Another scandal – perhaps “the last nail in the coffin”

The Niagara Independent, February 16, 2024 – “…this is probably some of the worst financial record-keeping that I’ve seen… Overall, this audit shows a glaring disregard for basic management and contracting practices throughout ArriveCan’s development and implementation,” observed Auditor General Karen Hogan at a Monday press conference. Hogan was reporting on her audit of the ArriveCan app, an $80,000 software project to track Canadian travelers’ COVID-19 vaccination status that ended up costing taxpayers $60 million.

Hogan was critical of the Canada Border Services Agency, Public Health Agency of Canada, and Public Services and Procurement Canada for their lack of accountability. Hogan’s audit uncovered non-competitive bids, lack of transparency and oversight, multiple record-keeping deficiencies, timesheets devoid of detail, and alarming security lapses.

These findings reconfirmed a January report from the federal Procurement Ombudsman Office that found in 76 per cent of the ArriveCan contracts issued, the “successful supplier did not perform any work on the contract.”

Most egregious of those contracts in which a company sub-contracted work were the contracts given to GC Strategies Inc. in the total amount of $19.1 million. The “IT staffing company” is a two-man consultancy operating from the basement of a private home/cottage on the Ottawa River. In a parliamentary committee this past fall, co-owner Kristian Firth admitted he and his business partner Darren Anthony work from home, do not perform IT work themselves, and typically charge a commission of 15-30 per cent of the value of the work they subcontract.

Revelations coming to light after Hogan’s press conference exposed that the millions neatly pocketed by Firth and Anthony during the pandemic was just the tip of the iceberg. Conservative MP Larry Brock broke the news on X that “GC Strategies has received over $250 million in contracts from the Trudeau Government since 2015.”

It is now reported in La Press and other media sources that GC Strategies has been awarded 140 contracts from various federal government departments and agencies totaling at least $258 million. The Firth-Anthony dynamic duo received their first GC Strategies contract within three weeks of the Trudeau government taking office in the fall of 2015.

With the findings in the Auditor General report, the ArriveCan app was quickly dubbed “ArriveScam” in Ottawa circles, but clearly there is much more to this explosive scandal. In a Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates this week the Conservatives successfully moved, with BQ and NDP support, to vote down a Liberal MPs motion to delay any further investigations into GC Strategies. The Conservatives pushed for AG Hogan to immediately commence a comprehensive forensic audit of all contracts awarded to GC Strategies over the past eight years.

On Wednesday (one might say “better late than never”), the RCMP rode in to announce that the police force is also “assessing” the Auditor General’s report and subsequent information that has been made public.

Political pundits and national media are attempting to put into perspective what began as a pandemic profiteering scandal and has now blown into an inexcusable quarter-of-a-billion boondoggle. The Globe and Mail lead editorial stated, “The ArriveCan app is the graveyard of accountability and common sense.” CBC News ran with the story “ArriveCan is a mess – but the scandal hides some bigger questions.” Pugnacious pundit Cory Morgan commented, “The unfolding debacle of the Canadian ArriveCAN app sounds like a story from a corrupted third-world nation.”

A number of news commentators suggested that this scandal may be the undoing of the Trudeau government. Tasha Kheiriddin of the National Post opined “ArriveCAN could be the nail in the Liberals’ political coffin.”

Yet, Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne posted on X, “Prediction: We are never going to get to the bottom of ArriveCan, any more than we’re ever going to get to the bottom of SNC Lavalin, or WE Charity, or the Winnipeg lab mess, or anything else. Our accountability mechanisms are just laughably weak, where they are not compromised.”

Coyne may be correct. The question remains whether there will be enough public outrage to press the government in pursuing answers to GC Strategies’ $258 million haul? Or will the bluster of negative headlines be ignored until they disappear – just like past misdeeds and mishaps? Or to put it more directly, do Canadians care at all about the mountain of scandals Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have excused through their eight years in office? How many times have Canadians heard that it’s “the last nail in the coffin?”

Canadian historians often cite Sir John A. Macdonald’s government as being the country’s most scandalous administration. However, the current Liberal administration may be rewriting the history books in this regard. Consider the Trudeau government’s record:

In 2016, newspapers reported the PM attended Liberal cash-for-access $1,525 per ticket political events at homes of wealthy Chinese-Canadians in Toronto and Vancouver. / In May 2016, crossing the floor of the House of Commons, PM Trudeau muscled Conservative MP Gord Brown and elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brousseau. / PM Trudeau broke ethics laws (the first sitting PM to do so) in accepting a Bahamas holiday on the private island of Aga Khan – whose charity was later given $50 million from the government. / In February 2018, PM Trudeau and his family became international embarrassments when dressing up in costumes and arranging photoshoots while visiting India. / On this India trip, the Trudeaus invited known convicted criminal Jaspal Atwal to a reception in Mumbia. / In 2018, stories surfaced of Justin Trudeau groping a reporter when he was 28 at the Kokanee Summit in Creston, BC. / Stories surfaced in Ottawa of the PM insulting and bullying Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who chose not to run again. / The SNC-Lavalin scandal dominated the news as the Liberal government was angling to provide the Quebec firm with a deferred prosecution deal instead of pursuing a criminal case for fraud and corruption. / The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) pressured Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Reybould to make the backroom deal. Wilson-Raybould resigned. President of the Treasury Board Minister Jane Philpott resigned. Trudeau’s Principal Secretary (and BFF) Gerald Butts resigned. The Ethics Commissioner found the PM had violated Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act. Post-2019 election, the newly appointed Justice Minister David Lametti provided SNC-Lavalin with a deferred prosecution deal. / In 2018, stories circulated about Trudeau’s inappropriate incidents as teacher that led to his dismissal from West Point Grey Academy – incidents that could not be confirmed due to non-disclosure agreements. / In March 2019, PM Trudeau apologized for making his sarcastic “Thank you for your donation” to an indigenous woman who interrupted a Liberal Party fundraiser in protest about poor living conditions. / In May 2019, the government abandoned their legal action against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and paid him an undisclosed amount to remain silent on the controversies involving Maritime naval contracts and the involvement of the PMO, Privy Council Office, and former minister Scott Brison. / During the 2019 election, the “Blackface Scandal” exposed PM Trudeau in blackface and costumes in three separate occasions when he was a teacher. / The “WE Charity Scandal” involved Liberals that were sole sourcing contracts to WE to run a $912 million dollar student program – and WE providing hundreds of thousands of favours to Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, his wife, Sophie and brother, Alexandre. / WE Charity also hired Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter. Morneau resigned, supposedly over not recusing himself from cabinet discussions about WE Charity. / In October 2020, the story was exposed that Toronto real estate developer Wei Wei met with Trudeau at least twice as part of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) endorsed industry group that would later negotiate a $1 million donation arrangement with the Trudeau Foundation. Trudeau Foundation connections also played a part in the foreign interference investigation of Morris Rosenberg and subsequent inquiry led by David Johnston – both men exonerating PM Trudeau of all wrong-doing while being exposed as longstanding, close friends of the Trudeau family. / Allegations were made and never cleared up about undue interference into the RCMP investigation into the Nova Scotia mass murders. Implicated were the PMO, then-Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, all attempting to push the Liberals’ gun legislation while suppressing facts of the murders. / The pandemic period between 2020-2022 had multiple scandals: joint Canada-China virus research at the Winnipeg Lab and the mysterious firing and disappearance of two Chinese scientists; untold hundreds of millions spent on a Canada-Sino vaccine development and then the extra costs paid for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines; the $237 million sole-sourced and unfulfilled contract to former MP Frank Baylis for ventilators; the $300 million sole-sourced contract to SNC-Lavalin for mobile health units (with no proof they were even made); and, the $323 million sole-sourced contracts given to Quebec City pharmaceutical company Medicago to build a manufacturing plant and provide vaccines. / In September 2021, the PM marked the country’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by secretly jetting off to surf his favourite Tofino BC beach. / The PM’s and senior ministers’ mistreatment of Canadians during the Freedom Convoy (including freezing bank accounts) and the unconstitutional use of the Emergencies Act. / The $6,000 a night Corinthia Hotel room Justin Trudeau stayed in while attending Queen Elizabeth’s funeral – and the coverup that he had been the occupant. / Facts now public that senior government officials including the PMO knew about the CCP’s undue influence in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, its election campaign misdeeds and threats to MPs and their family members, and they did not pass on the intelligence. / Canada was embarrassed internationally when, during the September 2023 visit of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, a Waffen-SS Nazi veteran was given a standing ovation in the House of Commons. Speaker Anthony Rota was scapegoated and resigned to cover the PMO’s involvement in the plans to honour the Nazi. / The PM accepted a gift from a family friend of a $84,000 Christmas family vacation at a Jamaican estate – and initially told Canadians he was paying for it.

As all the facts surface on GC Strategies in the weeks and months ahead, it will be interesting to see whether Andrew Coyne or Tasha Kheiriddin nailed it.

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/another-scandal-perhaps-the-last-nail-in-the-coffin/

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