The COVID-19 Emergency Response Act was created in order for the government to be able to move quickly in response to the unfolding crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bill C-13 was introduced in Parliament on March 24, 2020, and received royal assent the very next day. Opposition and government members worked together in a rare display of unity to bring the bill into force. A process that usually takes months was done in a few days.
But with documents now coming to light that demonstrate some very questionable government expenditures under the guise of pandemic response, it appears that the opposition parties should have pressured for more oversight measures within the bill before giving it such quick approval.
It is understandable why the Liberal government sought the authority and ability to move quickly with spending measures in response to the pandemic. We were in the early stages of an unfolding and unprecedented emergency. There simply wasn’t time for extended parliamentary debates on every government action that may be required as issues developed. We didn’t know how long outbreaks would last, how seriously they would impact business and health care facilities, or how much government response would be required in order to address situations.
It is easy to see why the opposition parties did not want to appear as if they were hindering government efforts to provide pandemic relief. The nation was gripped with fear as a pandemic swept the world in a way unseen in generations. Citizens would not have responded favourably if it appeared that opposition parties were playing political games and obstructing any measures that would aid people and businesses during this crisis. Opposition party leaders were in a tough position, and they chose to pass Bill C-13 with virtually no scrutiny. In hindsight, this may have been a poor choice on their part.
Whenever there is a crisis, opportunists spring out of the woodwork in hopes of taking advantage of it. The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be no exception to this rule. Members of Parliament issued a House order last October demanding the release of over a million records related to pandemic spending. To date, only less than 1 percent—8,000—of these records have been disclosed, and within them there is evidence of rampant mismanagement and questionable lobbying efforts. Just imagine what is hiding within the 992,000 or so remaining documents.
There was an utter feeding frenzy of lobbying for government contracts as over $600 billion was borrowed and disbursed by the government with little to no oversight thanks to the emergency powers that had been granted.
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, which broke the story, there were countless sole-sourced contracts with advance payments made. One former Liberal MP was part of a consortium of companies that got a $237 million contract for ventilators that were unapproved at the time and ended up each costing about $10,000 more than the original U.S. model on which they were based. A lobbyist won a $118 million contract for a client after boasting of “getting things done.” A Liberal Party-connected lobbyist contacted the cabinet seeking a contract for his son. The examples are numerous and galling.
The need for speed with the government does not have to preclude the need for oversight. Surely some of the larger contracts issued could have been subjected to some cursory examination by an all-party committee before they were issued. Opposition MPs demonstrated that they were willing and able to work co-operatively with the government in light of the emergency. They could have done so in an oversight committee just as well as they did in Parliament when they gave the government sweeping spending powers.
In a period of crisis, it is vital that a government be held more accountable in its actions, not less. Opposition parties were derelict in their role to provide constructive critique to the government, as they chose to give the government a pass on spending rather than risk losing political points with the electorate. Sometimes making the right choice is more important than making the best political choice, and that applies more than ever during an emergency.
There is no getting the toothpaste back into the tube now. All that opposition parties can do is continue to pressure the government to release its records of spending and to work on holding the government accountable after the fact. In light of what little we have seen, it is a pretty safe bet that some bombshells still await within the hundreds of thousands of records that are being withheld by the Privy Council Office.
What we can do though is to learn from this. While this pandemic appears to be winding down, we can be assured that one day, the world will face a sweeping crisis of some sort again. Not only should emergency plans be created with a swift reaction to a crisis in mind, but they should also have accountability measures built into them.
We also need to ensure that every possible dollar spent goes toward the actual crisis rather than into the pockets of unprincipled contractors and lobbyists. This is a mistake that we must never repeat.
Cory Morgan is a columnist and business owner based in Calgary.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.