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

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked Canada's top public servant to look into the government's procurement process over what he said seemed to be a "highly illogical and inefficient" contract to develop the ArriveCan app.

The Globe and Mail reported Monday that the federal government paid millions of dollars over two years to GC Strategies, a two-person firm in Ottawa, 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.

"That's exactly the question that I just asked if the public service," Trudeau said at a press conference Monday when asked about those concerns.

Trudeau said he's asked the clerk of the Privy Council to look at the government's procurement practices to make sure they are getting good value for money.

"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," he said.

The government mandated the use of the ArriveCan app during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to screen public health information of travellers crossing the border into the country. It is still in use as a voluntary option for travellers clearing customs.

A parliamentary committee agreed to investigate the development and use of the app in October.

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 fulfil 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.

Newly released documents obtained by the newspaper show the individual workers came from large firms, including BDO Canada, Optiv, KPMG, Macadamian Technologies, Level Access and Distill Mobile.

GC Strategies has done similar work for more than 20 departments as well, and has invoiced a total of more than $44 million over the last two years, Firth told the committee.

The federal procurement department has also come under criticism recently for a sharp increase in contracts awarded to the consulting firm McKinsey since the Liberals came to power, prompting another parliamentary committee investigation.

The government says it has awarded 23 contracts to McKinsey since 2015 that are together worth $101.4 million.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called for the parliamentary inquiry, saying the public needs to know what the money was used for and what influence McKinsey has had on the government.

Earlier this month, Trudeau said he asked Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek and Treasury Board President Mona Fortier to look into the contracts and to ensure proper processes were followed in those cases.

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

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press