From tents to taxis, there’s a government app for that – $3 million worth

Watch: Global News has learned the Conservative government has spent millions of dollars developing apps for federal programs and services over the past six years. Mike Le Couteur reports.

OTTAWA – From setting up tents to calling taxis to – yes – baking a hedgehog-shaped cake, there is a federal government app for that.

The Conservatives have spent more than $3 million on mobile applications since 2008, documents show.

“Certainly what we’ve seen is new applications that help Canadians,” said Treasury Board President Tony Clement.

Clement noted that some apps – such as a Health Canada recalls, which cost $2,916 to develop in 2012-13  –  are “all very useful things.”

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But others aren’t so sure.

NDP MP Glenn Thibeault, who requested the data from Parliament, said it’s important for the government to look at different ways to communicate with Canadians.

But he questioned some of the decisions being made, citing an $11,000 government taxi application being developed by Shared Services Canada.

The purpose? To promote the sharing of taxis among bureaucrats.

“What we need to start looking at is how they’re spending our dollars to ensure that they’re communicating with Canadians effectively,” Thibeault said.

Another application that has rattled critics is a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Coach Canada app for veterans, which provides tools for screening and links to support services.

The app, along with a “We Remember” application to promote military remembrance, cost about $150,000 to develop and maintain since 2010.

Veterans’ advocate Michael Blais said the PTSD app was a “positive development,” when it first came out in 2011.

But since then, veterans have told him it’s too complicated. He called the remembrance application “wasteful,” especially in light of the eight veterans’ offices recently closed by the government.

“Computer apps aren’t going to cut it,” said Blais. “What’s going to cut it is that human quotient where the department reaches out and provides the resources, human resources, not a computer program to help these men and women in their time of need.”

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The PTSD app, which has been downloaded 4,600 times, “does not replace medical care provided by the Government of Canada,” a Veterans Affairs’ spokesman wrote in an email.

It was also developed in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Some applications are lighter in tone than others: The “Heritage Gourmet” app, developed for Parks Canada, cost more than $60,000 since 2011 and teaches Canadians how to bake specialties such as a Fort George, Ont. hedgehog cake.

Another which teaches tent-pitching skills, called “Learn to Camp,” cost almost $78,000 over two years.

The “How Canadian Are You, Eh?” mobile game helps teachers and youth learn about the Discover Canada citizenship guide and cost $26,000 since 2010. The citizenship guide itself has been downloaded more than 34,000 times between April 2013 and February 2014, the department said.

The priciest application was Natural Resource Canada’s “GanField application,” which cost nearly $750,000.  It helps geoscientists collect and manage digital field data – and is for internal use only.

And the prime minister’s office even developed an app in 2011-12 to reach out to Canadians via social media – although additional details about how it wanted to achieve that goal were not available.

It cost $10,255  – and was never activated.


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