A Calgary MP is demanding answers after she said the federal government spent millions of dollars housing just a handful of people in a quarantine hotel.
“I put in something called an order paper question which compels the government to respond to me,” Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner said of obtaining the documents she released to the public on Tuesday. “I asked if indeed the government had still been spending money on quarantine hotel facilities, even though restrictions had been lifted, and if so, how much?”
The documents suggest the Public Health Authority of Canada spent close to $6.8 million on a quarantine hotel in Calgary.
That amount paid for the lodging and food of 15 people, which equates to a cost of more than $450,000 per person.
By comparison, just over $11 million was spent the previous year to house 1,356 travellers at the Westin and $8.9 million for rooms and meals for 119 people in 2020-21.
“There‘s no justification for the expense,” Rempel Garner said. “This is gross, gross mismanagement.”
During question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Rempel Garner demanded answers to the spending to which Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos responded, by saying the health and safety of all Canadians has always been the government’s “primary responsibility.”
“Our primary responsibility has been and remains to protect the safety and health of Canadians, including tens of thousands of people who had to access the designated quarantine facilities (DQFs),” Duclos said. “Because of these measures and vaccination, we have saved together tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars in economic costs.”
Rempel Garner said the DQF details showed more “mismanagement.”
“(The order paper is) not just talking about the payment to the hotel. They’ve also got close to $2 million for security, another close to $100,000 roughly for transportation and then something like close to $2.5 to $3 million here for something called ‘traveler support services and cleaning services,'” Rempel added.
The quarantine facility opened in June 2020 and continued to operate until October 2022, months after restrictions were eased.
“I think what really punched me in the gut was they spent this money with the option of getting out of the contract,” Rempel Garner said.
“This is just something that I think will really hit home with a lot of Canadians of all political stripes, at a time where we’re really struggling to make ends meet and we’re really talking about affordability on lodging, on housing.”
In a statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), 38 DQF sites were confirmed to have opened in 14 sites nationwide.
In total, $388.7 million was spent on DQFs between April 2020 to December 2022, breaking out to $158.5 million in fiscal year 2020/21, $153 million in 2021/22, and $77.2 million in 2022/23.
All of the close-out plans – including holding discussions with hotels to confirm end dates – have been completed, PHAC said.
“There are currently no DQFs in operation. The designation for the Westin Calgary Airport hotel was cancelled effective October 30, 2022,” a PHAC spokesperson wrote on Wednesday.
Lori Williams, a political analyst with Mount Royal University, said she doesn’t believe this spending spree will be a game-changer when voters head to the polls.
“I don’t know that this is going to be a make-or-break issue in most people’s minds,” Williams said. “It will confirm to those who feel the liberals are too free with taxpayer’s money… and it may or may not resonate with some who think the COVID expenditures were necessary.
“I think there was a lot of money that went out and a lot of it is highly questionable and certainly that’s going to fall into the category, but the bigger concern for Albertans now is affordability and healthcare,” Williams added.
The federal public health agency said public health measures and vaccines have prevented an estimated 30.7 million infections of COVID-19 and helped saved the lives of 760,000 people.
“These facilities were there as an important measure to stop the spread and save lives,” the PHAC statement reads.
Rempel Garner said she will continue to search for more hotels that were operating as a designated facility after restrictions were lifted or if any are still in operation.
–with files from Adam Toy, Global News