COVID: Concerns raised over gov’t quarantine hotel spending

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is raising concerns over the federal government’s spending on so-called COVID-19 quarantine hotels, calling the total spent on a Calgary-area hotel in 2022 “legitimately flabbergasting.”

According to the response of an order paper question put forth by Rempel Garner in November, in the fiscal year 2022, the federal government spent $6,790,717.46 to use the Westin Calgary Airport hotel as a quarantine facility. In the 2022 calendar year, the hotel housed 15 people for the duration of their quarantines, coming out to about $452,714.50 per person.

“Government waste is always a problem,” Rempel Garner wrote in a post on Substack. “But waste of this magnitude when deficit spending needs to be reined in due to inflationary pressures shows that Trudeau doesn’t have the capacity or willingness to get things under control.”

The Westin Calgary Airport hotel was designated a quarantine facility from June 22, 2020, to Oct. 30, 2022, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Over the course of the two and a half years, the hotel housed 1,490 people to the tune of nearly $27 million, about $18,000 per person.

In its response to Rempel Garner, PHAC wrote that “given this response required a manual collection of information, it is possible there is a small degree of human error when determining the amount the federal government paid to the Westin Calgary Airport hotel.”

The federal government’s hotel quarantine requirements largely ended in August 2021.

“The fact that these contracts were continued even after quarantine restrictions were eased really shows the lack of capacity the government has to manage spending,” Rempel Garner told CTV National News Parliamentary Bureau Reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver. “Since we’re in an inflationary crisis that’s driven by this type of spending, it raises a lot of questions about what else is being mismanaged.”

Rempel Garner called it an issue “somebody should be fired over,” and questioned how much the government spent across all of its official designated quarantine facilities.

In an email to CTVNews.ca Wednesday, PHAC spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau said the federal government spent $388.7 million in total on 38 designated quarantine facilities across 14 cities from April 2020 to December 2022. The total cost included lodging, meals, security, traveler support and transportation.

“The Government of Canada has always worked to protect Canadians, adapting our COVID-19 response based on the latest science and evidence. Designated quarantine facilities met public health guidelines for the purposes of accommodating travelers to quarantine as required by emergency orders under the Quarantine Act,” Jarbeau also wrote.

Rempel Garner asked Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos about the spending in question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

“We were all very mindful of the terrible pain and the large number of deaths, and an even larger number of hospitalizations that we have seen in Canada over COVID-19,” said Duclos. “That’s why our primary responsibility has been, and remains, to protect the safety and health of Canadians, including the tens of thousands of people who had to access the designated quarantine facilities.”

He added: “Because of these measures and vaccinations, we have saved, Mr. Speakers, tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars in economic costs.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Tuesday there’s an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned when it comes to the government’s response to COVID-19, but that it “did what we felt was necessary to protect the health and safety of Canadians.”

Larry Kennedy spent four days in a quarantine hotel in Toronto with his wife and two young children in December 2021.

He said it was a challenge to get basic amenities, such as milk for coffee, or laundry service, and their room had no hot water.

“It wasn’t as smooth as we hoped,” Kennedy said, adding he and his family had only their carry-on luggage, with limited clothing, and no supplies for their children.

“The concept of going into a quarantine hotel wasn’t a stress,” he said. “Hotels are designed to be comfortable; it just wasn’t comfortable during those four days.”

Kennedy said he would have preferred the cash value of what the government spent per person at the Westin Calgary Airport hotel for his own family’s hotel stay in Toronto so he could have made his own arrangements.

“That’s a lot of money for cold food and no hot water,” he said.

In December 2021, Auditor General Karen Hogan reported she’d identified “significant gaps” in PHAC’s administration of emergency travel measures that came into effect in early 2021. Her report covered quarantine orders from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

According to Hogan’s report, for 75 per cent of travelers who flew into Canada, PHAC didn’t know whether those who were required to quarantine in hotels actually did so. She also reported PHAC did not reliably track whether air travelers who had been notified of positive COVID-19 tests had stayed at a government-authorized hotel as required.


With files from CTV National News Parliamentary Bureau Reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver and CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello

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