Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is pushing for an audit into the federal government’s border application ArriveCan, suggesting the Liberals should be cutting as much “wasteful spending” as possible.
The Conservatives get to set the agenda in the House of Commons on Tuesday, as it’s their opposition day — a chance for the party to put forward a motion for MPs to debate — and they’ve set their sights on the contentious federal application.
Through the motion, the Official Opposition is seeking to have 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.”
The motion appears to be prompted by 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 his party’s motion.
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, while also dropping a number of other COVID-19 border measures such as proof of vaccination, quarantine and isolation requirements, and pre- and on-arrival testing.
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.
While the Conservatives are forcing a vote on this motion — likely to happen later this week — their motion is non-binding. That means that it will still be in the hands of Auditor General Karen Hogan to determine whether this is a study her office takes on.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino argued in the House that having ArriveCan was “imperative” in order to collect the health information necessary to facilitate the processing of travellers at the border.
Acknowledging at one point in French that there were challenges at times with the technology, Mendicino said the costs for ArriveCan include both its development and maintenance, adding that the proper procurement processes were followed and a review of the contracts is ongoing.
“At every critical stage we followed, with great rigour, the policies that were put in place when it came to procurement, to make sure that we could get value for taxpayer money,” he said.
While the Liberals may not be inclined to support this motion, given its preamble states that “the cost of government is driving up the cost of living,” it’s possible the Conservatives could find enough backing among other opposition parties to see it pass.
“I have a riding with six border crossings in it and I have numerous, numerous complaints about how it failed them, how it sent people into quarantine that shouldn’t have been sent into quarantine, and now we hear that it’s cost a ridiculous amount of money,” B.C. NDP MP Richard Cannings said.
Speaking in French, Bloc Quebecois MP Rene Villemure questioned why a “huge organization” such as the Canadian government couldn’t do this work internally.