Why Canada’s Opposition leader demanded to know ‘WTF!’ in the country’s Parliament | Explained News

Why Canada’s Opposition leader demanded to know ‘WTF!’ in the country’s Parliament | Explained News

Canada’s Leader of Opposition Pierre Poilievre said in Parliament on Wednesday (February 14) that the government paid $258 million over several years to a small company that was involved, among other contracts, in creating an app for safe travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, citing a recent report by the country’s Auditor General.

Targeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Poilievre said: “One ArriveCAN company (referring to the company that was asked to build ArriveCAN, a platform on which travellers to Canada were supposed to submit their travel information during the Covid-19 pandemic) received a quarter of a billion dollars in contracts.

“Let’s get this straight, this is a company with four employees, headquartered in the basement of a tiny cottage. They got IT contracts even though they admit they do no IT work. A quarter of a billion dollars? WTF!”

When the House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus asked Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative Party, to not use unparliamentary language, Poilievre replied: “Where’s The Funds?”

The Opposition leader also said that the company in question (referring to Ottawa-based GC Strategies) had begun to receive government contracts soon after Trudeau became Prime Minister. Canadian media have reported that GC Services won approximately 140 Canadian federal government contracts worth a total of $258 million (about Rs 1,585 crore) since 2015, the year Trudeau came to power.

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The Canadian government has announced that all these contracts would be reviewed. Existing contracts with GC Strategies were suspended in November 2023. Trudeau told Parliament that his government was cooperating with the investigations.

What is the story of what threatens to become the defining scandal of Trudeau’s tenure? How does it add to the messy circumstances that have pushed the Prime Minister to one of the lowest points in his political career?

What is the ArriveCAN app?

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During the coronavirus pandemic, travel between countries was regulated through certificates of Covid vaccinations and mandatory quarantine periods for travellers.

The AG’s report says that in March 2020, to effectively process health information collected from travellers, the Public Health Agency of Canada asked the Canada Border Services Agency to develop a digital form to collect the information at the borders. The Canada Border Services Agency eventually launched the ArriveCAN app.

The government used third-party suppliers for the app, which allowed the Public Health Agency “to provide contact and health information directly to provinces and territories, to enforce quarantine measures, and to minimise physical contact between travellers and border services officers,” the audit report said.

What are the irregularities flagged here?

On November 2, 2022, the Canadian House of Commons passed a motion for the AG to conduct a performance audit of the entire process. The report that came out this month said: “Overall, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Public Services and Procurement Canada repeatedly failed to follow good management practices in the contracting, development, and implementation of the ArriveCAN application.”

It added, “The Canada Border Services Agency’s documentation, financial records, and controls were so poor that we were unable to determine the precise cost of the ArriveCAN application. Using the information that was available, we estimated the cost at approximately $59.5 million.”

AG Karen Hogan said: “Government organizations needed to be flexible and fast in responding to the Covid‑19 pandemic, but they still needed to document their decisions and demonstrate the prudent use of public funds. In this audit, we found disappointing failures and omissions everywhere we looked.”

On the matter of awarding contracts for developing the app, she said, “We saw little documentation to support how and why the Canada Border Services Agency initially awarded GC Strategies the ArriveCAN contract through a non‑competitive process. Only one potential contractor submitted a proposal, and that proposal did not come from GC Strategies.”

The AG’s report said that the cost of the app was initially estimated at only $80,000. Of the $59.5 million that the app ultimately cost, $19.1 million was paid to GC Strategies, which was awarded almost half of the contracts related to the app’s services. Forty-six contracts were given to GC Strategies without calling for tender, Canadian media reported.

How has the Trudeau government responded?

A contrite Trudeau said in Parliament, “The Auditor General has highlighted some very concerning questions that need to be answered.”

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He said that during the pandemic, the government “rightly did everything it could to keep Canadians safe and keep them protected”, but “even in the most trying times perhaps, especially in the most trying times, all the rules need to be followed in this case.” He said they would support authorities in following up on irregular contracting and potential “breaking of the rules”.

An analysis by The Globe and Mail noted that Poilievre had asked for a parliamentary probe in 2023, alleging a similar misappropriation of funds.

At the time, a report from Radio Canada had stated that the global consulting firm McKinsey was awarded significant government contracts. Citing public accounts data from Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), it said that from 2015 to 2022, when Trudeau headed the government, the company received $66 million from the federal government. In comparison, federal contracts worth $2.2 million were awarded when Trudeau’s predecessor Stephen Harper was in office from 2006 to 2015.

How does this scandal increase Trudeau’s troubles?

Ahead of the 2025 general elections, the Opposition has juxtaposed the alleged financial irregularities with the plight of ordinary Canadians, who have been braving a cost of living crisis with sharply rising prices.

There has also been increased pushback against Canada’s traditionally liberal policy on immigration. A Reuters report noted research data that showed support for immigration had fallen to a three-decade low at the end of 2023, with 44.5% of Canadians saying the country had too many immigrants, which was showing up in a shortage of affordable housing. Rental inflation hit 7.8% in the final quarter of 2023, the Reuters report said.

Indians, who form a large chunk of Canada’s non-native population, are especially impacted by government policies on immigration.

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