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Subcontracting ArriveCan development 'seems highly illogical and inefficient:' PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the clerk of the privy council will be looking into why a small two-person staffing company in Ottawa was hired to develop the app.
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A patch is seen on the shoulder of a Canada Border Services Agency officer's in Tsawwassen, B.C., Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

With more questions being raised about the inflated price of the ArriveCan app, the prime minister has asked his top bureaucrat for a review.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the clerk of the privy council will be looking into why a small two-person staffing company in Ottawa was hired to develop the app, which was used to pre-screen travellers for vaccination status during the pandemic, but subcontracted the work.

“To make sure that we’re getting value for money and that we’re doing things in a smart and logical way,” he explained of the review into procurement practices in the public service.

The Globe and Mail reported Monday that the federal government paid millions of dollars over two years to GC Strategies for work related to the ArriveCan app.

That firm then subcontracted six other companies to actually do the work, including multinationals like BDO and KPMG, and kept a commission of between 15 and 30 per cent. The process has raised questions about why the public service could not hire those firms directly or do the work in-house.

This may be part of the reason the cost of the app ballooned to $54 million.

“During the pandemic, speed was (of) an essence, helping people quickly was (of) an essence, but there are principles that we should make sure are sound moving forward,” Trudeau said.

Franco Terrazzano with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is skeptical a review will lead to meaningful change around government spending.

“There is no silver bullet unless politicians decide to make changes,” he said, noting this was just the latest in a string of stories about the high cost of the app.

“This entire story has been a debacle for Canadian taxpayers.”

A House of Commons committee is already investigating the high cost of the ArriveCan app.

While it is no longer mandatory, the ArriveCan app is still in use as a voluntary option for travellers clearing customs.

On Oct. 20, GC Strategies Managing Partner Kristian Firth testified that his firm billed $4.5 million per year to staff the development, support and maintenance of the app.

“To be clear, we did not build ArriveCan. We were approached to provide a team for consideration to fulfill certain ArriveCan requirements,” Firth told the committee in his opening statement.

“We are, however, very proud of the team we gave the Government of Canada, whom they managed and gave direction to throughout the project.”

Previously released records included GC Strategies invoices that left committee members with the impression that the company had put together a team of independent IT contractors, The Globe and Mail reported.

With files from Cormac Mac Sweeney

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on Jan. 23, 2023.

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