Today's discussion:

The ArriveCan scandal represents an even deeper rot

In sum, the ArriveCan scandal points to the critical failure within the government of Canada: the lack of program management capability across most departments and agencies. Fixing this requires a complete change in the culture of governance.

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Ian MacRae

Given we learned shortly after ArriveCan was launched that a very small developer group built a copy that worked reliably and accurately OVER A WEEKEND, the federal procurement process seems guaranteed to produce solutions that are overly complex and suboptimal.

Imagine if the RFP said “Create a mobile app in which Canadians can pre-screen their return to Canada. Submit your working models in one week. We’ll test and respond with defects in the following week.”

All government process is about avoiding risk of blame. Bureaucracies across Canada do work that appears to deliver something while ensuring any complaints cannot be blamed on the bureaucrats. Sadly, that is a universal feature of all governments, worldwide. Our tax code is too large: blame avoidance. Our new online harms act will bring regulations and a body to enforce the regulations: blame avoidance. Our Access to Information system is complex and very slow: blame avoidance.

If Pierre Poilievre wants to actually reduce/eliminate gatekeepers in Canadian government, making all correspondence and contracts public immediately on creation, on publicly-accessible web sites, is perhaps the solution to changing the blame avoidance culture that permeates it.

I won’t hold my breath.

29th February 2024 at 9:41 am
Gary Oxenforth

I like you Ian will not hold my breath

29th February 2024 at 10:37 am

Ian you will also note that the AG only audited the management and financial components of ArriveCAN. The AG did not (as far as I can see) audit or verify the Information Technology components of the program. So a question for all of those common folks who think that IT services or products were not provided. If the AG doesn’t know what ArriveCAN is made up of then how can you know that stuff was done or provided?

29th February 2024 at 11:45 am

A very small developer group built a copy of a smart phone app., not likely.

ArriveCAN is much more than a smart phone app. It is an automated computer system that included smart phone, desk top, and mainframe apps and programs spread or linked across multiple government departments, e.g. CBSA, PHAC, PassPort Canada, Service Canada,. The systems would include smart phone apps and websites to collect information. The system would also have desktop and mainframe applications/programs to verify, store, report and move information between computer system located in the various departments involved with the system.

I noticed that Amazon and Microsoft were paid for work done on ArriveCAN. These two companies provides cloud services. Which indicates that the ArriveCAN system would have had information and systems up in the cloud.

29th February 2024 at 11:38 am

It drives me crazy when 60Million is referred to as a small sum of money. Clearly the Government it collecting far too much from taxpayers.

29th February 2024 at 9:04 am
jane cryderman

How is this not criminal theft from the Canadian Taxpayer???

29th February 2024 at 7:47 am
Harriet Worden

It is, but this Lieberal government will Never admit a mistake.

29th February 2024 at 2:14 pm
Kim Morton

Aside from basic bureaucratic incompetence, there appears to be a lack of political oversite. Where was the Minister responsible? Oh right, making political announcements that had no basis in reality.
I ran a business for many years, did civil work for several levels of government, also worked for the federal government for a short time. From my experience, there is a lack of knowledge in contract administration, basic engineering, but a desire to build edifices.
The far larger problem is lack of accountability and a process driven system. To bureaucrats, the end result is irrelevant, as long as the process is seen to work. There are also no repercussions for creating expensive disasters. Bureaucrats continue to collect their excessive pay cheques and bonuses, the taxpayer continues to get fleeced, and there are no repercussions. Even when the problem moves from incompetence to criminal, no one gets fired, the politician in charge doesn’t get removed and the taxpayer continues to pay.

29th February 2024 at 11:29 am

The minister is equivalent to a CEO in a large private sector organization . Do you know of such CEO’s are involved in the daily operations of large private sector enterprises?

29th February 2024 at 12:57 pm

The buck stops here.At the top.Just collecting 2000 times the average worker’s wage as salary plus defined bonuses requires some oversight.

29th February 2024 at 2:14 pm

Oversight is just that. What human being would have the ability to know the details for everything that goes on in an organization.

29th February 2024 at 5:29 pm
Gord Edwards

While I agree with Mr Shimooka’s characterization of the procurement process in government and his ultimate recommendation, I find he glosses over the degree to which people responsible for ArriveCan failed in every regard.

I spent the last ten years of my military career in equipment procurement. The financial, contracting and procurement processes are indeed byzantine, and trade off speed for risk avoidance. He is correct that DND has a well developed (not always ‘good’) framework for projects. Other departments have little if any internal processes or expertise as they don’t often engage in complex procurements or capital projects.

However regardless of a department’s internal mechanisms, the Financial Administration Act, Government Contracting Regulations, and a host of Treasury Board rules apply. And, as most departments have little internal contracting authority, Public Services and Procurement Canada is almost always involved. PSPC is well familiar with the FAA, GCRs as well as their own internal risk avoidance processes.

Also in my experience senior management and Ministers are not hands-off regarding high profile files. The idea that senior bureaucrats and the Ministers involved weren’t regularly briefed on such a public-facing pandemic related file frankly beggars belief.

New rules stating that you must follow the existing rules, and new mandatory review bodies are not the solution. If we want effective government procurement (or services) Mr Shimooka is correct in recommending a cultural change to a management-based approach. Enhancing initial training when people are hired and enforced stability in positions would both be important aspects of such a shift. But along with enhancing authority at the lower levels there needs to be accountability at all levels. To lift from Mr Taymun’s accompanying article “…pay attention to the rules, apply them, and suffer meaningful consequences when they do not.” Without accountability (and thus addressing the power of the unions) such a solution is not feasible.

29th February 2024 at 1:26 pm
Don Morris

The Arrivecan app is more than just a failure of government policy,it is a clear indication of corruption.
The U.S. has been using this type of app successfully since 2014, developed by private money at a cost of 1.5 million USD, and a Montreal company was involved in the making of this app, Airports Council International, whose H/Q is only nine km from Justin Trudeau’s constituency office, not Outer Slobovia. This was or should have been known to someone in government, it’s not as though this was a new technology, but one that had been in use in the USA for six years, with a Canadian company involved in the development.
As this company was expert at producing this app, why were they never approached, or the American company also involved, Airside Mobile?
In place of an open and transparent search for a company expert at developing this app, the funding was simply given to GC Strategies. This reminds me of the WE charity scandal.

Auditor-General Karen Hogan issued a scathing report on the procurement of this app, which was done in such an amateurish way one would imagine this episode was a script in a TV comedy show.

29th February 2024 at 12:00 pm

The financial fiasco involving this app is a symptom of a lack of tone at the top (no respect for the taxpayer’s money). Trudeau has demonstrated a total contempt for financial prudence during the past 8 years while professing to be soooo righteous. the public service is obviously following his lead. Its time for him to go!

29th February 2024 at 11:03 am

I’m amazed at the incompetence of bureaucrats as I follow them being questioned in the Parliamentary Committee investigating Arrive Scam.

Many cannot even provide yes or no answers to the simplest questions and even the most senior members of Government seem timid and intimidated when asked a direct question. It’s as if they have never been asked to explain themselves.

They speak a type of bureaucratize that is almost undecipherable to the average Canadian.

29th February 2024 at 12:52 pm

Stalin once said, “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.”

That those overseeing the planned $80K development of the ArriveCan app failed to set off alarm bells as it snowballed its way to the staggering $59.5 million it became is astounding. (Remember too that the Auditor General cautioned that the true cost was impossible to calculate because of CBSA’s poor financial record management practices – the actual cost may well be higher.)

This speaks to a bureaucratic culture in Ottawa with the same “oh well” attitude that Stalin exhibited whenever the body count around him began to climb. To them, the end justifies the means, so the rules they operate under become meaningless.

29th February 2024 at 12:40 pm

Richard, I think you’ve missed the point. The GC’s existing procurement processes are built to operate in non-emergency situations. ArriveCAN had to be developed and put in place during an emergency. In other words, CBSA had to get a software system based system up and running using processes that are not intended to be used during an emergency. I would suggest that the GC should develop processes to handle emergency and non-emergency situations.
ArriveCAN is software computer system that included smart phone, desk top, and mainframe apps and programs spread or linked across multiple government departments, e.g. CBSA, PHAC, PassPort Canada, Service Canada. The GC seems to not have management and control process in place to develop, implement and operate government wide computer systems.

29th February 2024 at 12:11 pm
Michael F

Thank you for adding a little nuance to this. When a project straddles several departments and was urgently needed it seems pretty apparent that costs will go up. This $80k number that keeps being bandied about was hopelessly naive.

29th February 2024 at 1:47 pm
Gary Oxenforth

This has to be investigated and not by a parlimentary committee?

29th February 2024 at 10:39 am
Greg Jackson

In my business, we deal with government procurement on a daily basis. What we often see is prescriptive specifications, which essentially tell the manufacturer who designed/invented the equipment, how to build it. Often, if it is new/better technology, there is only one supplier, yet the purchasing convention demands three bidders, so two other technologies are approved as “equals”. Usually they are less expensive, because they are older, less capable products. Low bidder wins, but the government doesn’t get what their internal customer wanted. (As an aside, this is how we end up buying used F-18 Super Hornets instead of new F-35’s, putting us 10 years behind our allies.)
If we want to address this problem quickly, and provide better outcomes for the internal customers, (i.e. government departments), and taxpayers, we need to move away from the afore-mentioned prescriptive specifications and instead provide performance specifications, with a developed evaluation scoring system, to select a product and award the contract. This process should include financial penalties for non-performance of any kind on the part of the winning contractor.
Due to the “cradle to grave” nature of government employment, and the malevolent influence of public sector unions, accountability among the public sector employees for poor performance is difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
Sadly, the risk that bureaucrats seek to avoid has nothing to do with the purchase of the wrong product,
and everything to do with being perceived as having done it the right way.

29th February 2024 at 12:08 pm

And the two main managers of that robbery were promoted out of harm’s way to different departments.

29th February 2024 at 2:09 pm
Gordon Divitt

The common factors in many large failed projects in both the public and private sectors are a) the lack of senior executive with both the authority to approve/disapprove changes and b) a well thought out and largely unchangeable set of requirements – scope creep is a guaranteed road to failure

This project should have been broken into small deliverables with permission to proceed only granted when the owner/end user says the one presented does what it was tasked with doing.

29th February 2024 at 11:02 am

Like most government programs, the primary objective in procurement and employment is demonstrating support (to the exclusion of all else for the most part) for the various social causes or under-represented groups that are the loudest at the time.

Many of the most critical criteria are related to making sure the government demonstrates its support for these groups. Only after passing these thresholds are the issues of competence and quality of product/service considered. And then, usually the lowest bidder wins, regardless of the speed or quality of the service required.

This is a prime example of the problems with the procurement system of the Government of Canada, (and probably most provinces, though I am only speculating here). If it wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable.

29th February 2024 at 4:31 pm
Michael F

Meanwhile Poilievre is at another private fundraidser in Forest Hill tonight, one of the richest neighbourhoods in Canada. Make no mistake about what masters he serves despite all the common folks populist rhetoric. Could these people be, dare I say elites?

29th February 2024 at 1:45 pm