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Feds spent $6.8M to house 15 people in Calgary quarantine hotel last year

Converting the Westin’s Calgary Airport Hotel into a COVID-19 traveler quarantine facility cost the federal government $26.8 million from 2020 to 2022, according to documents.

That includes $6.8 million spent housing and feeding 15 people in 2022 — a cost breakdown of about $453,000 per person for that fiscal year.

The numbers were released in response to an order paper question, a mechanism for members of parliament to request information, filed by Calgary-Nose Hill Representative Michelle Rempel-Garner.

The document, posted online by the Conservative MP on Monday, gave a year-on-year breakdown of spending.

The federal government said it paid $8.9 million for room and board to the hotel in fiscal year 2020-21, $11.1 million the following year, and $6.8 million annually after that.

A total of 1,490 travelers used the hotel – 119 in 2020, 1,356 in 2021 and 15 in 2022.

That works out to a total of $18,000 per traveler, but the per-person breakdown in 2022 is about $453,000.

Cleaning services, transportation and other supports totaled an additional $4.4 million.

“Complete waste,” MP says of the numbers

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Ottawa finalized its deal with the Westin in late October 2022. All remaining COVID-related travel restrictions ended on the first of this month.

The government had already dropped the pre-arrival testing requirement for fully vaccinated travelers in April and the vaccination requirement for international and domestic travelers in June 2022.

“There is no justification for this effort. It’s utter waste, it’s utter mismanagement,” Rempel-Garner said in a video. She was unavailable for an interview.

“It translates that money into what it means to the average person. Again, 4,100 Calgarians could have paid their rent for a month based on what they wasted here on.”

Between March 2020 and September 2022, the government had reached agreements for 38 quarantine hotel locations in 14 cities across the country. Ottawa spent a total of $388.7 million during those operational dates, according to a statement from PHAC. That’s broken down into $158.5 million in fiscal 2020-21, $153 million in 2021-22, and $77.2 million in 2022-23.

“The Canadian government has always worked to protect Canadians by adapting our COVID-19 response based on the latest science and evidence,” spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau said in an email.

“These facilities were an important measure to stop the spread and save lives.”

A political scientist said this information could spark additional backlash against the federal government among those in Alberta who have spoken out against its pandemic approach.

“This isn’t just a run-of-the-mill government waste story. It’s also a COVID story,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.

“It fits with that narrative that public health restrictions, while necessary, have done undue harm and are now costing millions of dollars in lavish spending.”

Canada has had more than 4.5 million cases of COVID-19, according to Health Canada, and 50,380 people have died from the virus.

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