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The “troubling” practice of awarding ArriveCAN contracts targeted by an investigation

Photo: Justin Tang The Canadian Press Canada's Procurement Ombudsman, Alexander Jeglic, before his speech before the Standing Committee on National Defense in Ottawa, October 24, 2023

Canada's Procurement Ombudsman fears 'troubling' practice of government suppliers subcontracting work to others, exposed in ArriveCAN app scandal, may be in fact commonplace within other ministries.

“This is certainly something that we are considering exploring in more depth, not just for ArriveCAN, but on a large scale, to see how prevalent it is [elsewhere at the federal level],” Alexander Jeglic, the Procurement Ombudsman of the Government of Canada.

The head of the investigation into good practices in government contracts appeared Tuesday before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts of the House of Commons. It is one of two federal committees investigating the development of the ArriveCAN border control app during the COVID-19 pandemic. A police investigation was also launched.

Mr. Jeglic unambiguously denounced the practice he calls “bait and switch” (“phishing strategy”), or the use of suppliers whose only function of acting as intermediaries between the government and those who will actually carry out the work.

That's what GC Strategies, a two-person Ottawa firm with no IT expertise, did, which received $19.1 million to develop ArriveCAN. This company even helped draft the project's calls for tenders, according to a recent report from the Auditor General of Canada that was devastating to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

An analysis by the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman concludes that for 76% of ArriveCAN project contracts, “some or all of the resources proposed by the successful supplier did not perform any work in the scope of the contract”. This contributed to taxpayers not getting value for their money.

Lack of information

Although the CBSA has a duty to proactively publish all of its contracts on the specialized Open Government site, this has not been done for a large portion (41%) of contracts in the ArriveCAN application. According to Alexander Jeglic, the problem of lack of information on contracts is “very prevalent” within federal ministries, which is “very frustrating” for him.

To date — and despite the intense media coverage of this affair over the past two weeks — the Government of Canada is not able to say precisely what total amount of money was sent to GC Strategies over the years. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) stated to Devoir that the data from the Open Government site could not, when added together, give a good picture of the situation.

The minister responsible, Jean-Yves Duclos, estimated the contracts that were awarded by PSPC at $59 million, a compilation that does not include contracts awarded directly by other departments. “My job is to ensure that the ministry does its job well, it is to ensure that the processes are followed well,” said – he clarified to a question from Devoir, before blaming a few seconds later “the few officials who did not do their job” in this matter.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116