust is not possible, we must content ourselves with transparency. However, trust is more important. Transparency enables us to see behind a policy, but trust enables us to live together. Montaigne talked about loving without hate and hating without love. That is what trust is, the ability to work hand in hand without always having to provide proof.
The thing I dislike about ArriveCAN is the constant need for proof, the constant need for one party or another to introduce a motion or go to committee to demand an explanation about what was done because we do not understand. It is never particularly clear.
When trust is not possible, we must content ourselves with transparency. When the government engages in dissimulation, it prevents us from seeing its intent. It is on the verge of lying. I am not saying that it is lying. What is lying? It is making someone do something they would not have done had they known the truth.
I travelled to Rwanda this summer, and I had a hard time entering my information in ArriveCAN. When I returned to Canada, no one even asked to see it. That is how useful it is. I was a little taken aback.
Once again, lying is what hinders communication between two entities. The government is not quite lying, but almost. That is when we need to act ethically. When we are lost in a fog of uncertainty, a grey area, we need to act ethically, which means that, in a discussion such as this one, I am going to focus a little less on myself and a little more on others. I will think about others. In a situation like this, I know that I am going to have to be open-minded to understand what is at issue.
Above all, acting ethically means doing the right thing even when no one is watching. I have a story about this from classical philosophy. There was once an emir who had a ring adorned with a small diamond. By twisting the ring on his finger, he could become invisible. Well, he lost the ring, of course. It was found by one of his slaves, who put it on, twisted it around and went off to the harem. The rest can be imagined, but in all the excitement, the ring twisted back around and he became visible again. Let us say he had a rough day after that.
This is what I mean: Acting ethically means doing the right thing even when no one is watching. We, the opposition members, including the Conservatives who moved this motion, are watching. All we see is secrecy. We are not okay with that.
I would like someone to explain why the government used such a strategy, specifically an outside business that subcontracted its services. I do not know much about IT services, but I do not see how something would start at $80,000 or $250,000 and end up costing $54 million, even though I understand that there are many things included in the cost breakdown. It seems to me that an organization as large as the Government of Canada should be able to do such work itself without resorting to this type of middleman.
I am curious and I would really like some help understanding this situation, shedding some light on it and getting rid of the secrecy. That is what I want, but I am not sure we will be able to do it.
I will quickly conclude by saying that, beyond the fact that the ArriveCAN app appears unnecessary, as I did not use it when returning to Canada, I find it outrageous that money is being spent frivolously and that we often accept it and just let it go.
Paul Valéry, an author that I really like, said that it is not the wicked who do the most harm in this world. It is the maladroit, the negligent and the credulous. The wicked would be powerless without a certain quota of the good.
It is time for the good people to stand up and say that enough is enough. I would like to get to the bottom of this.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by taking the time to read the motion the Conservative Party moved today:
That, given that, (i) the cost of government is driving up the cost of living, (ii) the Parliamentary Budget Officer states that 40% of new spending is not related to COVID-19, (iii) Canadians are now paying higher prices and higher interest rates as a result, (iv) it is more important than ever for the government to respect taxpayer dollars and eliminate wasteful spending, the House call on the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a performance audit, including the payments, contracts and sub-contracts for all aspects of the ArriveCAN app, and to prioritize this investigation.
Is anyone else getting that déjà vu feeling today? It is actually “déjà vu” in both official languages. Yes, it is déjà vu, because, once again, here we have a member of the Bloc Québécois rising in the House to ask the Liberal government questions about contracts awarded to party friends, contracts so redolent of collusion that even amateur detectives can identify it in their sleep.
We have just lived through an unprecedented event in our time. The government tried, in good faith, to react to the unknown. Is it any surprise that, in this situation, the age-old reflexes of the Liberal Party of Canada resurfaced? It is illegal but, after all, “a friend is a friend”.
What did the government do? It did the same thing it always does when it does not know what to do: It threw money at the problem, hoping that it would go away. The federal government's management of the airports at the start of the pandemic was shamefully inept. Let us not forget that the City of Montreal had to send its own staff to tell people arriving in Canada that they needed to be careful about bringing in COVID-19. The government did not act quickly enough. It spent untold amounts of money on a shiny new app. It contacted two friends of the Liberal Party directly to take charge of the situation. After all, “a friend is a friend”.
GC Strategies patriotically answered the call. The company said that of course it would help make Canadians safer in these troubled times and that it would find subcontractors capable of coding the app for a modest middleman's fee of 15% to 30% of $9 million.
What were these people thinking? When I worked in the private sector, if I had suggested taking such a big cut simply for acting as an intermediary, I would not have kept my job for very long, but “a friend is a friend”.
I have had the opportunity to work in the private sector, providing institutions in developing countries with training on contracting integrity. I worked in Mexico, Central America, Brazil and Palau, where we helped the finance department improve their contracting process. In any self-respecting country, contracts are awarded only after a rigorous process that prevents cronyism. Obviously, that is not the case in Canada.
In the interest of justice and fairness, the Bloc Québécois believes it is important to ensure that no one profits off of the COVID crisis. As the people of Terrebonne are facing the rising cost of living, it goes without saying that the government's contract-awarding process must be transparent. However, there have been many indications that the process for awarding the ArriveCAN contract was problematic. First of all, GC Strategies was handed an untendered contract. It was actually the government that reached out to the firm, which has only two employees. They did not develop the app, but rather acted as intermediaries for which they made a profit of between $1.3 million and $2.7 million. That is a pretty hefty fee just to be an intermediary.
This is somewhat reminiscent of several other questionable contracts that have been awarded by this same government. Between 2017 and 2020, under the Trudeau government, WE Charity was paid $120,000 across at least five contracts—
Madam Speaker, thank you for reminding me.
Under the Liberal government, WE Charity was awarded at least five contracts worth $120,000, as well as $5.2 million in grants and contributions. WE Charity received a $19.5-million untendered contract to administer and distribute $9 billion in student grants. It was revealed that the ’s mother and brother received $250,000 and $32,000, respectively, for speaking at events organized by WE Charity between 2016 and 2020. Moreover, the daughters of the former minister of finance also work, or at least they did at the time, for the charity, one paid under contract and the other in a volunteer position.
Let us bring up another relatively recent event, although some people like to say that they were in high school when it happened. Okay, I was in high school, but it is still “recent” in terms of Canadian history. Everything is relative, but it is important to keep a cool head when governing, which is not the case here.
History always sheds light on the present. Let us remind the Liberal government of one of its most typical episodes, the sponsorship scandal. Frightened by the tie in the 1995 referendum on sovereignty, the Canadian government responded with a massive visibility campaign aimed at making Quebeckers believe that they could not live without the federal government’s assistance, support and money. It spent a fortune to blanket Quebec in Canadian flags and, because, after all, a “friend is a friend”, contracts were awarded to major Liberal donors, who hastened to return a large portion of their profits to the Liberal Party’s election fund because “a friend is a friend”.
Let us look at what has been done in Quebec. Once again, the Liberal Party is the poster boy for incompetent crisis management. The list is long and includes the airport and border control sagas. At the height of the crisis, the Government of Quebec asked the federal government to implement airport controls to limit the spread of COVID‑19. As I said, the federal government did nothing. Instead of dealing effectively with the borders during the height of the crisis and following up on the isolation of travellers, the government developed its dysfunctional app too late.
The Government of Quebec also developed and launched a vaccine control app, which cost a lot less than the federal one because it used simpler, QR-code technology. For $9 million, the equivalent of what the intermediaries earned, not those who created the app, the Government of Quebec launched a simple and effective app that was used by every business in Quebec.
I propose that we take stock at this point.
First, a pandemic hit the whole world. As usual, the federal government did not know how to react, even though the Auditor General had already presented a report warning the government that it was not prepared for a pandemic. The Auditor General had done that work just after the H1N1 crisis. The government's disastrous lack of pandemic preparedness had already been noted, but nothing had been done.
Then, hoping to avoid an even worse public relations situation, the federal government called on GC Strategies to find people able to create an app for managing airport traffic.
Ultimately, not only did that app cost a fortune, but it also had intermediary fees, suggesting that the Liberals never forgot their good old modus operandi. To recap, in Quebec, our vaccine passport app, which involved literally every business and individual, cost $9 million. As we know, however, a friend is a friend.
The Bloc Québécois supports the motion before the House today for two reasons. First, the money that Canadians entrust to their governments must be spent wisely, and it seems very possible that that was not the case with ArriveCAN. More importantly, and I hope my Conservative colleagues are listening to me right now, the pandemic was and still is a formidable preparation for future crises, first and foremost the climate crisis.
While the Conservatives do everything they can to ensure that it comes even sooner and the Liberals do nothing, that climate crisis is getting closer every day. When it hits us, the federal government will not be able to justify its usual ineffectiveness by saying, teary-eyed in apologetic tones, that a friend is a friend.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise this morning to speak to the opposition motion before us.
I think everyone in the House would agree that one of the most important responsibilities of the government, which some would say is a sacred responsibility, is stewarding public funds and ensuring that every single dollar is spent in the best interests of Canadians, that the government gets maximum value and that public contracts do not excessively line the pockets of private companies. That is why the motion calling for the Auditor General to conduct an audit of all aspects of the ArriveCAN app is so important and why Canadians should rightly be concerned.
There are a lot of different aspects we could talk about. We could talk about the fact that this app erroneously sent over 10,000 Canadians into quarantine and put them in jeopardy of $750,000 fines, or we could talk about the delays ArriveCAN caused at the border, something that was of great concern both to travellers and border officials. It made people struggle, especially people who did not have access to the technology. However, the focus of today's motion, and appropriately so, is on the decisions the government made around procurement to spend millions of dollars on private IT companies to develop and maintain this app.
The biggest concern is the lack of transparency around the cost of development and maintenance, and there are a number of things we know. First of all, we know the original estimate for developing the app was $80,000, and we know that somehow development and maintenance ballooned to $54 million. We also know the government paid an IT staffing firm here in Ottawa nine million of those dollars. This is a firm that has no office, has only a handful of staff and did not actually do the work, but rather assembled a team of contractors and took a 15% to 30% commission. They were making millions of dollars off this.
Finally, we know that when CBSA was asked to produce a list of all the contractors involved in the development and maintenance of the ArriveCAN app, there were a bunch of errors in that list. The original list included companies that had nothing to do with the ArriveCAN app, and when they saw their names on the list, they had some pretty serious questions for the government. A company called ThinkOn Incorporated and Ernst & Young were among the companies that had nothing to do with it and were quite confused by the fact they were being implicated. I appreciate that CBSA has promised to provide a full list and get to the bottom of these irregularities, but there are enough questions here that this motion to have the Auditor General conduct a full audit is very much warranted.
I also want to talk a bit about the broader questions this issue has brought up. There is a real question here about whether the government's overall approach to outsourcing is delivering good value for Canadians or whether it is simply lining the pockets of companies that have figured out how to maximize their returns from the system of government procurement.
We have heard concerns expressed by some of the public sector unions. They have shared with us that they believe IT companies are intentionally underbidding on government contracts. When they underbid on government contracts, it makes it very difficult for the government to assess whether it is in fact better value to outsource the contract to the private sector or whether better value is had by keeping that work in house with the government's own team of IT professionals. What happens after these companies underbid on the contracts is that the contracts start and they are able to have the contracts reopened.
While I am pausing, I note that I will be sharing my time with the wonderful member for , something I have been reminded of by my colleagues several times yet somehow have forgotten.
The reopening of these contracts then allows the government, on a discretionary basis, to jack up the value of those contracts again and again so that the total value at the end, when everything is said and done and all the dollars are added up, is many times higher than the original estimate for the work. This is something we need to get to the bottom of, and I think that is an opportunity the motion presents.
Here is the trend when it comes to government outsourcing. The Globe and Mail reported in January that the government outsourced $11.8 billion of work in the 2020-21 fiscal year. That is up 42% from 2015-16. It is a pretty alarming increase. In 2020-21, the federal government spent $2.3 billion on IT contracts, compared with only $1.9 billion on its own government IT workforce. One public sector union has filed 2,500 grievances related to outsourcing.
There is something wrong with this picture. We need to ensure this decision, which some people call the “make or buy” decision, is informed by the best information and that it is always done with the public's best interests in mind. Getting good value for taxpayers' dollars for the public resources that our government is charged with stewarding is the primary and only concern of that process.
I want to mention that, thankfully, the government operations committee is working on this larger topic right now, and I want to point out the good work of my colleague, the member for . It is looking at this broader question of whether the Treasury Board's guidelines, which are supposed to inform this make or buy decision, are doing a good enough job, are doing what they are tasked with doing and are ensuring that the public interest is protected.
Finally, I want to turn to one of the things I heard in the House yesterday, which I think is one of the unfortunate aspects of this debate over the ArriveCAN app. There is a common trope around IT work that I believe is neither accurate nor particularly helpful. Yesterday, we heard a Conservative member rise in the House and claim that ArriveCAN “could have been created by a bunch of pimply faced teenage hackers over a weekend using a Commodore 64.”
I hear my colleagues laughing. I agree that the quote is humorous, but it is an unhelpful stereotype and I will tell colleagues why. I used to work in IT as a website developer, and I came across the stereotype that we should not pay good money for IT work and for tech products. After all, these are things that our brother's cousin's nephew can do at home for fun. These are sophisticated technology products that are being developed, and IT workers in our country are among the most creative, the most sophisticated, the most sought-after and the most valuable assets we have. When we allow these tropes and stereotypes about IT work to persist, I think we really do them an injustice and potentially risk the future of the new economy that is so important in our country.
In conclusion, Canadians deserve to know that their taxpayer dollars are being managed responsibly. The irregularities around the ArriveCAN app raise serious questions and we need to get to the bottom of them. There is a larger question of whether the government's approach to outsourcing delivers value or whether it simply enriches its private sector friends. I hope through this debate and through the investigations and audits that follow we can get answers to those questions.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss the motion regarding the ballooning costs of the ArriveCAN app.
In a time when too many Canadians are struggling just to make ends meet, it is critical that the government ensure we have sound stewardship of tax dollars. I share the concerns of Canadians and frontline CBSA officers that the ArriveCAN app has cost way too much and delivered too little.
Last week at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, we heard from the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union that frontline service workers were never consulted on the development of the app or any of the more than 70 updates that were required.
While the government continued to pour money into ArriveCAN, frontline workers were forced to deal with the fallout of a glitchy app on top of a severe staffing shortage. This has had a huge demoralizing impact on the mental health and the moral of CBSA officers.
At committee, I supported a study to provide more transparency to Canadians, which they deserve, about the costs associated with the ArriveCAN app. I also pushed the committee to go further. I believe the ArriveCAN debacle is part of a larger systemic issue of the government increasingly hiring expensive consultants, who hire expensive consultants, with no regard for delivering the best value for Canadians.
That is why I tabled a motion, which was supported unanimously at OGGO, to request that the Auditor General conduct a performance audit on outsourcing policies and practices more broadly.
Earlier this year, the Globe and Mail reported that since the 2015-16 fiscal year, government spending on outsourced contracts had increased by 41.8% under the federal Liberals, reaching $11.8 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year alone. This trend started under the previous Conservative government and continues to cost Canadians today.
All too often, outsourced contracts seem to balloon and cost more than if public service workers were tasked with the same work. The Treasury Board has provided guidance on preparing estimates to help departments with “make-or-buy” decisions, as well as policies on the planning and management of investments that require departments’ decisions that demonstrate best value and sound stewardship. However, it is not clear how these policies are applied in practice or what oversight is involved.
A broader performance audit by the Auditor General, as I proposed and as was supported at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, could provide important insights to Parliamentarians on questions. How often are departments' cost estimates exceeded for outsourced work? What happens when a department gets an estimate wrong? How are lessons learned and shared across departments?
I want to highlight the concerning transparency and accountability issues that arise in relation to outsourced contracts.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada recently told the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates that “The procurement process to contract out work favours corporate secrecy over the rights of Canadians to know how funds are spent and how services are managed.”
Our access to information regime is broken and it is extremely difficult for Canadians to get a full picture of how funds directed to the private sector are being spent. This is a perfect example of what we are talking about today.
It is also extremely difficult for public service workers who become aware of mismanagement related to outsourced contracts to raise the alarm without fear of reprisal. Canada’s whistle-blower protection regime has been called among one of the worst in the world and cases like the Phoenix pay disaster and the ArriveCAN app show how there are real costs to the Canadian public when public service workers cannot speak up.
The blame for Canada’s ineffective whistle-blower protection regime lies with both the Conservative and Liberals parties.
David Hutton, a whistle-blower protection expert and senior fellow at the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, recently wrote in the Hill Times that when the member for , then-minister under the Harper government, introduced federal accountability legislation in 2006, “he claimed repeatedly that it would offer 'ironclad' protection, and indeed it does—but for the wrongdoers, not for whistleblowers or the public.”
Since the Liberals came into power, they have failed to remedy this situation. Instead, they have sat on a unanimous report from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates for over five years. That report recommended sweeping legislative reforms to Canada’s whistle-blower protection law. As the Liberal government bounces from scandal to scandal, it seems to have no interest in improving protections for whistle-blowers who could shine a light on government wrongdoing or mismanagement of public funds. This is critical to the transparency for which we are calling so Canadians can trust their government.
In addition to the transparency and accountability issues that I am talking about, the government’s increasing reliance on outsourcing raises concerning equity issues that warrant discussion.
In 2018, the UN special rapporteur on poverty and human rights discussed privatization as a cause of poverty while still costing governments more.
In 2019, the Standing Committee on Human Resources tabled a report on precarious work, recommending the government, “[review] human resources policies and budgeting practices to ensure that they incentivize hiring employees on indeterminate contracts.” It is critical that the government stop the precarious work and incentivize hiring people full time.
Further, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada has written about the interplay between outsourcing and gender equity, stating:
In IT, lucrative contracts are doled out to a male-dominant industry that has notoriously struggled with gender equity. While at the same time, lower paid and precarious temporary service contracts are disproportionately filled by women. The majority of temporary workers become trapped in a cycle of persistent temporary work, defined by low pay, few if any fringe benefits, and high risk of unemployment and labour force exit.
While the government will say it is forced to rely on the private sector to deliver IT services because of skill shortages within the public service, it is ignoring in-house talent and failing to invest in building further institutional capacity in a way that promotes gender equity, and I will also say failing to work with public institutions to tap into that expertise and knowledge that lies in our public institutions, including higher-learning institutions.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada has filed more than 2,500 grievances where work was outsourced rather than assigned to existing expertise in the public service. In the last fiscal year, the government spent $2.3 billion on information technology service contracts compared to $1.85 billion on its own IT workforce. If the government is truly committed to building a strong and inclusive public service, it is essential that it maintain and build in-house IT capacity.
The government’s increasing reliance on outsourcing is not only undermining efforts to promote equity, but it is also costing Canadians more. Although it is difficult to get information on outsourced contracts, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada shared with me the following alarming examples: “one IT Technical Architect at National Defence cost Canadian taxpayers over $359,000 per year in a contract that was renewed for over 8 years. The equivalent public servant (including their pension) would have cost $147,876 – saving over $1.5M”; and “Another example: Shared Services Canada has spent over $14M over the past five years on 3 resources and posted a contract tender extension for another four years. Three public servants (including their pension) over the same five years would have cost $1,855,476 – saving over $12M.”
It is not just in IT that we are seeing these increased costs because of reliance on outsourcing, but also in other areas like cleaning, grounds maintenance, health care and access to information.
While I agree that Canadians deserve transparency on the ArriveCAN app, they deserve much more. They deserve transparency on the true costs and risks of outsourcing public services. I hope all members will agree that a broader examination of outsourcing by the Auditor General is warranted and is in the best interest of Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is important that we are all able to speak to this important issue today and have as many voices as possible. Canadians are facing a cost of living crisis and the cause was made right here in Canada. The $54-million arrive scam is one of a litany of examples of how the cost of government is driving up the cost of living. The more the current spends, the more Canadians are finding things cost.
We are seeing higher prices. Canadians are very concerned as they get that first fill-up of home heating fuel, propane or oil, or their first natural gas bill. When they look at that they see taxes on taxes. They see the carbon tax on there and they are concerned. What are these bills going to look like when they get a fuel delivery in January?
What is the government doing to help control the expenses that Canadians have? Is it committed to cutting taxes? No, it is raising taxes. Is it committed to getting its spending under control. No, it is not. Is it being accountable for the spending that it has undertaken? That is what we are doing today. We want accountability. We want an audit.
An audit is something the government should be able to vote in favour of. When we look at what was spent and look at the public accounts, 40% of the deficit spending the current government undertook was not related to the pandemic. It will say the Conservatives voted in favour of helping people who needed help during the pandemic. We are not talking about that spending. We are talking about the waste, the excess and the insider deals, and there was an awful lot of that.
If we can believe it, when we read the public accounts that were published last week, every single minute of last year the government incurred more than $170,000 of new debt. That is staggering. If two income earners in a family were each making $40,000 to provide a living for their family, they could not put a dent in one minute of the debt the current government racked up that year. It is unbelievable.
Because of that, Canadians are going to pay higher prices for everything. We know they are paying higher prices for their homes. We know they are now going to pay higher prices for their mortgages, on the interest they pay, as well as on credit cards and lines of credit. We know that rent is going up to $2,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver and to $2,300 a month for the same in Toronto.
It is more important than ever that Canadians extract accountability from their government. For it to spend $54 million on this failed app is an egregious number, but I fear the number is much higher. We are hoping to find that out. It does not even know where all of that $54 million went.
When members of the House asked the government for information, it came back and listed some of the contractors. However, there are tens of millions of dollars in subcontracts for which it is not willing to say who did the work or what work was done. Of the ones we do know, and the list was short, it claimed that it paid $1.2 million to a company that claims it did not do any of the work, nor did it get a penny for it. The government said that it was a mistake and that it was actually someone else.
It is bizarre the government was so quickly able to say it made a mistake but did not know where the money actually went. When we are dealing in millions of Canadians' dollars, it is really important to know where we are sending the cheques. When it came to the support measures some Canadians needed, it was less careful. It sent cheques to prisoners, an an example, people convicted of crimes, and to people who did not need the help and who were gainfully employed, making great salaries with great benefits and great pensions.
One needs to wonder why the Liberals were so cavalier with these particular millions. Did they go to someone with an inside connection? We have seen before that folks who appear on the Liberal list end up getting cushy order in council appointments and fat government contracts. I will remind the House of course that we saw a half-billion dollars try to get shovelled out the door to the 's buddy at the WE organization, but Conservatives caught it.
We saw when the was found to have broken ethics laws. He was happy to take a vacation to billionaire island, but we caught him. It is really about accountability. We found, through the work of members here and a referral to the Ethics Commissioner, that the Prime Minister had inappropriately interfered in the criminal prosecution of his buddies at SNC-Lavalin. This is another company that does quite well under the Liberals.
Recently, while Canadians are facing this cost of living crisis, there is scrutiny about this $54-million boondoggle. I have talked to, face to face, dozens of CBSA officers, who signed up to protect our country and our borders and to interdict weapons smuggling, drugs and human trafficking, and they are getting asked to be IT support for an app that does not work. They did not find it enhanced their ability to keep Canadians safe. It slowed the lines down. It slowed the movement of people. They can look at a certificate. If the government demanded proof of vaccination, if that was its decision, misguided as it may have been, it could have done that and those customs officers could have verified those documents the same way they verify a passport, without a $54-million boondoggle with all kinds of pork to Liberal insiders.
While that is going on, the jet-sets on one of his many travels and does it in style, of course, with a private taxpayer-funded jet and stays at the finest hotels and charges it to the taxpayer. One thinks he had to go to London and it was important he was there. What does one think a hotel room, one room, should cost for a night for a prime minister?
Madam Speaker, as the MP for , I know first-hand how harmful ArriveCAN was to the lives and livelihoods of Canadians.
My riding in southwest New Brunswick borders the state of Maine, in the United States of America. We have five international crossings, and many of these border points do not really feel like we are dealing with a foreign, distant government. This is because these cross-border communities were actually in place long before Confederation. These communities, with Maine residents on one side and New Brunswick residents on the other, have long lived together and shared services, including emergency services and community activity. When the border was closed, it had a devastating impact, and ArriveCAN was a poor solution.
There is a very good reason why the Auditor General should conduct a performance audit, including of the payments, contracts and subcontracts for all aspects of the ArriveCAN app, and good reason to prioritize that investigation. The ArriveCAN scam disrupted lives and family relations. It damaged the Canadian economy and infringed on mobility rights.
We have discovered that it was a costly government boondoggle rolled out by the Liberal government, which seems incapable of governing any federal institution in the country. Whether it relates to passport offices, the CRA or social programs, this is a government that just cannot shoot straight. It cannot govern well and, as a result, costs are going up everywhere.
This program, like many others, was a costly and unnecessary bureaucratic exercise. It was also heavy-handed and trampled over the guaranteed constitutional rights of Canadians. Millions were spent on a computer-based program and a mandate forcing all travellers, citizens and visitors alike, to register before entering Canada or, for citizens, coming home. Failing to do so could result in fines and/or a forced lock-up.
Independent software developers tell us that this app could have been built for less than a quarter of a million dollars. That would have been $250,000. It could have been completed in a weekend, but not in Ottawa, and not under this government. Instead, the Liberals spent an eye-popping $54 million and paid out millions to Liberal consultants. Of course, the government will not tell us who received those payments or who got rich.
My colleague from spoke about the gross negligence that went toward the creation of the ArriveCAN scam. Regrettably, everything he said is true. The government said that one company was paid $1.2 million and then the company stood up and said that it had not received a dime. Where did that money go?
The Auditor General needs to investigate this because the government is not coming clean with the Parliament. It is not coming clean with Canadians.
This entire program is in desperate need of an audit, since Liberals will not tell the truth to Canadians. Canadians want to know what happened. Why was $54 million spent to control Canadians and strip away charter rights for a program that not only did not work but also was not necessary?
The Liberals, of course, cannot get their stories straight. We need an investigation. We need an audit.
Since the introduction of ArriveCAN and its subsequent mandatory use, I have been amazed by the lack of concern that the Liberal government has for the basic rights of Canadians. Anyone who is legally allowed to enter Canada, either as a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, under the Liberals, could now suddenly be denied re-entry into the country, through the threat of a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a 14-day quarantine because they did not register to come back into their own country.
The government requiring citizens to register as a condition of coming home is not something that we see in democratic and free countries, yet the government thought nothing of this infringement.
It was an infringement on charter rights, and there is no way around it or to explain away that citizens coming home could be fined for not following the government's rules. It was not just the invocation of the Emergencies Act that suspended civil liberties. ArriveCAN did the same to Canadians for a much longer time. Liberals believe theirs is the party of the charter, but this is difficult to square when we consider the actions they took while ArriveCAN was in place.
It is difficult to measure the economic impact on the Canadian economy, especially on the tourism sector, but we know there was a cost, and one part of my riding is quite a revealing example. Many members have long heard me talk about Campobello Island, a unique island, which is in New Brunswick. The only way on or off that island, year round, is over a bridge to Lubec, Maine.
This island has a population of only about 1,000 people, and it is especially popular with visitors from the United States because Campobello is home to the Roosevelt Campobello International Park. This was the summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the former American president, and his wife, Eleanor. It attracts tens of thousands of visitors from the United States every year in the summer, or at least it did before the Canada-U.S. border was closed, either because visitors were not allowed or because of the de facto closure with ArriveCAN.
According to my discussions with CBSA officials, of the American motorists who crossed onto Campobello from the state of Maine, for every three cars that arrived, two were returned to the state of Maine because the U.S. visitors were either not aware of ArriveCAN or had not completed it. It is estimated that between 25% and 50% of those visitors who were sent back did not bother to complete the ArriveCAN, did not come into Canada and just returned to Maine to go elsewhere.
I do not know if it was because of a lack of quality Internet in Lubec, because senior citizens are not familiar with apps and uploading medical documents or because these Americans just did not feel comfortable about uploading documents onto the database of a foreign country. However, if the Canadian government had been more reasonable from the start, it could have allowed CBSA officials to screen individuals at land crossings that enter our country and to do their jobs, but it did not.
Instead, it was a bureaucratic mess. It caused hardship to Campobello. It caused hardship to tourist operators across New Brunswick, as well as across Canada, and as it is with everything else, the government failed its task to run the country in a way that does not penalize Canadians and working Canadians.
Last week I was home in New Brunswick in Saint Andrews, after the Liberals had come back from a summer caucus meeting there, and I asked some of the operators how the season went. The answer was that it was great, once the Americans were allowed in at the end of the summer. It has an impact when we close the border and stopped allowing our American friends in.
ArriveCAN was a costly and flawed program, and there are many questions for the Auditor General to look at. If ArriveCAN requires one to take a PCR test and schedules pickup by the government's testing supplier, why were so many rural homes in my riding completely ignored for pickup? Why did the government not contract this pickup service to Canada Post and the rural post office carriers, so rural homes could be serviced? How many PCR tests were left outside homes on doorsteps for pickup and never collected? Why were children, who were ineligible for COVID vaccines, forced into quarantine because of random selections?
There are numerous questions the Auditor General should look at. If this motion passes, I intend to forward these questions to the Auditor General of Canada, and I hope the House votes to pass this, so we can get down and see what happened with the ArriveCAN scam.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague and friend, the member from Hochelaga.
A good starting point on this debate is to take a look at what we have had to overcome over the last couple of years and what brings us to where we are today. It was not that long ago that the pandemic hit the world. There are some Conservatives who genuinely believe that maybe Canada was in a position to have completely avoided the pandemic. It took a little while, I would suggest, but I think Canadians from coast to coast to coast understood that the pandemic was going to have an impact here in Canada. It was a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and when it hit Canada it dictated that governments at all levels needed to take action.
When it came to Canada, the national government here in Ottawa, under the leadership of the , insisted on working with all Canadians, no matter what political stripe, and the many different stakeholders, different levels of government, indigenous people and so many others in order to minimize the negative impact of the pandemic. We had a team Canada approach.
It is truly amazing, what we were able to pull together in a relatively short time span. Need I remind others across the way that there were programs developed virtually from nothing in order to support Canadians in all regions of the country? Many of those programs, which included the expenditure of billions and billions of dollars, were voted on by every member of this chamber, and they voted unanimously to support that expenditure.
Listening to some of the members of the Bloc or the Conservatives, one would think there was a lot of politicization of the tendering and procurement process. Here is a reality check. There are entrepreneurs throughout this country of all political stripes. Not only did some of the Liberal entrepreneurs receive contracts, but the same happened with Conservative entrepreneurs, New Democratic entrepreneurs and even Bloc entrepreneurs.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Madam Speaker, to the New Democrat who asked if they have some of those, yes, there are some NDP entrepreneurs out there. All were given contracts, because there is a process in place.
The Conservatives name an organization, and then they put the word “scandal” behind it. That assumes it is an official scandal if all they have to do is to put the word “scandal” behind it. The most natural scandal is the word “Conservative” followed by the word “scandal”. Having said that, they cite the WE charity as if to say, wow, this is it. This is the gold mine of all scandals. However, WE has contracts with the Manitoba government, a Conservative government. It is hard to believe. WE has contracts with the Saskatchewan government, another Conservative government.
The bottom line is that when we needed to be able to work with industries, entrepreneurs and Canadians in general, there was a need and a process. To identify a Liberal entrepreneur and say that it is corrupt because a Liberal entrepreneur won a contract does a disservice to all of us. That is really a sad aspect of this. At the end of the day, Canadians expected the government to work at delivering, and that is what we did.
We worked with other levels of government and the many different stakeholders I made mention of, and it helped. Around nine million Canadians received CERB, even though we are now being criticized for providing that program for the many people who received those benefits. At the time, we were criticized when we were not moving fast enough, and we were told we should be more generous. Tens of thousands of jobs were saved because of the wage subsidy program.
We can talk about the ArriveCAN app. It is being suggested that the Auditor General look into it. That seems to be supported by the New Democrats, the Bloc and the Conservatives today. It is being looked at in the standing committee. CBSA is also doing a full review of the issue. The government is not running or hiding from anything here, but the Conservatives want to attach the word “scandal” to it and attach numbers without giving any details. That is what they want to debate.
They want to give the false impression that there is scandal after scandal. I was here when Stephen Harper was prime minister. If we want to talk about scandals, there was the riding of Muskoka and the minister, Mr. Clement, or we could look at the Senate issue. However, it is not about scandals. I would suggest it is about providing the supports that were absolutely necessary at the time to protect Canadians. That is what the ministers were charged to do. ArriveCAN was a part of that.
I suspect that over the days, weeks and months ahead, we will continue to look at the manner in which public dollars were being spent. There needs to be a sense of accountability. We do not need to be reminded of that. After all, I remember when the first became the leader of the Liberal Party. One of the first actions we did was to call for proactive disclosure from MPs on how they were spending money. We requested unanimous leave in order to enact it, and the Conservatives said no to that.
We are not trying to hide anything. We, like all members, would like to show that the tax dollar, which is very important to all of us, is being appropriately spent. We have systems in place to ensure there is a high level of accountability.
The , in his speech, emphasized the issue of inflation. It is truly amazing how the Conservatives seem to be completely out of touch with what is happening around the world. They seem to think Canada needs to do more. I am concerned about the price of groceries and the price of widgets at our local stores. That concerns me, as it concerns all Liberal members of Parliament.
That is why we are bringing forward things like Bill , the dental plan and rental plan. It was to support Canadians. The Conservatives voted against that. They talk about inflation and doing things, but when it comes to standing up for Canadians, they stand up to say no.
There are things we can do, and we should not settle, even though Canada's inflation rate is lower than that in the U.S., England or most of the European countries. We can still do more on the issue, and we will continue to look at ways to make things easier for Canadians.
Madam Speaker, it is my turn to rise today and to reiterate several things that have already been heard in the House but are still worth repeating.
Our government understands that many Canadians are struggling with the rising cost of living and continue to face higher prices when they go to the grocery store or pay their rent. For many families, it is increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
Inflation is a global phenomenon and a lingering result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and by disruptions in supply chains. This phenomenon affects people and businesses around the world. Although Canada’s inflation rate is less severe at 6.9% than that of many of our peers, such the United States, where inflation is now at 8.2%, the United Kingdom, at 10%, and Germany, at 10%, we know that many Canadians are struggling and that we are not out of the woods yet.
Many Canadians will continue facing tough times. Our friends, our families and the people around us will continue to struggle to pay the bills at the end of the month. Every day, we see the cost of groceries rise dramatically. Our economy will slow down, as will economies around the world, while central banks act to fight inflation. There will be people whose mortgage payments will increase, companies or entrepreneurs whose businesses will not do as well as they have since the end of the lockdown. It is quite likely that our unemployment rate will no longer be at its lowest level.
Canadians are worried, and that is why we are moving ahead with measures to support those who need it the most, when they need it the most. Our plan is to make life more affordable, with measures totalling $12.1 billion to help Canadians make ends meet and provide for their families.
Our plan includes an enhanced Canada workers benefit, which will put up to $2,400 more in the pockets of low-income families; an average reduction of 50% in child care costs by the end of the year; a 10% increase to old age security for people 75 or older, which has already been in place for four months; dental care for Canadians with a family income under $90,000 per year, starting with children under the age of 12; an additional one-time payment of $500, coming this year, to help tenants who have trouble paying the cost of housing; doubling the GST credit for six months, which will give additional targeted help to about 11 million individuals and families. Of course, we cannot forget our main support programs, including the Canada child benefit and the GST credit, which will be increasing, as they are already indexed to inflation.
The measures we are putting forward in our affordability plan do not add fuel to the inflation fire. They simply provide targeted and fiscally responsible help to those who need it the most.
Unfortunately, we obviously cannot support every Canadian as we did during COVID-19. We implemented exceptional emergency measures that ensured the safety and solvency of people at the height of the pandemic. We cannot fully compensate every Canadian for the inflation they are now facing, inflation that is, again, fuelled by the global pandemic and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Canadians fully understand that doing so would only aggravate and prolong inflation, and that is clearly not what we want. That would also force the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates even higher.
While we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and we support those who are hardest hit by inflation, we continue to pursue a tight fiscal policy. Indeed, this year, the International Monetary fund, the IMF, expects Canada to have the lowest deficit, as well as the lowest net-debt burden, of all governments among G7 countries as a percentage of GDP. This is a track that our country is forecasted to maintain over the coming years.
While many Canadian families have to tighten their belts and make difficult decisions because of inflation, our government is doing the same thing to ensure we do not make the situation worse. We are acting responsibly.
Our government believes that everyone should have a safe, decent and affordable place to live.
That goal was seen as a given for generations, but it is increasingly unattainable for many Canadians. Rents continue to rise across the country, pushing people further and further away from the places where they work and live. There has even been an increase in both visible and invisible homelessness.
That is why Bill proposes a one-time top-up to the Canada housing benefit that would consist of a tax-free payment of $500 to provide direct support to low-income renters.
That payment would provide direct help to the people most exposed to inflation and those experiencing housing affordability challenges. It is estimated that 1.8 million low-income renters, including students who are struggling with the cost of housing, would be eligible for this new support.
This one-time top-up is part of a broader suite of initiatives introduced in budget 2022, which will invest over $9 billion to make housing more affordable, including by addressing supply shortages, one of the main factors making housing more expensive.
With many families grappling with the rising cost of living, our government understands that it can be hard for them to pay for the dental care they need. Unfortunately, a third of Canadians currently do not have dental insurance, and the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey suggested that Canadians without insurance were about three times as likely as those with insurance to avoid seeing a dental professional because of cost.
That is why, with Bill C‑31, which is moving through the legislative process, we are proposing to help uninsured families with children under the age of 12 get the dental care they need.
The Canada dental benefit would provide parents with children under the age of 12 who do not have access to dental insurance with direct payments of up to $650 per year, for a total of $1,300 per child over the next two years for dental care beginning this year. It is estimated that 500,000 Canadian children would benefit from this targeted investment of $938 million.
Our government knows that these are tough times for everyone, for all Canadians and all Quebeckers. That is why we are implementing our plan to make life affordable for the most vulnerable.
On Thursday, our colleague, the , will be presenting the fall economic statement, which will outline our government's plan to continue building an economy that works for everyone.
Canadians can count on us to continue managing our finances responsibly, while supporting those who need it the most, when they need it the most.
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
I am very pleased to participate in this debate, which centres on one of the main reasons I got involved in politics 14 years ago today, first at the provincial level and then at the federal level. That reason is the sound management of public funds.
Not a single dollar that the government has in its hands has fallen from the sky. Someone has gone to work, produced something and saved that money, and the government has gone and taken that money through taxes so it could manage it responsibly. In this case, however, its management was anything but responsible.
I will get right to the point. We are talking about the infamous ArriveCAN affair, which started out as a typical tale of a government wanting to bring people into its country. People coming to Canada have to pass a test to ensure that there are no issues. That makes sense.
However, the leadership of this Liberal government—which spends lavishly and has never, in the last seven years, shown the slightest interest in reining in its spending, yet boasts about its lofty principles while generating huge debts and deficits that our children, our grandchildren and our unborn great-grandchildren will have to repay—has given rise to the financial disaster that is ArriveCAN.
Let us review the facts. About a year ago, the government began this process to allow people to come to Canada and fill out the questionnaire.
I do not want to get into my life story, but my brother is an engineer and a Canadian citizen, and he now lives in Portugal with his family. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, he had to come to Canada last spring. My brother is an engineer. As a student, he was among the first computer programmers at Laval. The point is, he is pretty comfortable with computer stuff. When he got off the plane, one of the first things we talked about, after personal and family matters, was ArriveCAN. He asked me what was up with that. He said it took forever to fill out, it was complicated, it did not work, there were lots of pages and so on. If my brother, who is an engineer, who studied engineering and knows a lot about this stuff, had problems, let us imagine what it was like for average citizens who were not used to doing that kind of thing but, all of a sudden, had to.
It was fundamentally poorly designed, but when we look at how it was managed, that was even worse. The Canadian government spent $54 million of taxpayers' money, which Canadians saved and set aside, for which they worked and for which companies worked by producing products. The government collects taxes in order to run things properly, but that has definitely not been the case here. This app has been a fiasco from day one, considering that it almost never worked. It was not at all user friendly for people who had to enter their information. It was a fiasco because more than 10,000 people had to quarantine because of it. Worst of all, however, was the financial mismanagement, because it cost $54 million.
As we have heard, a programming expert said he could have made it in his basement over a weekend or a Saturday night for about $250,000. The Liberal Canadian government spent $54 million on this. That is why our motion today states:
...it is more important than ever for the government to respect taxpayer dollars and eliminate wasteful spending...
No one can be against that. Our motion goes on to demand that:
...the House call on the Auditor General of Canada [a neutral and objective entity] to conduct a performance audit, including the payments, contracts and sub-contracts for all aspects of the ArriveCAN app, and to prioritize this investigation.
How can anyone be against transparency? How could anyone even think of voting against this motion, which asks the Auditor General to do her job with respect to a matter that has affected hundreds of thousands of Canadian families?
Many people did not want to travel because of this. Some 10,000 people ended up in quarantine. More than $53 million seems to have been poorly invested, because someone could have done the job for $250,000 rather than $54 million. That is our job here in the House of Commons.
All 338 of us, regardless of political stripe, were elected to see to the sound management of public funds, among other things.
This is a prime example of mismanagement of public funds. We have a golden opportunity to get to the bottom of this business and find out exactly why things did not go as planned, so we can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. That is why I do not see how anyone in the House could be against us doing our job and asking the Auditor General to do hers.
Government members are likely to be a bit embarrassed when we start analyzing their management of public funds, and rightly so. Let us not forget that, seven years ago, right after the election, this party, led by the member for and current Prime Minister, boasted that it would run very small deficits and a zero deficit in 2019 because it wanted to stimulate the economy. The result was anything but. It ran one large deficit after another, missing the target set by the former minister of finance three times. Then, it ended its first term with an accumulated debt of more than $100 billion.
The Liberal Party was elected on a promise of running small deficits and then eliminating the deficit entirely. That is not at all what happened. The government ran four deficits in a row. That was the Liberal government's record even before the pandemic and current economic problems caused concerns.
When the pandemic happened, we all realized that an emergency situation called for emergency measures, which was likely to bring about deficits. When we were in power in 2008, 2009 and 2010, our country, like every other country, grappled with the worst economic crisis since the great recession of 1929. Very reluctantly, our government ran deficits because we had no choice under the circumstances. However, starting in 2015, our government managed to balance the budget. Canada was the first G7 country to get back in the black thanks to sound management of public funds. That is what responsible government looks like.
They Liberal government ran massive deficits during a period of growth. When the pandemic happened, emergency measures were needed and money had to be spent. We knew that would result in deficits, but we did not know the deficits would be this big.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer recently concluded that $205 billion of the $500‑billion deficit had nothing to do with COVID-19. In other words, over 40% of the debt accumulated under the current government over the last seven years was in no way related to the pandemic. Those folks over there say that these were emergency measures and no one knew for sure what was going on, so it was important to be vigilant.
A few months into the pandemic, when there was a bit of a lull in the summer, I remember very clearly talking to people in my riding, as we probably all did, and when I spoke with entrepreneurs or business leaders, I was always asked why parliamentarians had decided to pay people to stay at home and do nothing. People commented on the fact that CERB, which served a purpose during the emergency, was paying people $2,000 to stay at home, even though activities had resumed in the summer and workers were needed. That was the sad reality. That was the reality, but it was also our responsibility to sound the alarm about it. The government was attacking us and calling us names, but that was the reality.
That is why we now know that the inflation that is hitting people rather hard all started with the current government's mismanagement.
I hear my friends across the way say that the entire planet is experiencing a period of inflation. That is true, of course, but let us not forget that the future leader of the Liberal Party, Mark Carney, said that it was mainly a national issue, and therefore a Canadian issue. The Minister of Finance finally opened her eyes and said that the government may need to tighten its belt a bit and cut down on spending.
I sincerely hope that this government will vote in favour of our motion so that Canadians can learn the truth behind the ArriveCAN financial fiasco.
Madam Speaker, this motion is about an application that was supposed to cost $80,000, but instead ended up costing $54 million. Furthermore, a group of experts said that they could have created this app for $200,000 in a weekend.
What this app represents is so much more than the app itself. It represents the level of government bloat we have come to see under the costly coalition. It represents the lack of transparency that we have come to expect from this coalition. Most of all, it reflects the serious situation that Canada finds itself in now of inflation, and the cause is inflationary spending.
As we know, the bank rate started this year at 0.25%. It recently jumped to 3.75%. It is true that some external factors have contributed to this rate hike. Of course, there is the oil price spike, which began with the recovery of demand after COVID and was made worse by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That was one of those external factors. Also, China's hyper-restrictive COVID lockdowns disrupted international supply chains. However, there has been a consensus that the main reason for this inflation is inflationary spending by this costly coalition.
An article was recently published by one of my favourite economists, Jack Mintz. In it he points to a study of the U.S. Federal Reserve last July. It concluded that countries with the largest-spending binges tended to have much higher inflation rates. Therefore, this is not something that is unique to Canada; it is something that has been seen as a trend, but certainly something of which the costly coalition is guilty.
We know that Canada's headline inflation rate has eased to 6.9% from a peak of 8.1%, but food costs are still accelerating and underlying price pressures remain sticky. At the same time, the Bank of Canada has hiked interest rates by 350 basis points in just seven months, one of its sharpest tightening campaigns ever, to try to force inflation back to what was supposed to be a 2% target. Unfortunately, the bank last week signalled its tightening campaign was nearing its peak, but made it clear that it was not done yet as it hiked rates by 50 basis point to a fresh 14-year high.
The average family will spend $3,000 more next year as a result of these inflationary effects. Food inflation is at a 40-year high. Grocery prices have been raised by 11.4%, and interest rates are going up. Energy costs are up 100% to 150%, some even 300%, and winter is coming of course. Mortgage payments, groceries, fuel and consumer goods have all gone up.
We talk about what other nations are doing. Other nations have managed to fair much better than Canada. Japan, Switzerland, Taiwan and Hong Kong have all managed to keep their rates below 3%. Other nations are providing tax relief to their citizens. Fifty-one other national governments have provided some form of tax relief. That includes more than half of G7 and G20 countries, and two-thirds of the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It found that at least 25 countries were choosing to provide tax relief at the pumps. Australia cut its gas tax in half. The United Kingdom announced billions of dollars of fuel tax relief. The Netherlands cut gas tax by 17¢ per litre. South Korea cut its taxes at the pumps by 30%. India cut gas taxes to keep inflation low, thus helping the poor and middle classes.
Instead, the is also choosing to take more money from the pay of Canadians. If people are making $65,000 this year, the federal government is taking nearly $4,500 directly from their pay through the Canada pension plan and employment insurance taxes. Their employers are also coughing up an extra $4,800. This year, the annual payroll tax bill, including employer and employee payments, increased by $818 for each middle-class worker. Over the past decade, seven of which the Liberal government has been in power, it increased by $2,435.
Our peers are choosing to reduce income taxes.
Former U.K. chancellor of the exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng said, “We believe that high taxes reduce incentives to work”, as he announced payroll tax relief.
Down under, the Australian government said that by putting more in their pockets, families would keep more of what they earned, allowing them to spend more on what they needed, as is provided by permanent tax cuts of up to $2,500 for individuals in 2022-23.
Eighteen countries, including Belgium, Germany and Norway, chose to save their citizens money by reducing consumption taxes.
As we can see, many of the nations I have named have made the choice to provide tax relief to Canadians. The costly coalition, the Liberal-NDP coalition, has not chosen that.
The numbers are in. Canada ran a $90.2 billion deficit last year. That deficit is equivalent to almost $2,400 per Canadian and at the rate of $172,000 of new debt for every single minute of the fiscal year. That is not a small amount. It also means that Canada's total debt now stands well north of a trillion dollars. As of March 31, the Government of Canada also had an accumulated deficit of $1.13 trillion.
We wonder where this is coming from. The Auditor General says that there are $500 million in overpayments to civil servants that need to be collected. A new report from Canada's Auditor General said that 28% of civil servants in its sampling had errors in their pay. If a government cannot even handle the payroll, why should it handle our nation's finances or even our country?
Another example of this wasteful spending is the $12 million to Loblaws for new fridges.
Where are Canadians at with this? Forty-seven percent of respondents in a survey of Canadians felt that their finances had worsened over the last year. Fifty-three percent believe that we will be in a recession next year. Even worse, 30% believe that we are in a recession right now.
Canadians have long forgotten the sunny ways of the NDP-Liberal coalition.
The good news is that relief is on the way. Relief is on the way with a Conservative government. We pledge no new taxes. We pledge the “pay-as-you-go” system. For every new dollar of spending, we must find a new dollar of savings.
The motion today is not just about a $54-million application that was supposed to cost $80,000, which experts say could have been made for $200,000; it is about much more than that. It is about how the NDP-Liberal coalition has lost its way and how it needs to stop the taxes and stop the inflationary spending, now.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I would like to start today by offering some context for the opposition motion debate that is before the House. I would like to go back to the spring of 2020, when we were facing one of the most serious public health crises in our country, the largest we have ever seen. I am proud to say that our government, this Liberal government, made every effort to buy essential supplies and services to protect Canadians.
As the central purchasing agent for the federal government, Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC, was at the forefront of that effort. It was a monumental task for procurement experts to carry out. Our government worked non-stop to support our frontline health care professionals and all those keeping Canadians safe.
When it came to procurement, we were operating in a hyper-competitive market. From the beginning, we followed a deliberate, strategic and comprehensive plan that helped us get results. We can all take pride in the fact that our focused procurement approach, over more than two years, has ensured that Canada has a secure supply of vaccines and personal protective equipment. In fact, Canada is a world leader on this front.
Because of the groundwork we laid at the beginning of the pandemic, and thanks to the hard work of so many Canadians across the country, we remain in one of the more enviable positions in the world when it comes to access to vaccines, personal protective equipment and other supplies. We took action when Canadians needed it most: when their health and safety were on the line.
Our approach was no different when it came to the ArriveCAN application. Early in the pandemic, ArriveCAN was put in place urgently to track and trace travellers as they crossed the border. The app was created in the spring of 2020 as a joint initiative between the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency to meet sudden new pressures brought on by the pandemic. Their goal was an important one: to limit the spread of COVID-19 within Canada to ensure the health and safety of Canadians.
When urgent needs were identified by Canada’s border agency, it turned to Public Services and Procurement Canada to put necessary contracts in place urgently. This was a request to develop, integrate and maintain a completely new and secure application, needed immediately to support Canada’s response to the pandemic. That was in April 2020, only one month after the pandemic began, and as a common service provider, the department moved quickly to help shore up the resources needed to produce ArriveCAN. It acted with the greatest of urgency, leveraging existing tools to respond.
As GC Strategies is a pre-qualified supplier on an existing method of supply, namely a standing offer and supply arrangement for informatics professional services, the Government of Canada tapped into its expertise. This was done on an emergency basis using existing tools, and the app was developed and launched as quickly as possible during an unprecedented time in our history.
As the pandemic dragged on, our government sought to ease difficulties at the border and at the same time improve the app. By late 2020, the Government of Canada made the necessary decision to make an ArriveCAN submission mandatory for all travellers in 2021. Again, the goal was to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19 associated with international travel and, ultimately, to keep Canadians safe.
With the app soon to be mandatory, in December 2020 the government obtained expertise to ensure that ArriveCAN would meet requirements under the Accessible Canada Act and the Government of Canada’s policy on service and digital. In late 2021, the Canada Border Services Agency identified a new requirement to maintain and support various ongoing informatics professional needs, and that included maintenance for the ArriveCAN app.
This requirement for services, which was competitively solicited, included ongoing complex work to support the Canada Border Services Agency. This included work in application development, biometrics, digital credentials, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence and machine learning, among others, as needed. The procurement was publicly posted on buyandsell.gc.ca. One bid was received, and following a rigorous evaluation, the government awarded a three-year contract to GC Strategies in May 2022.
I would reiterate that this contract is not only for resources to support ArriveCAN, but is supporting a variety of IT requirements for the Canada Border Services Agency. In addition, the Canada Border Services Agency has noted that GC Strategies was not the only contractor involved in developing and producing ArriveCAN. Several companies have worked on this highly complex and continuously evolving app, and not just private sector contractors but also Government of Canada experts.
For example, throughout the design, development and deployment process of the app, Shared Services Canada worked to enable the application to securely exchange information between the cloud and Government of Canada data centres. Again, this is a highly complex application, one that requires high levels of security, protection and interoperability with federal databases. I cannot underscore that point enough.
As the pandemic situation evolved and the Government of Canada made regular adjustments to border measures, regular updates to ArriveCAN were also needed. These updates had to be developed and tested prior to launch to ensure the app worked as expected while safeguarding the personal information of Canadians and international travellers. It required more than 70 app and website releases over two and a half years. The contracts we put in place allowed that to happen quickly and in a time of crisis, and I note that the Canada Border Services Agency has released a breakdown of costs associated with ArriveCAN.
The ArriveCAN app was absolutely necessary. Despite what the opposition may say, ArriveCAN was a critical tool that we successfully stood up in the middle of a global emergency. It is an app that has helped keep Canadians healthy and safe. That is what our government is focused on and has always been focused on.
Allow me to emphasize that we are committed to an open, fair and transparent procurement process, while obtaining the best possible value for Canadian taxpayers. The ArriveCAN app was put in place to protect Canadians. The ability it gave us to manage public health measures at the border in a time of crisis to keep Canadians safe was absolutely necessary.
ArriveCAN evolved with the pandemic and, yes, this required expertise from and contracts with private sector experts, as well as work performed by civil servants. Without this vital tool, Canada’s ability to administer the border measures needed to protect public health would have been significantly reduced. I hope my colleagues in the House can agree that responsible governments take action in times of need to protect their citizens, and that is precisely what we did.
Throughout the pandemic, our government has been there for Canadians. We have had their backs and we will continue to be there for all Canadians as our country recovers from this crisis.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to this opposition day motion introduced by the Conservatives.
From the outset, I do not have an issue with the fact that the Conservatives are seeking accountability by asking the Auditor General to conduct some work. The premise of my concern is with respect to the preamble and the rhetoric that preludes the call on the Auditor General. That is what I will be focusing my time on.
For starters, I am concerned with the tone being suggested about such an important piece of infrastructure, which is this particular program for the security of Canada. We have members, like the member for who said moments ago that somebody could have made this for $200,000 in their basement. I believe those were his words.
Do we really want somebody working individually from their basement to create an app that holds such sensitive data as passport numbers and health information of not just Canadians but individuals around the world? Is that the standard by which we establish and set the quality of service that people visiting Canada and Canadians have come to rely on? I highly doubt it.
There is also the fact that the contract for ArriveCAN was not just about the creation over the weekend of an app. It was about multiple variations of it, changing the app, updating the app and maintaining the data. Let us think of the incredible amount of maintenance that was involved in this particular app on its own.
It is quite disingenuous when members get up in the House, namely Conservatives, like the member for did moments ago, and very haphazardly say that somebody could have created this app in their basement over the weekend. It is extremely disingenuous. They are heckling now, suggesting that they said they could do it. I am sure that a lot of people could say they could do it, but are these individuals who are qualified to handle such sensitive data?
Are these individuals who could properly put the required measures in place to make sure that data is secure and kept secure? That is the question. Are these individuals who have the ability to maintain that piece of a program for months and years to come so that it could properly be updated and protected against various threats? Of course not. It is extremely disingenuous to suggest that. At the end of the day, the members opposite know that.
What I find most interesting about this is that now we have the Conservatives saying that we did not need ArriveCAN and it was completely unnecessary. Let me read something from November 26, 2021. Conservatives do not want to hear this. They are already humming and hawing over it.
This is from the leader of the Conservative Party at the time. They have since given him the boot and gotten somebody else. He said, “Vaccines are the most effective tool to slowing the spread of known COVID-19 variants”. Do the Conservative members still support that? I would love to hear their input on that. That is a slight digression.
It goes on to say, “preventing serious illness, and ensuring that our economies from coast to coast to coast can stay open. As soon as COVID-19 began to spread, Canada’s Conservatives called on the...government to take action to secure the border and prevent the spread of the virus in Canada.”
This is the Conservatives. This was their former leader making that statement.
How about this from CTV News on April 22, 2021, again quoting the federal Conservatives and their then leader. With the words “Secure the Border” plastered behind him, the former Conservative leader “urged Canada to temporarily suspend all flights from COVID-19 hot spots.”
This is a quote:
“Canadians are being told not to go to work, not to send their children to school, but hundreds of international flights continue to land in Canada each week,” he said Thursday...“It is long past time for the [Prime Minister] to take action.”
This, again, is exactly what the former Conservative leader was saying. Now, they are suddenly saying that, when they said take action, they did not mean develop a way to prevent these people and to monitor these people coming to and going from the country. Do not forget, it was not that much later that the Conservatives suddenly started asking why the borders were not open.
The member for said earlier that he wanted his borders open and asked why his borders were not open?
What was their plan? Was it to just open the borders without any kind of safety measure? The Conservatives literally called on the government to bring in these safety measures. The government suspended those flights, brought in the safety measures and then gradually let people back into the country and that was not even good enough for them.
Here is another one from CTV on November 26, 2021. The member for , the leader at the time, called on the Canadian government to issue travel advisories banning non-essential travel to and from countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe. The article says, “The party also wants to see mandatory screening at all international airports from affected countries, regardless of vaccination status and mandatory quarantine for all travellers from those countries.”
The member for , the leader at the time, was literally calling on the government, in his words, for mandatory screening. How did they want to screen people? What was wrong with the piece of technology that was developed in order to screen them?
This is the hypocrisy that we are seeing from the other side. Earlier on, the Conservatives were saying to close the borders and set up tough measures to control people coming in. We brought in this app and then they suddenly changed their tune and asked, “Why are the borders not open and why do we have this silly app that we do not need?” That is the rhetoric that comes from the other side of the House.
I feel the most sorry for the New Democrats in this opposition day motion. They have been completely duped by the Conservatives. The first whereas clause in this motion says, “the cost of government is driving up the cost of living”. This is important because we heard in the opening comments by the and the critic for finance that they were relating that specific clause to the increase in employees who work for the Government of Canada. That is what they said.
I asked the member for why he would support something like that. He said that they are talking about oil subsidies. I then asked the member for whether she can confirm what that was exactly. She said it had to do with the rise in the number of employees who are working for the Government of Canada.
By supporting this motion, the NDP members are effectively agreeing with the Conservatives that the cost of government is driving up the cost of living and, by their own words, the Conservatives are referring to the number of employees who have been hired by the Government of Canada. That is not something that I would see the NDP in this House supporting.
The member for keeps standing up and talking about protecting public service jobs. He keeps getting up and asking that question. The very first whereas clause in this motion goes directly against that. They are critiquing and challenging those jobs, but the New Democrats have no problem voting in favour of it, even though it has that whereas clause in it.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to join my colleagues today in speaking in favour of our opposition day motion. This motion seeks to, among other things, underscore how the government’s inflationary policies and overspending are driving up the cost of living.
For over two years, Conservatives have warned the about the consequences of his actions and how much they are hurting Canadians from coast to coast. Seniors are watching their life savings evaporate and having to delay their retirements. Families are downgrading their diets to cover the jump in food prices, and 30-year-olds, who did everything we asked them to do, are trapped in 400-square-foot apartments or their parents' basements.
The government has done little to solve these problems. In fact, its out-of-control spending has only made things worse, with Canadians now paying higher prices and higher interest rates as a result. As the motion states, “ it is more important than ever for the government to respect taxpayer dollars and eliminate wasteful spending”. That is why we put forward this motion that, “the House call on the Auditor General...to conduct a performance audit, including the payments, contracts and sub-contracts for all aspects of the ArriveCAN app, and to prioritize this investigation.”
The outrageous spending habits of the government have put the futures of Canadians at risk. Many times in this place, I have seen ministers of the Crown stand up and proudly tout the massive amounts of money they are spending, almost as if they were competing to see whose department could spend the most.
Recently, we saw the stay in a $6,000-per-night hotel room in London. I recall a time when the Liberals were outraged by such extravagant spending, with the member for calling a $16 glass of orange juice an outrage. Now he stands silent while his fellow caucus members spend $6,000 a night on hotel rooms.
Will there be calls for these members to pay back to taxpayers the extra money they used on such luxuries? It is not likely. Will ministers be removed from their offices? Only if they stand on principle and do right by Canadians. They wastefully spend taxpayers’ money, and when they get no results, or even worsen the situation, they deflect.
The government continues to increase its spending, calling it necessary and urgent. As a result, at home I see the prices rising in grocery stores and at gas pumps, and I hear from constituents who are hit hard by rising interest rates. The government refuses to admit is is fuelling the problem it claims its spending is solving. I suppose it should not be surprising, coming from a government led by someone who thinks that budgets balance themselves and, as such, has no plan except to raise taxes.
The plan to triple the carbon tax during the winter months is so devastating to constituents in my riding and will have devastating consequences for Canadians across the country, particularly rural Canadians. Rural Canadians already pay some of the highest heating costs for their homes in this country. These costs were already significantly higher than those of Canadians who live in cities, but now the divide is becoming larger. This is true for those who live in my riding and are struggling, as these costs will only continue to rise.
I should mention I will be splitting my time with the MP for .
Canadians need relief from the government’s inflationary policies, which are so focused on spending, it then raises taxes to cover its financial mismanagement. The government continues to brush off claims that its spending is out of control by saying it needed to spend in order to support Canadians during the pandemic, and that if one questions its spending, one must not care about Canadians.
As I mentioned, our motion reads, “the Parliamentary Budget Officer states that 40% of new spending is not related to COVID-19”. I will repeat that because it bears repeating: 40% of new spending since 2020, which is causing the steep rise in inflation and pushing hard-working Canadians towards the poverty line, had nothing to do with the pandemic.
As if this 40% of new spending, which has no link to COVID-19, was not bad enough. What is even more galling is the overspending the Liberals committed to while using the pandemic as a cover. The ArriveCAN app is one of these cases of overspending, with $54 million for an app, which at the end of the day, was not only unnecessary but also exacerbated the situation at the border.
In committee, we heard from the president of the union for border workers that frontline border services workers were not consulted on the development or implementation of the ArriveCAN app. Instead, the idea was pulled together by the elites of this government with a contract awarded to GCstrategies, a small, Ottawa-based, IT staffing firm. These are individuals who had no idea what it is like to work at a border crossing, the challenges that workers deal with every day or how their situation would be made exponentially worse through the introduction of this app.
CBSA agents were forced to troubleshoot the app with travellers when they had not or were not able to complete the app. This caused significant lineups at the border, as the agents at each border crossing were forced to deal with the consequences of the Liberals' unnecessary intervention.
For all the money that was spent on the ArriveCAN app, which was $54 million by the way, and it was an app that could have been built for $250,000, it could have been replaced by a simple piece of paper with a QR code, like those already being used by provinces, to show proof of vaccination. On the ArriveCAN website, it is still described as saving time for travellers. The only way it has saved time is by being removed from mandatory use.
The overspending that plagues this government is very apparent with ArriveCAN. It is a complete lack of respect for taxpayers and their money. In fact, the government is so careless, it does not even keep proper records about who it gives money to.
In response to an Order Paper question, this government stated that it paid ThinkOn $1,183,432 for experimentation of mobile QR code scanning and verification. ThinkOn has since come out and said that it was not paid this money, nor does it do this type of work. Ernst & Young, with no other information about its contract aside from the amount, was said to have received $121,755; however, a spokesperson said that it had done no work on the app.
The misleading of Canadians and what has been done with their tax dollars needs to end. When $54 million is spent on a failed app without oversight or transparency, and taxpayer money is missing from the ArriveCAN scam, Canadians deserve to know what the Liberal government is hiding. The government needs to come clean with Canadians.
We will not back down from demanding answers and accountability for Canadians. We will get to the truth for Canadians, and that is why we are calling for the Auditor General to conduct a performance audit where the government cannot hide anything.
This government will continue to try to shift blame off of itself and onto the bureaucrats, but it is government members' signatures that are on the answers to the Order Paper questions, and it is their responsibility to ensure that the information they are releasing is correct.