Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Quarantine hotel. Now there’s a term we haven’t heard in a while. And looking back on the tension, inconvenience (and lawsuits) the once-mandatory government-led COVID-19 requirement caused, it’s safe to assume folks are OK with that.
The Canadian government ended its hotel quarantine program for fully vaccinated travellers in June 2021, and at that time, it was fair to assume “quarantine hotel” would never be uttered again.
That is until costs of running the ill-fated program would come to light.
This week, newly-released federal documents show that Ottawa spent more than $6 million on a quarantine hotel in Calgary in 2022 that housed just 15 people.
With a price tag that high, you’d think the Canadian government was in bed with the Ritz-Carlton.
But no, at the centre of media reports this week is the Westin Calgary Airport Hotel, which was first designated as a government quarantine hotel in June 2020.
Many hotels at the time were holding spots for inbound international travellers. At the start of 2021, travellers were required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada and stay at a hotel for at least three days until their test returned negative.
Those measures were eased later that year to allow fully vaccinated individuals to enter Canada without quarantining at a hotel – on the condition they tested negative before boarding their flight.
Canada’s international travel restrictions were removed for all at the start of October 2022, including unvaccinated people.
Ottawa also suspended its once-mandatory ArriveCan app at that time (which also has a price tag that is being criticized).
The Westin’s designation as a quarantine hotel ended last November. However, it’s the government’s spending on the 2022-23 fiscal year that is raising eyebrows.
Records show the Public Health Authority of Canada (PHAC) spent $6,790,717 for lodging and meals that year, catering to a total of 15 people who stayed at the hotel throughout the year, with the latest check-in taking place last September.
The cost included both lodging and meals for the quarantined travellers.
In comparison, Ottawa spent $11.1 million in 2021-22 to house 1,356 travellers, and $8.9 million in 2020-21 on accommodations and meals for 119 people, reports say.
The number of people who stayed at the hotel also may be under-reported, reports suggest.
The data was revealed in response to an order paper from Michelle Rempel Garner, MP for Calgary Nose Hill.
As reported in the Calgary Herald, Rempel Garner was not surprised by the high numbers from 2022, calling the costs “unjustified spending.”
“Particularly with the 2022 numbers, this is after the federal government’s panel recommended to stop this program. This is after the rest of the world had eased restrictions and, indeed, it was even after the Canadian government had eased restrictions,” Rempel Garner was quoted as saying.
The order paper does not identify the 15 people who isolated at the Westin in 2022, but shows that 14 of those stays took place before July, while one person was quarantined in September.
It’s suggested that the federal government paid $4.4 million more to the Westin in associated costs during the pandemic.
Rempel Garner contends that the government was not watching its expenses, noting how the 2022 figures represented approximately $450,000 per person.
“To me, it appears like they had the ability to cancel this contract. They chose not to...they forgot to check out, if you will,” Rempel Garner said.
Ottawa has yet to comment on its quarantine hotel spending, but Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has responded to questions during Question Period, saying the government’s COVID measures saved “tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars in economic cost.”
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