This week the House of Commons is back in session for the first time in 2023.
As it would happen, this week was also the same week several opposition MPs received written answers to order paper questions on Parliament Hill.
What are order paper questions? Unlike the short rapid-fire format of Question Period, which often results in either a non-answer or an answer to a different question, an order paper question is a written question from an MP that, after 48 hours notice, will be posted on the “Order Paper” with the intent that the responsible minister will provide a substantive answer within 45 House sitting days.
However, that is not always the case.
Each MP is allowed a maximum of four questions on the order paper at any time. This week, I received a reply to one of my order paper questions asking the federal government how many cancelled contracts there were between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 12, 2022, and what, if any, cancellation fees taxpayers must bear.
The answer I received was an incomplete accounting, as some departments still need to give a number. However, from those that did, there was more than $500,000 in penalties paid out for more than 300 cancelled contracts. Some cancelled contracts were up to $11.7 million, which seemed low compared to other expenses now coming to light.
My Conservative colleague from Calgary Nose Hill, Michelle Rempel-Garner, had a different question.
During the pandemic, the government created “quarantine hotels,” where travellers entering Canada via air between Feb. 21, 2021, and Aug. 9, 2021, were forced to stay to meet the then requirement of a mandatory three-night stay as they awaited their Day 1 COVID test results.
Rempel Garner discovered that between the two hotels contracted for this service at the Calgary airport in fiscal 2022 (which was after the government lifted travel restrictions), $6,790,717.46 was paid to them. She further learned that during this same time period, only 15 people stayed at those hotels under this program. That amounts to over $452,000 per person.
More shocking was the admission that the government could have cancelled those contracts by giving 30 days notice, but only did so sometime late in the fall of 2022.
So what we learned from these two order paper questions was that it was far more economical for the government to cancel contracts where they were not needed.
At the same time, from my own order paper experience, the government does not cancel contracts often, meaning taxpayers will continue to pay more for services that are no longer needed.
From my perspective, what is most alarming is when Conservatives question the ministers responsible for spending $6,790,717.46 to provide a quarantine hotel for just 15 people, they offer no resignation or apology, only a shrug.
My question to you this week:
There was a time when there was strong public opposition to careless spending by any level of government, regardless of political stripe. Are those days over, or are the taxpayers of Canada owed an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about this poorly managed program?
I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll-free 1-800-665-8711.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.