BONOKOSKI: Quarantine hotels are exposed as a major waste of tax dollars
BONOKOSKI: Quarantine hotels are exposed as a major waste of tax dollars

While I am typically a Super 8 kind of traveller—give me a clean room, heat and air conditioning, a decent bed and no surprises—it would appear our federal government’s taste in lodging is more high-end champagne than discount beer.

The Trudeau Liberals, their leader born with a silver spoon in his mouth, spent close to $400 million on contracts for quarantine hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, including nearly $80 million in 2022, according to latest numbers provided by Health Canada.

There was not a Super 8 among them, and certainly no Motel 6.

Instead, there were hotels such as the Westin near the airport in Calgary and the Crowne Royal in Montreal.

Posh places by comparison. Hence the posh room bill.

At the Westin in Calgary, for example, the feds paid over $6 million in 2022 to host the quarantine of 15 individuals. That’s $400,000 per “guest.”

Or, $33,000 a night.

This pales by comparison the $6,000 a night hotel room that a still-unnamed someone in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s entourage billed Canadian taxpayers during the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Normally, a night at the Westin Calgary Airport hotel will cost $143 plus tax, for a nice room with a king-sized bed. 

“There’s no justification for this expense. It’s complete waste, it’s complete mismanagement,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel-Garner said in a video.

“It’s translating this money into what it means for an average person. Again, 4,100 Calgarians could have had their rent paid for a month based on what they wasted on here.”

The costs associated with this project — 38 hotels in 14 cities — which have since been phased out included lodging, meals, security, and traveller support.

The latest financial figures come after a response to an order paper submitted by Rempel Garner who said Wednesday that the latest cross-Canada numbers were a “waste” of money and rampant.

“It was across the country and if someone hasn’t already been fired over this, that has to happen,” said Rempel Garner. “I think there’s a lot more questions … Why was this needed after quarantine restrictions were lifted? Did somebody just forget to cancel the contract?”

International travel into Canada was restricted to various levels throughout the pandemic, including a period of time in 2021 when most Canadians returning from non-essential travel abroad were required to take a test and await results at a designated quarantine hotel until a negative result was returned.

The government’s hotel stay requirement ended for all travellers on Aug. 9, 2021. However, unvaccinated Canadians were still required to isolate for 14 days when entering the country.

Between March of 2020 and September 2022, the government had agreements for 38 quarantine hotel sites in 14 cities across the country. Ottawa spent a total of $388.7 million during those operation dates, according to a statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). That breaks down to $158.5 million in fiscal year 2020-21, $153 million in 2021-22, and $77.2 million in 2022-23. 

“The Government of Canada has always worked to protect Canadians, adapting our COVID-19 response based on the latest science and evidence,” PHAC spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau said in an email to the CBC and Postmedia. “These facilities were there as an important measure to stop the spread and save lives.”

The other side of the story comes from Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. 

“This isn’t just a regular government waste story. It’s also a COVID story,” he said. “It fits in with that narrative about while public health restrictions were necessary, they caused undue harm and now they’re costing millions of dollars in wasteful spending.”