May 20, 2024

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Canada suspended all contracts with ArriveCan app company late last year, minister says

3 min read
Canada suspended all contracts with ArriveCan app company late last year, minister says

All federal government contracts with GC Strategies — the company at the centre of a blistering auditor general’s report about the federal government’s ArriveCan app — were suspended in November 2023 “out of caution,” Minister of Public Services and Procurement Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters Wednesday.

The Trudeau government came under fire Monday after Auditor General Karen Hogan reported that the government overpaid for the app and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) mishandled the file.

The app cost taxpayers about $60 million, a price tag considerably higher than initial estimates. But even that $60 million figure is an estimate, Hogan said, because the CBSA’s record-keeping was so poor.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre sent a letter to the RCMP commissioner Tuesday asking the Mounties to investigate the development of the ArriveCan app.

“What the auditor general found on Monday is unacceptable,” Duclos said in French. “We’ve noted concerning findings, not only for GC Strategies” but also for other companies that worked on the app, he added.

Radio-Canada determined Wednesday that the federal government’s 129 contracts since 2015 with GC Strategies — a private IT staffing company based in Ottawa — added up to over $239 million, including $158 million from CBSA. La Presse first reported the figure as $258 million.

A CBSA spokesperson said Thursday the total is lower than first reported because contract entries in the government’s database sometimes overlap — when changes are made to an existing contract already listed, for example.

In an email to CBC News and Radio-Canada, the CBSA said it had awarded four contracts to GC Strategies since 2020 for a total value of $56.4 million, of which $30 million was spent.

Those amounts only reflect contracts awarded by CBSA. The federal government was not able to provide a figure for the total amount of money awarded to GC Strategies since 2015.

Duclos said the government implemented many of the recommendations in the auditor general’s report in November 2023 “the moment the Canadian government understood that in managing ArriveCan there was a blatant lack of consideration, of good management and of information sharing.”

RCMP Sgt. Kim Chamberland said in a media statement Wednesday that the national police force will assess the available information, including the auditor general’s audit report, and take appropriate action.

Conservatives demand investigation

The Conservative Party of Canada is calling on the auditor general to open an investigation into every government contract with GC Strategies, said Conservative MP Michael Barrett.

“GC Strategies was taking public servants out for whiskey tasting and luxurious evenings, so what rules were not followed is an important question that the auditor general we know will uncover,” Barrett said, referring to details in a Globe and Mail report that were later confirmed by Hogan.

At least 28 of GC Strategies’ contracts compiled by Radio-Canada were awarded without competition. 

One of the addresses linked to GC Strategies and listed in a business directory leads to a bungalow in Ottawa, while a second address leads to a law firm on Carling Avenue in the capital, La Presse reported.

The owners of the IT firm have not made any political donations, according to the Elections Canada database.

Barrett said “most people would find it incomprehensible” that a company working out of a bungalow would have over $200 million in contracts with the federal government.

WATCH | Conservative MP calls for further probe of ArriveCan app:  

Conservative MP wants to know ‘what rules were not followed’ with ArriveCan app

Federal Conservative MP Michael Barrett says his party wants to know the details of any rule-breaking involved in development of the ArriveCan app. ‘Any criminality that’s uncovered, we know that it will be referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,’ he said.

Treasury Board President Anita Anand said the poor record-keeping cited by the auditor general is “not acceptable.” 

“It’s so important for us to ensure that processes are followed,” she said. “I know there is an investigation going on, and I know we will take the correct action once we have the results of that investigation.”

A scandal of this kind creates”difficulties for any government,” said Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal.

“Government functions on trust,” he said. “It functions on confidence and on the face of it, it doesn’t look good.”

“If someone did something wrong, they’ll have to pay the price,” Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in French.

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