The effects of record high inflation continue. Canada’s Food Price Report released this week predicted the average family of four will pay $1065 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 trillion-dollar mark for the first time in our history. The Governor of the Bank of Canada called Canada’s inflation homegrown. 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 that hundreds of billions of that new spending by the Liberals were not on pandemic relief. 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 of 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. They 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 receiving benefits qualified for them. She found that 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 that $15 billion in pandemic aid went to companies profiting throughout the pandemic – many who paid out shareholders and executive bonuses. She also found that Canadians not living in Canada or sentenced to prison received benefits despite the programs not being designed for these purposes. Another observation was that the programs disincentivized work.
All this is concerning for new programs the government is rolling out with similar attestation processes, such as the Liberals’ 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 applicable yet may get investigated in the future and forced to pay the money back creating uncertainty and hardship.
Conservatives gave the Liberal 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 that 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 Minister of National Revenue 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, is a non-partisan independent office, and refuted this accusation in a public statement.