Opposition MPs joined forces on Wednesday to pass a motion calling for an audit into the federal government’s border application ArriveCan.
The motion, which passed 174 to 149, with the backing of Conservative, Bloc Quebecois, and NDP MPs, calls 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.”
The proposal was put forward by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre as his party’s latest opposition day motion, which MPs spent most of Tuesday debating. It is the second motion to pass calling for the Auditor General to look into ArriveCan, after NDP MP Gord Johns successfully advanced a motion at the Government Operations and Estimates Committee requesting that the Auditor General conduct an audit into the costs of developing the app, and compliance with Treasury Board guidelines around best value.
These pushes for a probe into the contentious federal application come on the heels of a series of stories about the estimated $54-million cost of the app, and the contracts awarded to build and maintain it.
“When $54 million goes out the door and government officials can’t get their story straight about where it went, the least we can do is have an audit,” Poilievre said Tuesday when speaking about the motion, which starts with a preamble calling for the government to “eliminate wasteful spending” given the current cost-of-living crunch.
During Tuesday’s debate, Bloc Quebecois and NDP MPs spoke of their constituents’ complaints about using the app, and questioned why the federal government was unable to create the application internally and in a more cost-effective way.
Liberal and Green MPs voted against the motion after Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino defended the app’s procurement process during Tuesday’s debate, saying that they did what they could to get “value for taxpayer money.” Mendicino said that costs for ArriveCan include development as well as maintenance, and told the House that a review of the contracts is ongoing.
While the motion is non-binding, Auditor General Karen Hogan’s office told CTVNews.ca that when parliamentarians pass a motion asking for an audit to be conducted, it “carries a significant amount of weight as we identify the work that we will do.”
“The ultimate decision about what to audit rests with the Auditor General. Final decisions about what to audit are made in light of the OAG’s mandate, the significance of the issue, the existing audit schedule, and available resources,” said spokesperson for the Auditor General’s Office, Vincent Frigon.
Introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, ArriveCan became mandatory as a way to screen inbound travellers to Canada for their travel and health-related information, including vaccination status.
After months of defending the at-times glitchy application, and insisting it was a “critical tool” despite pressure from the travel industry and opposition MPs to scrap it, the federal government made the use of ArriveCan optional on Oct. 1.
The app can still be used by travellers to fill out customs and immigration declarations prior to arrival, with the federal government stating this option will save Canadians time at the airport.
According to Hogan’s office, how long it takes to conduct performance audits can vary depending on their size and scope, and the audits that are set to be presented to Parliament in the spring of 2023 are already “well underway.”
“It is difficult to predict how quickly an audit of the ArriveCAN application would take without additional information,” Frigon said.
Meanwhile, the Government Operations and Estimates Committee has agreed to conduct a separate study, seeing MPs request the government turn over unredacted documents related to the planning, contracting, and subcontracting of the application’s development and launch.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Michael Lee