OG March 16 image

ArriveCan can’t – and doesn’t care.

In 2021, I launched my memoir online. I used an idea from my friend, Robert Rotenberg, who’d launched his latest novel online earlier that year (and who has a #1 mystery best-seller out now, What We Buried.)

The idea was to use quick video testimonials from people important to the book to spice up the hour-long online launch. I asked friends from different phases of my life to comment on its sharp peaks and deep valleys.

One of them was Dr. Carolyn Bennett, the former Cabinet Minister who unwittingly introduced me to my wife, Jean. Carolyn said sure, and I said she could record it on her phone and e-mail it to me. Then Ottawa asked me to fill in some forms swearing that Minister Bennett wasn’t making money by doing the video, and that I wasn’t either. An official called me for clarification about what I wanted her to say. This was understandable; Cabinet Ministers shouldn’t profit from appearing in videos, either financially or politically.

But it all struck me as bureaucratic overreach, like the way I have to produce photo ID if I want to open a new bank account, even if I’ve been banking at the same bank for 35 years. Yes, I get that this is the price of fighting  corruption and money-laundering. But while compliance adds billions of dollars to the cost of doing business, corruption still seems to dance on through the night into morning.

Which brings me to the ArriveCan scandal. If you flew on a commercial flight outside the country in the dying days of COVID, you know the ArriveCan app, which collected health and contact information for people travelling beyond our borders.

The app was initially launched in April 2020 and was supposed to cost $80,000, but it was updated 177 times and ended up costing Canadians $59.5 million. We know this because the Auditor-General released a scathing report last month. Karen Hogan claimed the final cost is “impossible to determine” because of poor record-keeping by the Canada Border Services Agency.

GC Strategies, a two-man firm that won the contract to develop ArriveCan, has been awarded 118 contracts totalling $107 million since 2011. They ‘won’ the sole source contract for ArriveCan. They also developed the requirements that were later used for a competitive contract on ArriveCan that was awarded to GC Strategies. What’s more, David Yeo, head of a GCStrategies subcontractor, became an employee of the Department of National Defence soon after ArriveCan was completed.

On Wednesday, GC partner Kristian Firth testified to a Commons Committee looking into the ‘hot mess’ that ArriveCan has become. Asked one MP: “You started off your testimony by saying that everybody’s lying and saying mean things about you. The media is wrong, the MPs are wrong, but you’re also now saying the auditor general is wrong. What are we as a committee to make of the fact that you want us to believe that everybody is wrong in their figures except you?”

Firth also refused to answer questions about the Auditor-General’s report and admitted to keeping between 15% and 30% of the value of a contract as a commission for himself and his partner. As the Globe and Mail noted: “They have also said they do no IT work themselves. Rather, they put together teams of individuals who complete the work requested by government departments.”

Clearly, the ArriveCan scandal will only get worse in the coming days.

Favoured-nationing, insider dealing and sweetheart contracts will always lurk around government procurement.

What makes this one both different and disheartening is that the protagonists don’t seem to care.

They lack what’s so essential to the functioning of a democracy: a sense of shame.


1. Riven with anxiety? You can learn how to work, even in 15-minute increments.

 2. Sometimes it’s okay for beautiful words to be useless. Here’s a list of some beauts, like roorback, antithalian, accismus and novercal, which means “characteristic of a step-mother.”

3. Single in the city. Not the dating scene, but the cost of being single, healthy and thriving in the GTA. According to a new Wellesley Institute study: “If you’re a single, working-age adult, it ranges between $61,654 and $83,680, depending on whether you live in Toronto or the suburbs. This is far above what a minimum-wage and even a living-wage worker could earn.”

4. A manta ray (not a Man Ray) walks in to the doctor’s office for his annual physical. A dose of preventive medicine keeps him healthy.

Speaking of odd animal matchups, here are some touching oddities, oh..and let’s not forget fast fish speeds.

5. Why there are so few women in tech. It’s complicated and isn’t all about bro culture’.

6. Don’t contact the Sentinelese. The most isolated tribe on earth has rarely been contacted and they don’t want to be now, thank you very much.

7. This Hour Has 22 Minutes. CBC’s weekly political satire show has been airing since 1993, but it fell off my map when I unplugged from network TV three computers ago. It’s lost none of its edge.

8. Too many rich people. They’re bad for everyone, except themselves, and especially for democracies. Diane Coyle explains why tech wealth needs sharing. “Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a prime example. Most people recognize that Musk did not deserve the $56 billion in annual compensation that the company’s board of directors attempted to give him in 2018, given Tesla’s relatively modest profits and years of losses. Nevertheless, the board argued that this enormous sum was necessary to incentivize Musk to remain at the company – an argument so baseless that a Delaware judge recently invalidated the board’s “unfathomable” compensation package.”

9. Viagra for Alzheimer’s Prevention? Talk about off-label endurance. Viagra was originally prescribed for hypertension. Now Pfizer’s multi-billion-dollar erectile dysfunction drug may have a third life in slowing Alzheimer’s.

Speaking of which, what’s the opposite of the Placebo Effect? The Nocebo Effect, when you experience illness based solely on your negative expectations.

10. Coral reefs in Canada? It sounds like icebergs in Tahiti, since reefs thrive in tropical and subtropical waters. But here it is, 500 km north of Vancouver and 200 metres deep in the Pacific, by far the world’s most northerly coral reefs. As one expert said, “it shouldn’t exist.”

11. What I’m liking. The sign at the studio entrance said, “Check your ego at the door.” It was a hint to 46 of the world’s most famous rock artists – Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, Dionne Warwick, Bruce Springsteen, etc. – that they had one chance to record “We Are The World.” The recording was organized by Quincy Jones, and Netflix has just released a truly wonderful documentary, The Greatest Night in Pop, on that night and that song. Compulsively watchable and singable.




The first adventure, from June 7 to 13,  takes us hiking through a hidden mountain valley and UNESCO Geopark and World Heritage Site in the Italian Alps.

The second, from Aug. 23 to 29,  combines an immersive wildlife experience – three days of sea kayaking in the Johnstone Strait, the best place in the world to see orca whales – with a truly unique exploration of Indigenous culture off North Vancouver Island.

Both trips are curated by karibu adventures, a boutique travel offering founded by former journalist and foreign correspondent, Andrea Mandel-Campbell. She brings a journalistic lens to the karibu offering – introducing you to people and places and experiences you might not otherwise have.

Andrea has written about both trips and the origins of karibu in the latest edition of Harrowsmith Magazine, which you can read here.

The Italy trip is limited to 12 people and 3 spots are open; the Vancouver Island trip is limited to 10 people, and 7 places are open.

So sign up now for the kind of summer you really want, and deserve.

Contact Andrea Mandel-Campbell directly to learn more about these trips and to book your spot.

info@karibuadventures.com  1.888.969.7712


Bob Ramsay


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