Auditor General's pandemic spending audits raise questions

Pandemic repayments

The affects of record-high inflation continue.

Canada’s Food Price Report released this week predicted the average family of four will pay $1,065 more for food in 2023, coming off already high food inflation. It’s reported that charities are seeing donations down while the need for their services are increasing.

We know domestic inflation is connected to measures undertaken in response to the pandemic, which pushed Canada's debt above the $1 trillion mark for the first time in our history. The governor of the Bank of Canada called Canada’s inflation home-grown.

All parliamentarians supported actions to provide relief and protect public health early during COVID-19, however, the spending continued and even the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported hundreds of billions of that new spending by the (government) were not on pandemic relief. The Conservatives were also concerned programs lacked controls and disincentivized work.

That's why Parliament asked the Auditor General of Canada (AG) to audit pandemic benefit and procurement programs.

Her report was released this week, with conclusions rightfully raising the alarm over how the government ran pandemic relief programs and with how it plans to run future programs.

Upon auditing procurement (government purchases), the AG found the government secured hundreds of millions of vaccines, yet the Public Health Agency of Canada failed to track and minimize wastage by leaving doses to expire.

(The AG) found a $59-million-dollar vaccine tracking program was sidelined for Excel sheets, which, combined with poor data sharing with provincial health authorities, led to 13.6 million expired vaccines being disposed of, all while developing countries were looking for vaccines.

Upon auditing several relief programs, including CERB, the AG found the government failed to verify those who received benefits qualified for them. She found post-payment verifications have been repeatedly delayed by the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada.

The AG identified at least $32 billion in overpayments and suspicious payments that require further investigation. This massive hole in the Canadian budget represents almost 10% of the government's $334 billion annual tax revenues.

Specifically, the AG found $15 billion in pandemic aid went to companies profiting throughout the pandemic – many who paid out shareholders and executive bonuses. She also found Canadians not living in Canada, or sentenced to prison, received benefits despite the programs not being designed for those purposes. Another observation was that programs disincentivized work.

All this is concerning for new programs the government is rolling out with similar attestation processes, such as the dental care and rental cheque programs.

The same issues of government mismanagement and applicant fraud exist, as well as people who may genuinely believe they are (eligible) yet may get investigated in the future and forced to pay the money back, creating uncertainty and hardship.

Conservatives gave the government clear warnings right from the beginning of the pandemic that, while it was necessary in an emergency to get aid to Canadians quickly, some controls should have been in place, with rigorous and timely post-payment controls along with the halting of wasteful spending. It’s disappointing these warnings were not followed, with the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars and record high inflation.

The AG made several recommendations to the government. Shockingly, in the House of Commons, the national revenue minister called into question the independence of the AG saying the reports were politically motivated with pressure from Conservatives.

Of note, the AG was appointed by the Liberals, and is a non-partisan, independent officer. She refuted the accusation in a public statement.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Tracy Gray, Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, is her party's critic for Employment, Future Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

She is a member of the national caucus committee’s credit union caucus, wine caucus, and aviation caucus.

Gray, who has won the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award, worked for 27 years in the B.C. beverage industry.

She founded and owned Discover Wines VQA Wine Stores, which included the No. 1 wine store in B.C. for 13 years. She has been involved in small businesses in different sectors — financing, importing, oil and gas services and a technology start-up — and is among the “100 New Woman Pioneers in B.C."

Gray was a Kelowna city councillor for the 2014 term, sat on the Passenger Transportation Board from 2010-2012 and was elected to the board of Prospera Credit Union for 10 years.

In addition, she served on the boards of the Okanagan Film Commission, Clubhouse Childcare Society, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Regional Library and was chairwoman of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

She volunteers extensively in the community and welcomes connecting with residents.

She can be reached at 250-470-5075, and [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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